15 March 2011

Book Review: Tracing Your Family History on the Internet

Tracing Your Family History on the Internet
Chris Paton
Pen & Sword Family History
ISBN 978-1-84884-268-7 (softcover) £12.99

This is a new, 2011 publication produced with the UK family historian in mind. The nearly 200 pages are divided into 10 chapters, plus front and end material.

Chapter 1, Gateways and Institutions provides basic advice on research procedures and pitfalls. Those who purchase the book lured by the title, and coming from the school that believes all that's needed for researching family history is the Internet, will not get beyond page four before they read that "not everything is online, and what is not yet available ... can be equally as important as what is."  However, the resources online are the major ones and will meet many needs. The major sources in the UK are the subject of the remainder of the chapter.

Chapter 2, Genealogical Essentials, recites sources for BMDs, church records, censuses, probate and conformation, directories, maps and gazetteers, newspapers and nobility and gentry. The different sources for England and Wales, Scotland and (Northern) Ireland are spelled out. Occupational Records are the topic of chapter 3 with half the pages dedicated to the armed forces.

Chapter 4, at 78 pages the longest, deals with resources for England on a county by county basis. This is reference material, not a chapter you'd want to read through. I looked at the section on the county of Norfolk which in just under a page and a half contains 19 urls, all bolded for easy identification. It starts with the major county sites, moves into some locality-specific offerings and ends by mentioning specialized sites for gamekeepers, pubs and mills.

Chapters, 5, 6 and 7 do the same for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.  Scotland, with 30 pages dedicated to it is generously treated.  Chris has his own entry, Researching Scottish Family History, in a crowded market for Scottish family history books.

Short chapters on Crown Dependencies (The Channel Islands and Isle of Man), Empire and Migration, and Social Networks come next, with a bibliography and index rounding out the volume.

I'm a bit wary of books that deal with Internet resources. They tend to go out of date quickly as websites change and new resources come online. That's exacerbated by publication lag. You are also faced with typing in contorted web addresses and the attendant risk of error. 

Chris, whose genealogy blog I value and visit regularly, deals with these concerns early. For two of the 19 Norfolk sites shortened form of address are used for the more complicated urls.  He suggests using the  Wayback machine to recover sites that may have disappeared. For the one Norfolk site that responded with an error message, it may have been a temporary problem, the Wayback machine recovered part of the site. 

In going through the Norfolk sites I found a couple that were new to me. They didn't add to my own family history. There were also some missing local sites but more of interest for history and heritage rather than family history.

This is a book I'd prefer to have available online to avoid having to type urls. As an experienced family historian familiar with much of the content I'll keep the book to hand for a while as a reference but aren't sure it will replace my usual googling for sources. Newcomers to family history, likely attracted by the title, will find good value in this handy reference.

The Amazon.ca site has the book available for sale pre-release in Canada (May 2011) for $17.72.

In the UK Pen & Sword have the book available for £10.39 from (http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/?product_id=2974)

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