31 October 2012

Book Review: Genealogy: Essential Research Methods

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods
Helen Osborn
Hardback: 272p
Publisher: Robert Hale (October 31, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 9780709091974
Cover price: 14.99 UK pounds
Helen Osborn, co-founder of Pharos Tutors, is a London-area based professional genealogist and historical researcher since 1998, and an AGRA member. She was in Ottawa last year speaking at the BIFHSGO conference which is when I first learned she was working on this book. The wait has been worthwhile.
At first blush, cracking open the cover and leafing through, one is reminded of an old-fashioned text book -- a single column layout, tables and gray-scale illustrations in the form of family trees. As with a text the strength is in the content.
Helen sets out to help mend the gap in the existing British genealogical literature for those who want to advance their family history research skills, rather than just find out about another set of possible websites to search.
The body of the book is in 10 chapters:

1. The Challenge of Genealogy
2. Effective Searching – Technique and Belief
3. The Records Framework
4. Find What You Need
5. Has It Been Done Before?
6. Analyzing and Working with Documents
7. Planning and Problem Solving
8. Recording Information and Citing Sources
9. Organize, Store and Pass On
10. Prove Your Research and Meet Your Challenges
I'd hoped to review the book quickly but that was not to be. Like a text the content is substantive and you find yourself frequently pausing to reflect on the ideas and techniques. If you're the type of person who likes to mark significant passages make sure to keep the highlighter at the ready.

I found the chapter Planning and Problem Solving particularly strong. It presents a source list to encourage you to broaden your search and expand away from well-known sources, or simply those you've overlooked, under the headings of dates, geography, census and civil registration, parish records, ecclesiastical jurisdictions, manorial and to estate records, legal jurisdictions, contemporary printed sources, migration, national sources, printed sources and other help, and online catalogs.

Well-versed in the orthodoxy of genealogical research Helen is an advocate for the Genealogical Proof Standard, not widely accepted in the UK. She also favours strong citations a la Mills. While she points out the benefits of adopting a professional's practice she also understands that hobby genealogists will often shun their labouriousness.

In places, based on her practical experience, she goes beyond where I've heard other professionals venture. Some of her advice might cause the ground to shake above the graves of notable genealogists. On page 79:
"When you have a reliable printed source, then it may do just as well as the original document. For example, many of the original English 17th-century hearth tax returns are now being published as part of the scholarly project organized by the University of Roehampton. There is no longer any real need for the average genealogist to go and check the original hearth tax returns for the counties that have been covered."
I can wholehearted recommend this book to all those who are, or aspire to be, serious about exploring English and Welsh family history.

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