Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: "The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy"

Disclosure: The Genealogical Publishing Company sent me a free copy of this book to review; I received no other consideration, and my comments are entirely my own.

This is the 4th edition of Val Greenwood's encyclopedic guide, and it's the first update since the 3rd edition of The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy was published in 2000. As an experienced family-history researcher, I was particularly impressed by Part 1 (chapters 1-11), "Background to Research." This section lays out the many detailed steps in the process of conducting traditional genealogical research. Always on the lookout for ways to tune-up my process and structure my research, I came away with some new ideas for logical thinking and a renewed spirit of motivation after reading these chapters.

I liked Greenwood's careful explanations of how, exactly, to begin or continue researching a family's past. He reminds the reader why certain steps are important, as well as providing thoughtful examples to show how concepts are applied. For instance, in the chapter on surveying, analyzing, and planning, Greenwood provides a basic "T" chart for writing the research question, listing information known, and analyzing the implications. Then he follows up with a specific example showing how to put each piece of information into context during the planning stages of research. It was a refresher course for me, but I think beginners will especially appreciate the nitty-gritty techniques and tips for doing solid research in a logical manner.

Greenwood's writing is clear and reader-friendly, and he weaves in his opinions to let the reader decide how to proceed, adding a personal touch here and there. I came to this book with fresh eyes, having never seen the classic, older editions. Being fluent in computerese, I skipped the material about technology (Chapters 9 and 10, for example). I was much more interested in the author's approach to the overall topic. And I do wish this new edition could have been kept under 700 pages, with slightly larger type, for reasons of readability.

The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy is strong on traditional research, and it's a useful addition to my reference shelf. Any time I want to check my logic or brush up on U.S. sources of genealogical information, this book will be within reach.

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