Family History on the Net
New Edition 2009/2010
[First edition 2007]
Countryside Books, 2009
I saw this book in a National Trust shop, opened it and immediately saw a strange reference to my web site. The reference was the frighteningly long:
It was under the heading "Prison Staff" and pointed directly to the page St Albans Prison Staff. This page was created in 2002 (before any national censuses were available online) as quickie demonstration of how to carry out a search on the CDs that were available of the 1881 census. It can easily be found by typing "Prison Staff" into the search facility on this site, and is Number 1 (after sponsored links) in a google search for "Genealogy" and "Prison Staff", so is not exactly hard to find without typing in the full URL of the page.
So what was so trivial an item included in a book apparently aimed at helping people interested in family history to find their way round the internet. So I purchased a copy.
On getting the book home I found there was a total of 20 such "in depth" references to individual pages on my site. In every case the page had been created in the period 2001-2004, and in only three cases had there been significant updates in the last three years. Bearing in mind how much things have changed over the years it is interesting that there were no references to the very extensive material first added after 2004. There is not one reference to the home page of the site. which would provide a menu for the visitor to explore further. Even more interestingly there is no reference to HALS, the vital web site run by the County Council.
Was it just me, or was it just Hertfordshire? I decided to check a few sites unknown to me, and not connected with major institutions (records offices, universities, etc.). Under the heading "General Collections" one would expect to find sites which many included active references to other sites
http://www.earlymodernweb.org.uk/emr/ (Links to early modern sources in History including genealogy) - Page says last site update December 2008. Wayback records the last update as June 2008.
http://www.genealogy-links.co.uk/ (General links including those to specific counties) - A check showed that this site ceased to be regularly updated in 2003 and a notice from April 2005 suggested it was no longer accepting new information.
http://www.ukgenweb.com (Contains links to regional and other family history sites in the UK) - Only one update between September 2003 and April 2007, last update March 2008
http://www.genogold.com/html/news.html (Genogold site of UK Geneological resources) - Page says last updated January 2007 "more updates very soon" No activity anywhere on the site after August 2007
http://www.genealogy.about.com/od/england/index.htm (lots of English Genealogy resources) - Site seems to have been active 1999-2007
Oh dear - all the sites I tested were dead or dying by 2008 (so were they appropriate for the 2009 edition of the book) and some were dying well before the first edition was published. I looked at a variety of other entries under other headings For instance I looked under "Occupations - Photography" and tried http://thornburypump.myby.co.uk/PI/biogs.html which is described as providing the biographies of individual photographers. It was only a short list, consisting of links to other sites, most of which were broken. In particular many of the defective links were redirected to the National Portrait Gallery home page or the PhotoLondon home page.
This immediately highlighted a gaping hole in the coverage of this book. The first thing anyone interested in family history will want to know is whether there is an online biography of anyone on their family tree or at least with the same surname. A check suggests that there are no easily found links to sites such as the National Portrait Gallery or the Dictionary of National Biography - and no mention of the importance of sites such as Wikipedia as a source of biographical information.
So if the book provides no guidance as to where to find your ancestor's biography, is it any easier to find out about the place where they lived? Many towns and villages have web sites which include local history pages and often family history forums and links to local history societies, etc. These sites may well also contain photographs (both old and recent) of buildings where your ancestors lived. As far as I can see the book contains nothing to help the reader on these items. For instance the two entries under "Local History Societies and Groups" do no more than scratch the surface.
The following entry under "Maps and Gazetteers" demonstrates one of the problems with the web site:
http//www.gazetteer.co.uk/gazmap1.htm (Map showing old counties of Britain)
http//www.gazetteer.co.uk/gazmap2.htm (Map of modern British county and unitary
This double entry would be very much more helpful, involve the reader typing in far less (and take up less space in the book) if it directed the user to the perfectly acceptable home page leaving out the repeated http://www. which is superfluous and takes up a significant percentage of the book:
gazetteer.co.uk (Maps of the old counties and modern counties and unitary authorities
of mainland Britain, plus useful notes for historians and genealogists).
If we return to the 20 references to my web site, a calculation shows that with headings they must take up almost 1% of the whole book. As the book covers UK genealogy (and some references to world genealogy) devoting so much space to one site which covers one UK county seems excessive. If it deserves to be mentioned at all I feel a single entry along the following lines would be more appropriate.
hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk (A useful guide to Hertfordshire sources, with many advice pages, a query service, and historical information, including pictures and maps, of all towns a villages. The search facility can be used to find information on subjects such as Schools, Asylums, Brickmaking, Canal Barge Makers, Straw Plaiting, etc)
This could be indexed under topics, and is appropriate for a site which is continually changing to met the needs of the growing web.
Conclusions: Clearly I don't like the book - but what worries me as much as anything was where it was being sold. If it was in a proper bookshop, with other family history guides alongside, the only person who would consider buying it (when compared with the opposition) would be the computer geek who was interested in family history and collects URLs.
However it was sold as the only family history book in a shop which specialises in selling to tourists. It is going to be brought by people who are novices to family history and are looking for a way in. Such readers need something that will lead them easily to the best active sites. It should explain in some detail how to get the best out of key sites such as GenUKI, and county record office sites, and minor sites should only be mentions (perhaps in an appendix) if they contain useful up-to-date information. Even general sites, which have lots of active links, such as Wikipedia and county council web sites, can be useful. This book seems to be written on the basis - never mind the quality - or how up-to-date the information is - just look at the number of URLs I have succeeded in including, in many cases by inappropriate duplication of references to a single site. In my view selling such a book, in a tourist outlet, could actually put people people off family history.
Am I being unfair? Tell me what you think of this review.
At the time this page was last updated new and second hand copies of both editions were available online
|August 2010||Page Created|