Thursday, September 25, 2014

Another Book Recommendation (September 25, 2014) -- "Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact From Fiction In Family Legends"

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by author Richard Hite at our local history/genealogy library in Leesburg, Virginia -- the Thomas Balch Library.  [See my earlier post about this gem of a library here.] 

The Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, Virginia

Mr. Hite is the author of the recently published book Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact From Fiction In Family Legends (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2013). He is also currently the State Records Coordinator of the Rhode Island State Archives and Public Records Administration.

Sustainable Genealogy is a different kind of resource and one I find well-written and quite useful. I would recommend it for those new to genealogy research and to those seasoned researchers who enjoy fresh perspectives on how to do genealogy. The book, as described in a review on the back cover, is a "how not to," but I would add that it is a guide and not a rule book -- so like a good travel guide or birding guide, it provides easy to follow, concisely written, and engaging illustrations to drive home the advice and guidance being offered. The book is a paperback and its 11 Chapters and 110 pages are filled with good advice illustrated briefly, comprehensively, and pointedly from Mr. Hite's own genealogy research. He provides a number of tips for tyros and reminders for those who are experienced genealogy researchers, but who occasionally forget possible approaches to a nagging brick wall.  One quick example will suffice to illustrate the useful nuggets dispensed by Mr. Hite . . . 

If one is trying to nail down the original nationality of an immigrant ancestor, relying on the surname alone can be misleading. A Smith ancestor could at first appear to be of obviously English nationality (like Millers, Carpenters, Coopers, and other English occupational surnames); but the German equivalent for Smith -- the cognate "Schmidt" -- could be and often was the original surname for many Smiths whose name was anglicized upon immigration to America. If generations later one's Smith ancestors passed on the information that the family was English, can one rely on that essentially oral history? Mr. Hite cogently explains why one cannot do that without more research -- and he passes on the useful tip of examining the surnames of the surrounding neighbors of early immigrant ancestors and coupling that information with historical knowledge about how areas of America were colonized and settled by various ethnic/national groups and not others. It often turns out upon more detailed research, that one's supposedly English "Smith" ancestors were actually German "Schmidts" who became Smiths in America. Historical records disclose that they lived in an area well-known to have been settled largely by German immigrants and census and other data reveal that almost all their neighbors were Hasselbaums, Strassers, Osterbergs and the like -- Germans all.

I recommend Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact From Fiction In Family Legends as a very useful resource and guide that would be a welcome addition to anyone's genealogy library.

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Cover of Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact From Fiction In Family Legends from the author's personal copy.

Photograph of Thomas Balch Library by the author.
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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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