Book Review: Genealogy, the Internet, and Your Genealogy Computer Program

The Internet has changed since 2001:

  • In 2001, there were approximately 143 million Internet users in the United States. This accounted for about 50% of the total population at that time. Last year, this number was almost 240 million, about 77% of the nation’s population.[1]
  • In January 2001, America Online and Time Warner completed their corporate merger. By September 2001, AOL had surpassed 31 million members using its services, over 20% of all U. S. Internet users at that time.[2] As of 31 March 2011, AOL reported just 3.6 million U. S. subscribers, further reporting a 24% decline in subscription revenue for the three months ending on that date.[3]
  • On 4 September 2001, Lawrence Page was issued U. S. Patent 6,285,999 for a “Method for node ranking in a linked database”–the search technology behind Google.com.[4] Google debuted in 1998, but did not become a publicly-traded company until 2004. It has since become the most popular Internet search engine by far.
  • Back in 2001, social networking in the way that we now use it simply did not exist. Friendster, the first site of its kind, debuted in 2002. MySpace was launched in 2003. Facebook opened in 2004. And Twitter first appeared in 2006.

In other words, the Internet has changed dramatically between 2001 and 2011. The words do not even capture the magnitude of the Internet’s transformation.

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Genealogy, the Internet, and Your Genealogy Computer Program, by Karen Clifford, AG, recently updated and republished by Genealogical Publishing Company, was first published in 2001. Even the author seems to realize the futility of merely updating a book about the Internet published ten years ago, for she writes in her Acknowledgments, “If this wasn’t a season of economic instability, I would start over from scratch, but too many people are waiting for this update.” The book’s back cover describes the new edition’s updates:

The new updated edition contains references to current URLs and databases, discusses new genealogy software options, describes the latest procedures at FamilySearch, and includes a revision of the census chapter to reflect the release of the 1930 census.

Unfortunately, because she did not start over from scratch on the Internet sections, what we are left with is a book that does not deliver what it promises. It simply does not provide any instruction on the current state of online genealogy research.

Ms. Clifford does deliver a very good overview of genealogical research techniques. As an Accredited Genealogist and well-respected professional genealogist in Salt Lake City, Ms. Clifford effectively discusses the “Research Cycle,” how to fill out pedigree charts and family group records, citing sources, filing systems, using maps, resolving conflicts in evidence, etc. Each of the book’s sixteen chapters have a practical “Assignment,” so that readers can apply what they have learned.

Though quite thorough in these areas, the books is sorely lacking in its technological chapters. Chapter 3, “Becoming Acquainted with Your Genealogy Program,” for example, barely discusses computer programs at all, but does include “How Computer and Typewriter Keyboards are Alike” and “How the Computer Keyboard is Different.” Is this needed in 2011?

The book first addresses the Internet in some detail in Chapter 10, “Resources of the Family History Library.” This chapter describes using the Family History Library Catalog and other features of FamilySearch.org, including features of New FamilySearch. Chapter 11 discusses”Major Databases of the Family History Library,”  such as the old IGI and Ancestral File databases. Sadly, the book does not describe any of the online resources other than FamilySearch in any detail, including such subscription sites as Ancestry.com, Footnote.com, or GenealogyBank.com, nor such free genealogy sites as Find-A-Grave and U. S. Genweb. It does contain lists of links at the end of each chapter, but this is the extent of it.

For beginning genealogists, this book offers solid instruction into research techniques, providing a firm foundation that can later develop and evolve into superior research skills. Unfortunately, its coverage of the Internet and computer programs is sadly lacking any helpful substance. In my opinion, the book’s title should have simply not mentioned the Internet or computers at all.

  • Clifford, Karen, A.G. The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Genealogy, the Internet, and Your Genealogy Computer Program. Updated edition. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2011.

———————————————————-

[1] Miniwatts Marketing Group, “United States of America Internet Usage and Broadband Usage Report,” Internet World Stats: Usage and Population Statistics (http://www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm : accessed 7 Jun 2011).

[2] America Online, “Historical Dates for America Online, Inc.,” AOL Time Warner (http://www.corp.aol.com/whoweare/who_timeline.html : 17 Dec 2001), archived website, via Internet Archive, Wayback Machine (http://web.archive.org/ : accessed 7 Jun 2011).

[3] U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Form 10-Q: Quarterly Report… for the quarterly period ended March 31, 2011; filed by AOL, Inc., on 4 May 2011, pg. 10; digital images, “The Next-Generation EDGAR System,” U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission (http://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/webusers.htm : accessed 7 Jun 2011).

[4] Lawrence Page, “Method for node ranking in a linked database,” U. S. Patent 6,285,999 (2001); digital images, Google Patents (http://www.google.com/patents?hl=en : accessed 7 Jun 2011).

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