Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First Book Review...I don't have a clever name yet

Hey everyone, I have my first book review ready for you. I chose "Finding Indiana Ancestors" as the first review. It is a book published by the Indiana Historical Society Press in 2007, edited by M. Teresa Baer and Geneil Breeze.

The book is divided into six parts: Getting Started, Identifying Resources, Researching Records, Researching with Maps, Researching Ethnic Groups, and Providing Context and Accuracy. An Index and two appendices are also included. Each chapter is written by a different "expert". Think of Elizabeth Shown Mills' "Professional Genealogy", same format.

Some of my favorite sections are the discussion of how to date photographs using women's clothing and hair styles, a thorough list of what's available at the Indiana State Library, Archives, and Historical Society Library, and a great description of Indiana church records by Timothy Mohon which gives both a brief history of various denominations and some first steps toward finding the records, if they exist at all that is. The map section covers quite a bit of ground from mapping the Ohio River and county boundary changes to auto and Sanborn Insurance maps. Unfortunately, it's done in some pretty general terms.

Which brings me to the down side. While the book seems pretty ambitious by the scope of its Table of Contents, some chapters just don't offer the kind of detailed information that a state-specific guide should offer, at least in my opinion. For instance, the section on "Indiana's Pioneer Periods" is one page and half a paragraph (with the rest of the 2nd page showing a map of the counties and their establishment) about the Society of Indiana Pioneers and the development of their statutes. Not exactly what I was expecting. In truth, the subject has taken up entire books but still. I was looking for more info on Indiana's pioneer period than what was provided, way more info.

Another subject I found particulary lacking was that of migration. While the book does have sections on various ethnic groups in the state, they don't really cover where American emigrants came from. From my own experience, I have ancestors who came to IN from OH and before that, from VA, during what's known as the Pioneer Period, as they put it, but there is no section included which tells you that this was a popular westward movement, what trails may have been used, other areas of origin for those who migrated, other trails, the history of the trails, what areas of the state were particularly attractive to newcomers, etc. All of which would have been extremely helpful in a "Guide" for historical research. If you look up Northwest Territory in the index-which is what Indiana (as well as parts of IL and OH) was known as during the 18th century until it became the Indiana Territory-you won't find it. Surprising? I thought so considering the sub-title of the book is "...A Guide to Historical Research". Also, a section on popular laws and/or ordinances for genealogical/historical research would have been nice. I realize that a complete rundown from the time of the Northwest Territory to the present would be totally impossible and even irrelevant within this framework, but a section of commonly encountered issues such as whether Indiana honored the English Law of the age of majority, laws on slavery, ages for marriage, laws regarding the process of inheriting/obtaining land, etc. (to use very general terms) would have been a nice addition. Some laws are touched upon in the various sections to which they refer but for the sake of reference but I think the subject is important enough to the field that it deserved a chapter of its own.

Still, despite its faults, the book does offer enough guidance for the beginning genealogist and/or newbie to Indiana records and research to make it a recommended title. However, if you've been working with Indiana records for a while you may want to look elsewhere.

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