Book Review: Genealogy – Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods. By Helen Osborn. Published by Robert Hale, Clerkenwell House, Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0HT, UK. 2012. 272 pp. Hardcover. ₤14.99

Finally, here is a research methodology book written from a British perspective. Yes, there have been a few in the distant past but this one is the first to appear in many years and it is catching up with genealogical scholarship. The book openly acknowledges that in the British Isles the emphasis is on explaining and describing the records, not how to pull everything together is one tight thoroughly researched process.

The book provides advice and inspiration on methods and problem solving skills to help the family historian understand what successful professionals do to get results and why they should be copied. The book is divided into ten chapters: (1) provides an overview of the common challenges we all encounter; (2) explores the search process and examines an effective search actually consists of; (3) and (4) look at how you can go about finding the right source and start to understand their context; (5) asks you to consider whether someone else has already solved your problem for you, and where you can look to find out; (6) shows you how to analyze a document to make sure you really are making the most of your sources once you find them; (7) looks at problem-solving using analysis and a research plan; (8) is about recording your information correctly; (9) is all about organization and presenting your results; (10) discusses the important question of how to prove family connections by using good proof standards in your research.

The book does an excellent job of getting the reader to think about what the research process is and how it can be improved and understood better to get good results.

I liked the book, it gets the reader thinking about how to improve what they do, but in some ways it lets the researcher off the hook. Let me explain. The one part of the book I found myself reacting negatively to deals with documentation and citing sources. Ms. Osborn gives three examples of the same family group sheet: undocumented; documented; and what she calls hyper-documented. The implication to the beginner by the choice of these titles is that the documented is satisfactory, when in reality it is not. The so called hyper-documented is what would be regarded as well or properly documented and would leave a good trail for researchers to follow. The text suggests the hyper-documentation is an extra step encouraged for those planning to publish, not a standard to be encouraged for all good researchers.

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