Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book Review: Online State Resources for Genealogy by Michael Hait

The recently published Online State Resources for Genealogy by Michael Hait is an electronic book in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format.  It is the latest book from this prolific author.

In his 310 page book, Hait attempts to help researchers cut through the sheer volume of United States records that are available on the internet.  He looks at records that are freely available from government agencies as well as towns, counties and states.  In focusing on the lesser known sources, he intentionally excludes from his book large sites such as Ancestry, Footnote, FamilySearch and Find-A-Grave.

I decided to put the book through its paces by starting with the state I know best from a research point of view - Massachusetts. Right from the start, I found he included a resource that I had not used before - Digital Commonwealth. Digital Commonwealth features links to collections of resources held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives.  While it looks like a collection that is still growing, it is definitely a resource to keep an eye for future reference.

Hait's treatment of the Massachusetts State Archives provides a comprehensive look at its major holdings.  He does not provide information on all of their collections but rather encourages readers to delve deeper into the online site to discover other resources on their own.  Given the incredible volume of resources at this repository I think that is probably the best approach.  He takes the same approach with all the repositories in his book.

Many researchers are perhaps not familiar with the incredible resources available at the often-overlooked Massachusetts Historical Society.  An overview is provided for their many online collections including Anti-slavery Images, African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts, the Siege of Boston and Massachusetts Maps.  This is just a sampling of the collections he features. A similar treatment is given for the major repositories of the other sates.  Whenever possible he provides direct links to online collections.

Certain states, such as New York, contain reference to important non-governmental collections like the online resources of the Italian Genealogical Group.  Larger states also include pointers to important county-level collections. Every state seems well represented by major online collections. Admittedly, some states have better coverage than others. Hopefully this will be corrected in the second edition which is complimentary to first edition purchasers.

Researchers who are delving into states that are unfamiliar territory will find this book a helpful introduction.  Seasoned specialists will also find this book a handy reference to remind them of the tremendous collections available on the internet.  Researchers should remember, however, that not all genealogical records are available on the internet and should make a point of contacting repositories to learn of non-digitized collections as well.

From a design point of view, the book is well laid out and easy to read.  The Table of Contents provides internal  links to sections on the major state repositories. The individual chapters provide links to the websites themselves. The links to the websites opened easily in my default web browser.  I didn't encounter any errors or broken links. The index at the back of the book provides a way to search by record type if you prefer to do that.

Recognizing that the internet is constantly changing, Hait promises to continually update the book. In this first edition, he has grappled with the monumental task of organizing online state records.  In an age that is heading more towards reading books digitally, I'm sure this work will become a genealogical standard. For such a comprehensive book the cost is priced reasonably at $15. I look forward to seeing this book grow and expand in coming years.

The author is offering all first edition purchasers a complimentary updated edition when it is released.

The book is available for download from

Online State Resources for Genealogy. By Michael Hait. Self-published on 310 pp. Index. Electronic Book (Adobe Acrobat format). $15.00.

Post Script: This book is best used as a reference for multiple states. If you are primarily interested in one state then your money would probably be better spent buying a book specifically on that state.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I purchased the book right after reading this review, and have already found useful websites I didn't know about! Thanks so much!