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Review: Crash Course in Family History

Crash Course in Family History

What resource or resources could you hand to someone who wanted to begin researching their family history?  One that was easy to use, easy to understand, filled with resources including online sites, and yet still kept the reader interested in the process?

Most likely you’d have to pull together information from many different websites or publications.  Or you could simply hand them a copy of Crash Course in Family History by Paul Larsen.  What you’d be giving that budding family historian is a comprehensive yet fun guide to connecting with ancestors through genealogy.

True To The Process

Many serious genealogists might look at the cover and the contents with its cartoon figures and graphics and dismiss Crash Course as “fluff.”  Not so.

I found in reading and reviewing the contents that Larsen explains the process of researching ones family history and stays true to accepted standards such as dealing with direct and indirect evidence, weighing negative findings, and importantly, how and why to cite sources.

While Larsen isn’t outlining the Genealogical Proof Standard, he understands that doing so would be too complicated for the target audience.  Yet he does include some of the basic tenets and puts the beginner on the proper path of genealogy research.

Online Resources

Crash Course is a bit heavy on the listing of online resources – all of which seem to be up-to-date.  Any genealogy blogger would instantly recognize many of the sites and there is even a section dedicated to blogging and how to start a genealogy blog!

Besides discussing the role of Family History Centers in genealogy research, I think more information on accessing local libraries and archives is needed.  Overall the reader could come away with the perception that much or all research can be done online which most of us know is not true.

LDS Information

Throughout the book there are many references to LDS resources as well as inspirational quotes and statements from LDS leaders on the importance of researching one’s ancestors.  This is not to say that Crash Course is a book meant only for LDS members.

One section that I appreciated was the explanation of LDS church practices in terms of ancestor research and why connecting with ancestors is important to LDS members.

Target Audience

Larsen’s audience is the beginner genealogist who wants to do more than just hop on to Ancestry or another website and discover on their own.  For those who need instructions on how to get started – including how to talk to family members for information – Crash Course is a great handbook.


Crash Course in Family History is a great handbook for someone just getting started in genealogy.  It would make a great birthday gift or stocking stuffer especially for young adults.  However,  the text does not “talk down” to the reader – making Crash Course just as appropriate for older audiences who want a clear and simple introduction to genealogy and how to get the most out of research and online resources.

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[Editor’s note: In late January 2010, I received a complimentary copy of Crash Course in Family History, 3rd ed. from the author Paul Larsen.   I have been asked to provide a review of the book and I have not been compensated in any way – except for the gratis copy – for this review.  I have donated my copy to a local genealogy library for them to make available to their users.]

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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