Arcadia Publishing are easy to overlook as sources of real family history information. Arcadia is essentially a vanity press publishing house, where you provide a fully laid-out book that Arcadia then prints and distributes. From what I have heard, authors are paid a flat fee. They must adhere to specific production requirements that fit a formula -- set number of pages; maximum number of words in the introduction, per caption, overall. The books rely primarily on older, copyright-free photos so that no royalties have to be paid. No index is permitted. Arcadia doesn't provide any editing; whatever you submit is what goes into print. The quality can vary quite a bit from book to book.
I learned about these books when I picked up one about St. Paul, Minnesota at a used book store. Some cousins on my mother's side settled in St. Paul, and I thought maybe their names might be in the book. At the store I looked at the back of the book and discovered it didn't have an index, but it was marked down and affordable, so I splurged. I read through the entire book and didn't find any of my relatives' names. I did, however, create a name index for the book and uploaded it to Rootsweb, so at least other people would have the benefit of a finding aid.
That said, it is possible to find surprising gems in the books. I was recently sent a two-for-one offer with free shipping, so decided to look around and see if something caught my eye. I bought books on Mount Holly, New Jersey, where my grandmother's family and my grandfather were from, and East Orange, New Jersey, where most of my half-sister's mother's family was located. When the books arrived I paged through the Mount Holly one, reading the names in every caption, hoping to find one I recognized. The most I was expecting was perhaps a photo of a building that was identified as having belonged to an ancestor.
In the caption of a 1929 photograph of the Mount Holly High School Dramatic Club, I saw my father's oldest sister's name. I wasn't sure if it was her, because I had never seen any photos of her from that period, so I did a quick scan of her face and sent it to my cousin. At first she wasn't sure either, and I learned that she didn't have any photographs of her mother from when she was young. Apparently the family didn't have a lot of money to spend on luxuries. But we figured out it really was her mother, and now she has a photo and some information about her mother from when she was in high school. I guess that coupon was a good investment.
Genealogy is like a jigsaw puzzle, but you don't have the box top, so you don't know what the picture is supposed to look like. As you start putting the puzzle together, you realize some pieces are missing, and eventually you figure out that some of the pieces you started with don't actually belong to this puzzle. I'll help you discover the right pieces for your puzzle and assemble them into a picture of your family.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Special Discovery in an Unexpected Place
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