Thursday, July 25, 2013

Special Discovery in an Unexpected Place

The many books available from 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.

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