Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lessons in Genealogy from 1915 Part Four

Are we in a position with genealogy to throw the baby out with the bath water? Just because we have some fancy new technology, does that mean everything genealogists have learned for the past hundreds of years is of no account and to be abandoned? Looking back at a series of lessons designed to be taught from 1912 to about 1920 or so has given me a perspective of where we are and where we have been. My copy of the book is Genealogical Society of Utah. Lessons in Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Geneaological Society of Utah, 1915 (first published in 1912). It is available as a downloadable file from

Continuing on with the book, the student is pointed at several sources for genealogical information. Here is the introduction to that portion of Lesson Two on page 18:
Sources of Information.
What now shall be written in the notebook? Where and how shall the beginner secure his information, after he has prepared himself and his tools? There are several sources of information. First, there are the personal recollections of himself and of the members of the family which should be obtained and recorded carefully. Second, there are old Bible-records and other information found on loose sheets, old temple forms, etc. Third, there are the small and the great genealogical libraries. Fourth, there are the records which are found in county court houses, in parish churches, in state records, in war records, and the various national archives, both in America and Europe. We will consider these in their line of development.
 Well, doesn't this all sound very familiar? Here is a link to the page, Identify What You Know in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.  Hmm. This looks suspiciously like what was written back in 1912. Guess what? Nothing has really changed except the way to look at the records. The dramatic impact of technology has been to make the records more accessible. None of the real work, that is, the looking for information in various locations has really changed and when the records have yet to be digitized online, the methods have not changed at all. Sure, now we record the information in a computer program on a screen instead of a handwriting a notebook. But, you would probably not be surprised at the number of people who still use paper and a pencil or pen.

It looks like our own first lesson in genealogy is that the basic methodology for discovering relevant genealogical information has not changed and will likely not change in the future. What has changed is the speed and complexity of the process. I am impressed with one of the statements made by the Lessons in elaboration:
After all personal information is recorded, then you should set down in writing all data in the possession of relatives or friends that can be reached personally. Old people especially should be visited and questioned, for these, generally, have a valuable fund of information, which if not secured will disappear when they die. Before it is too late, all information in the possession of grandfathers, uncles, etc., should be obtained.
This is one very good reason for starting genealogical investigations before you are old and all your older relatives have died. It is starting to look like these old guys back in the early 1900s had a pretty good handle on the way things needed to be done.

Surprisingly, except for the numbers, the following statement on page 20 of the Lessons is still applicable and accurate:
The genealogical libraries in various parts of the world are storehouses of information, and this information is made easy of access because it is usually in the printed form, and the books are catalogued and indexed. There are some splendid collections of genealogical matter in a number of the big libraries of the world, such as the British Museum, the Congressional Library in Washington, the New England Historic and Genealogical Society's library in Boston, the Newberry Library in Chicago; but the library that concerns us most is the library of the Genealogical Society of Utah, for the reason that it is the most accessible to us. There are at present (1915) 3,000 volumes in this library and it is urged that this source of information be not overlooked nor neglected. A future lesson will deal more fully with this library and the work to be done in it.
How much more valuable are these same libraries now with their vastly larger collections and there are many more that could be added! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As this old Lesson book continues, I think you will be surprised at how relevant the information is and how we are still concerned about most, if not all, of the same issues and topics today. 

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