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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Inconsequential Records?

I have been reading an interesting and, to me, challenging book. Here is the citation:

Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.

There are copies of this book available in libraries and for sale on In reporting the history of the Genealogical Society of Utah and its successors such as the most recent one, FamilySearch, the authors discuss the history of the worldwide microfilm project that culminates today in the records being digitized and put online in the Historical Record Collections. There is one quote from the book that caught my attention. This section of the book talks about the period extending from the 1940s to 1961 when the Genealogical Society was struggling with deciding what and where to film records. The book states, at page 233:
At the same time, George Fudge toured operations in the United States. To his dismay, he found some filmers photographing inconsequential records such as full runs of newspapers. See George Fudge, oral history interview by Bruce Blumell, 1976, typescript, JMOHP [James Moyle Oral History Program].
In citing this, I am in no way criticizing either the Society or George Fudge, who was one of the Assistant Directors of the Society in 1961. What caught my eye was the reference characterizing the "full runs" of newspapers as inconsequential records.

What are inconsequential records and do newspapers fall into that category? I would guess that what was meant at the time was that he did not feel that spending the Society's money to copy newspapers was important. He was likely faced with many more records that he considered to be more "valuable."

However, I think we make the same kinds of distinctions even if we are not directly involved in the acquisition of microfilm or digital copies of various documents. I have found myself pre-judging a record and deciding, just from the title, that it has nothing to do with my research. I would certainly never put newspapers in this category, but there are other records that I may consciously or unconsciously categorize as inconsequential, unimportant or not worth the effort.

In this blog, I am, from time to time, talking about record collections around the world. I also focus on unusual or little consulted records such as my recent post on cadastral mapping. I can only wonder how many of those who even bothered to read the post dismissed it without a further thought, concluding that "none of their ancestors would be found on cadastral maps." In doing this, they fail to even verify their conclusion by examining the maps themselves.

No matter how valuable or important a record or source may seem to be, it is only valuable if it has the information you are seeking. As to newspapers, there are presently a large number of digitization projects going on right now to digitize as many newspaper runs as are possible to do. These are hardly inconsequential records and of vital interest and use by genealogists.


  1. I find that a great number of records that I use on a regular basis are those that many genealogists would consider "inconsequential records". Newspapers and newsletters, cadastral mapping, heritage reports, government reports for education, mining, etc. - all things that many of my "professional" mentors rate a low quality data. In my experience though, I don't use each piece of information like an island standing alone in a giant ocean of proof. Instead each big is joined together like building blocks that eventually form a strong foundation for my ancestors - and point me in the direction, from time to time, to more traditional high-quality data. And along the way they start to flesh out the person behind the numbers - which is the part of this that I enjoy the most.

    Great post. I'm glad I've found your blog ! Lots of reading to do now. Thanks.

    1. I certainly agree. Many of these records are extremely valuable but more difficult to find and use.