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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lessons in Genealogy from 1915 Part Three

I have been discussing Genealogical Society of Utah. Lessons in Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1912. The edition I am looking at, was printed in 1915. I would consider this small publication to fall into the rare book category. I am only aware of only two libraries in the world that have a copies; the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. A digitized copy is available on

The reason this pamphlet or book is thought provoking is because of the possibility of comparing and contrasting the approach to genealogy prevalent in Utah a hundred years ago with that of today. It is obvious that there have been huge technological changes, but do those changes really affect the basic principles and concepts of genealogical research or are they merely substitutes for paper, pencils and a good erasure?

This question is partially answered in the first pages of the book. If you compare a current publication on "family history" from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints such as the current instructional publication, Member's Guide to Temple and Family History Work, you will find a few major differences, but mostly striking similarities. Both publications, the current one from 2012 available on the website, and the old rare book, start with exactly the same premise; understanding why we do genealogy is based on doctrine as revealed to the latter-day prophets. Although Church members have just as many different motivational reasons for doing (or not doing) genealogical research, the members of the Church have an additional deeply religious reason for being involved. Ignoring this is like trying to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room. It is further apparent that religiously based animosity against "Mormons" enters into the genealogical world, just as it does the political and social world.

Fortunately, it is my experience, that the issue of religious doctrine only seldom tints genealogical discussions. Although in my dealings with both those who are members of the Church and those who are not, the goals of the research tend to differ considerably. This occurs primarily because the members are more interested in the details of processing their genealogical information into a format that can be used to perform Church Temple ordinances for their deceased ancestors, rather than doing the research for purely informational reasons. Living in the two worlds of research is so natural to me personally that I hardly give it a thought and find very few conflicts in my own attitude towards genealogical research. I primarily focus on the process of finding people, since, in my way of thinking, the actual work of preparing names for Temple ordinances is quite simple to do. Finding the people is what is hard. Doing real research is what is a challenge.

Now, back to the book. We cannot ignore the changes in technology but even though we have a different medium to record our information, the suggestions made in the 1915 Lessons are still applicable. Here is an introductory quote;
We shall assume that the reader is entirely unacquainted with the methods employed by trained specialists in this art ; and that he desires full and careful directions as to how to begin and how to continue his labor. His first requisite is notebooks, record books, pencils, paper, and ink.
Note and Record Books.
The notebooks should be preferably about seven by ten inches, as this permits space for dates and names across the page. The Genealogical Society has had prepared properly ruled and printed notebooks for this purpose. They may be obtained from the Society at 10 cents each. The book for a family record of temple work may be purchased at the Genealogical Society office, which keeps the approved form, bound in one, two, and three quire sizes. The prices are: One quire, $1.25; two quires, $1.75; and three quires, $2.25. A soft and good pencil is advisable, as there are often erasures to make, especially with beginners. The pencil should have a rubber. Insist on securing the very best ink made for permanent recording. Anything so important as the records of our dead must require permanency. Cheap ink soon fades, and the fading- away of our work may prove a serious loss to our descendants. We recommend Carter's record ink for this purpose. The notebook should be inscribed with the owner's name, address, and the date of beginning the work. These points are of great importance, small as they seem. If the book be lost, the address will secure its return to the owner. The date will make an historical link in the chain he is seeking to weave around himself and his dead. On the fly-leaf of his book, let the beginner now write again his own name, the place from which he is seeking his information, and above all the name of the family whose lines are to be traced in the book. Only one line of ancestry should appear in any one book. It makes great confusion to put several family lines together, either in the notebook or the record of temple work. At the head of the page should be written the name of the heir in the family at whose instance the work is to be done. Heirship will be explained later.
 If you read this carefully, you will see some common themes. The first is organization and second is permanency.  Aren't we concerned with both today. We may be recording our names and lines in a computer program but we still need to spend the same care and concern for backing up our files and recording the information we find in a systematic way. By-the-way, the word "quires" refers to four sheets of paper folded to form eight leaves. It can also mean a set of 24 or 25 sheets of paper of the same size and stock or one twentieth of a ream. The second definition is the most likely, since I am familiar with the exact notebooks spoken of in the article.

More later.

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