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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lessons in Genealogy from 1915 Part Five

This series of posts talks about the book, 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

The idea of these posts is to compare and contrast the methodology and background expressed by the Lessons back in the early 1900s and what we are experiencing today. By and large, the comparison is very favorable. At the core of the practice of genealogy, stripping away all the technological do-dads, the process of doing genealogy has not changed all that much. Most of the practical advice from the old Lessons book applies equally well today as it did then.

Here is what the book says about foreign research. Remember, that this was a book published in Salt Lake City, Utah. Almost everything was foreign back then because as the book notes, most of the inhabitants of Utah were either immigrants or descended from immigrants.
After all other sources of information have been exhausted,  there are still the vast accumulations of original records in the churches and archives of the older states and countries of Europe. This western part of America is still young. Either we or our immediate forefathers came here from the East or from Europe, and to these old home-lands must we eventually go for a continuation of our pedigree hunting. The European records consist largely of parish registers, containing entries of births or christenings, marriages, and deaths or burials; then there are records of wills, deeds, visitations, etc. All this is found in the original ancient scrip which, as a rule, is not easy to read, as. much of the matter is in the old style of writing and some in Latin. An expert is therefore required to get satisfactory results. A novice usually makes little headwav. Also these records are frequently in the keeping of ministers and parish clerks whom it is hard to approach, and who charge the full extent of the fees which the law usually allows them to charge every searcher at will. The Genealogical Society of Utah has helped many people to get information from foreign countries, and hopes to be able to do more in this way in the future. Competent persons have been doing this work in Great Britain, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. However, at the present, because of the war and other causes, this work is quite unsatisfactory, and it is advised that persons who desire research work done in Europe, first communicate with the Genealogical Society of Utah. A genealogical and biographical blank record book for the use of Latter-day Saint families and individuals has recently been published and approved by the Church Authorities, which will be found invaluable as a means of recording and preserving all items and dates of importance in the histories of families or lives of individuals. The price is $1.25. It may be purchased from the Genealogical Society of Utah.
Remember that this book was written just as World War I was beginning in Europe. There certainly were difficulties in obtain access to the records at that time. If we fast forward to the present, we find this same Genealogical Society of Utah, now called FamilySearch, doing exactly the same thing; making the records of the world available. At the time this was written the entire microfilm effort was far in the future and could not have been imagined given the bulky and difficult to use camera equipment of the day. But now after 74 years of microfilming and digitizing we have millions upon millions of records either available on microfilm for a nominal cost of rental or free online at

By the way, the book that was selling for $1.25 in 1915, adjusted for inflation, would now cost over $26.00, no small amount for the people of the time.

But what about the idea of hiring a professional genealogist to do the work over in Europe? Well, that is still quite common. I hear about people hiring genealogists all the time, although I have not had the need or opportunity to do so. But the observation about the difficulty of reading the old scripts is still very much a consideration.

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