Your English (or Irish, or Scottish, or Welsh) Genealogy May Already Be Compiled…

Using the Work of Other British Isles Researchers

From 1977-79, I was a member of the University of Utah Center for the Study of Historical Population and assigned to compile a descriptive inventory for the microfilm holdings for England at the Family History Library (then using its legal name—Genealogical Society of Utah). We read the whole shelf list for the Library looking for buried and hidden items in the collection. Then we personally checked over 35% of the 60,000 reels of microfilm for England. And compared what we found against the microfilmers’ reports and the Library Catalog  (which was on 3×5 cards at the time) just to ensure that we missed nothing of importance. I still have all of the notes we made—including the forms we filled out for each and every parish—Anglican and Non-Conformist.

The Descriptive Inventory of the English Collection was published by the University of Utah in 1979. It’s now out of print. Many libraries purchased copies, and you can look for a copy in the genealogy library you frequent.

Section V: “Personal Records” is the most significant in my opinion:

  1. Personal Papers, by surname of compiler/owner
  2. Collections “for the history of…”, by compiler/owner
  3. Pedigrees, by surname or locality
  4. Family Histories in manuscript, by surname of family

In late June 2007, I personally re-checked the online Family History Library Catalog with all of its new descriptions, against our work. Some additional entries are present; however, the microfilming of most of these “Personal Records”  was done between 1949 and 1975, and I found few additions.

What is new in the collection for the British Isles since 1979:
Printed indexes, updated versions of in-house indexes created by British archives, original documents from national repositories and county record offices, histories of local communities, analytical assessments of major document categories.

How to Find the “Personal Records:”
Since the Library restricted us from including call numbers in the inventory (they were being changed for several parts of England), here is how you find the entries in the current online Family History Library Catalog.

  1. Consult our Descriptive Inventory of the English Collection, Section V: “Personal Records” for your surname or your locality.  See FREE CONTENT on my Home Page, left-hand menu
  2. Search complete name of compiler or personal owner of materials in author section of the Family History Library Catalog. If no entry–
  3. Search complete name of compiler or personal owner as keyword search. Watch for other identifiers we used in the Descriptive Inventory. Re-search keyword with these identifiers: locality, date of death or fl., etc.
  4. When you get an entry that matches, read the whole entry. You will notice that authors’ names are links. Always click the link to see what else this particular author/compiler/owner has done. If you see joint authors, each will be linked to their works. Check them all.

The Family History Library used the premier genealogists of their day to determine what should be microfilmed in Wales, in Ireland, in Scotland, and in England.   They personally knew many of the compilers or had used their works. They personally knew the archives personnel and the genealogists who used those archives and libraries.

Since microfilming began in the days just before the outbreak of World War II, these British genealogists felt the urgency of probable record loss!  Men like Frank Smith, and David Gardner, and Evan Evans made the selections of what to film first, themselves–upon the advice and knowledge of this premier genealogy world.

In your rush to find British ancestors quickly, please don’t ignore the work of these previous genealogists! They lived sometimes 6-10 generations closer to the people they studied and wrote about.

And since your generation of genealogy teachers has emphasized the need for original documents. There is still massive record loss, under-registration of genealogy data, incomplete indexes, illegible or badly written documents to deal with in the British Isles. These earlier searchers had to deal with these same problems.

Break your losing streak! Your genealogy probably has been compiled and all you need to do is plug your research into this genealogy work and verify that the information is correct. You may not have to wade through all of the original record problems first.  Your favorite British Isles genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Many online pedigrees can be instantly corrected and some extended, in the works of British genealogists who went before.  Don’t overlook the thousands of pedigrees already compiled.  As I have reviewed the rolls of microfilm, the boxes are still new and unopened.  The film unexamined.  And recent British genealogy finding aids do not mention any of these works!  You can be plowing new fields and discovering new ancestors!


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