Your Genealogy May Already Be Compiled:
Identifying and Using Collections of Other British Researchers
c 2007 Arlene H. Eakle, PhD

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 microfilmer's reports and the card catalog just to ensure that we missed nothing of importance. I still have all of the notes we made—including the forms 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 still the most significant in my opinion:

  • 1.      Monumental Inscriptions, by county with name of collection/compiler
  • 2.      Personal Papers, by surname of compiler/owner
  • 3.      Collections “for the history of...”, by compiler/owner
  • 4.      Pedigrees, by surname or locality
  • 5.      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. The microfilming of most of these “Personal Records” however, was done between 1950 and 1975, and I found few additions to these personal records among the new microfilm.

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 records.

How to Find the “Personal Records” Collections in the FHLC: 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 FHL catalog:

  • 1.      Consult the Descriptive Inventory of the English Collection, Section V: “Personal Records” for your surname or your locality. (this section of the Inventory is reproduced as a 36 pg PDF, 5megs in size)
  • 2.      Search complete name of compiler or personal owner of materials in author 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 it all. 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 people who determined what should be microfilmed in Wales, in Ireland, in Scotland, and in England were among the premier genealogists of their day. They personally knew many of the compilers or had used their works. They personally knew the genealogists in the archives and library world who could recommend what was essential to film and identify what was questionable. Frank Smith, and David Gardner, and Evan Evans made the microfilming selections themselves upon the advice and knowledge of this premier genealogy world of which they were a part.

In our rush to find British ancestors quickly, we have too often ignored the work of previous genealogists! And our generation of genealogy teachers has emphasized the original documents—and we still do. Yet, we have massive record loss, under-registration of genealogy data, incomplete indexes, illegible or badly written documents to deal with in the British Isles.

Break your losing streak!  Your genealogy probably has been compiled and all you need to do is plug your research into this genealogy and verify that the information is correct. You may not have to wade through all of the original documents on which it was based.