Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Where are all the books?

As I have noted recently, day after day, I sit in a huge library and watch people ignore the books and use their computers. The tragedy here is that many of the world's genealogical records are locked up in books. We sometimes emphasize the use of "original" records while at the same time disparaging books as lacking "sources." But here is the problem. Much of what we know about the past has been preserved because people wrote about it at the time. My own family has at least a dozen or so compilations of family history in book format. I usually refer to these books as surname books. Most of these were written by people who personally knew many of family members mentioned in the books. The information in older genealogically oriented books reaches far back in time. For example, one book I use frequently is the following:

Overson, Margaret Godfrey (Jarvis). George Jarvis and Joseph George De Friez Genealogy. Mesa, Ariz: s.n, 1957.

My great-grandmother, the author, who I knew personally, was born in 1878. She wrote about three families, the Jarvis family, the Overson family and the DeFriez family. She knew her own grandfather, George Jarvis, who was born in 1823. So, in this one book, the chain of personal experience goes back almost two hundred years and covers eight generations. It would be easy to dismiss Grandmother Overson's almost 700 page book as lacking in sources, but in this case, she was the source. Although the details are sometimes edited, she has hundreds of life sketches and some extensive biographies. Over the years in using the book, I have found nearly all of the information to be reliable. 

We hear a lot about how the world's information is going online and many genealogical records are being digitized. But just because a record is digitized does not mean that it will be used or consulted. Over the years, I have told many of the descendants of those individuals contained in the Overson book about its existence. But I would guess, that considering the fact that the book had a very limited circulation and was printed back in 1957, now 58 years ago, that there are not that many physical copies of the book available. Physical copies of the book are available in nine libraries according to One of those libraries is the Mesa FamilySearch Library which is, at the time of this post, still closed and without a re-opening date. How many family members know that copies of the book are available in those libraries?

Let's suppose that you are one of the thousands of descendants of the families contained in just this one book. How do you find out about its existence? Would you know if a digital copy of the book were available? As a matter of fact, the book has been completely digitized and is included in the 200,000+ digital books on In fact, how many people even know about the books online on

One of the major challenges of our technological age is processing the huge amounts of information we already have available and adding to it, the huge amounts of additional information that become constantly available. Do you know if your family has a surname book or two lurking out there in some library? Do you know if the book has been digitized? Why not start a search today. 

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