Smorgasbord of Genealogical Insights

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“Smorgasbord of Genealogical Insights,” Ensign, July 1980, 74–75

Smorgasbord of Genealogical Insights

When the thousands of professionals, amateurs, and interested bystanders converge on the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, August 12–15, for the World Conference on Records, they’ll be sampling a smorgasbord of 300 lecture hours that include 340 papers on personal and family history, including introductions to the sources available in areas as diverse as the Ukraine, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

The 247 speakers will come from thirty states of the Union and thirty-two countries.

This offering was the result of countless manhours on the part of the seventy members of the program general committee and its ten subcommittees: personal and family history; demography; U.S. and Canada; British; Europe; Scandinavia; Spanish; Asia and the Pacific; Africa, South Asia and the Middle East; special presentations, and “Show-Me-How.”

The “Show-Me-How” 20-minute mini courses—about thirty of them—will be running concurrently with the lecture sessions in three different rooms in the Salt Palace, repeating two or three times on topics as diverse as how to use a tape recorder and how to dip a candle.

The program committee stresses that everyone is welcome—whether their background is professional, scholarly, family historian, “I really should get started,” or even “what’s genealogy?”

In addition to the program committee, dozens of other people worked on the executive committee, putting up exhibits, preparing advertising, working with public relations, providing hosting services, and so forth. Over eight hundred proposals for papers came in for screening, and many of those whose papers were accepted requested that they be lodged with a host family in the Salt Lake area so that they can “see what a Mormon family is really like.”

In addition to the specific sessions, general assemblies will hear addresses from President Spencer W. Kimball, Alex Haley, Elder G. Homer Durham, and the Osmond family.

Here’s a sampling of what you might hear passing the doors of lecture rooms in the Salt Palace, Hotel Utah, or the Capitol Theatre:

Armigerous. That’s an adjective meaning arms-bearing ancestor—not the two that everyone usually comes equipped with, but the coat of arms frequently peddled by “unethical heraldic firms” to an unsuspecting American public who does not know that there is no such thing as a family coat of arms. Armorial beatings are granted to an individual, not to a family, and can only be used by direct descendants with appropriate differentiating marks, explains Lowell A. Barker, city treasurer of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and an ardent genealogist.

—A thirty-five-year old husband and father living in Salt Lake City noted in his journal in 1858: “Found a dime.” “Contemplate that for a minute,” says speaker Eliot Butler, professor of chemistry and dean of BYU’s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. “Think how much that tells me of my ancestor’s economic status.”

—An unexpectedly fruitful source for genealogical information might be industrial records. Patrick Cadell, assistant keeper in the manuscripts department of the National Library of Scotland for the last eleven years, points out that a coalminer’s wife and children were a vital part of the mining operation. Each miner or “hewer” had a “bearer” who moved coal from the seam to the bottom of the mineshaft where an elevator could pick it up—or even to the top if there were no machinery. This bearer was normally a female relative, usually the wife. Both of them had apprentices, often their children. “Whatever we may think of this arrangement in these more enlightened days, it has the advantage for us that it offers useful genealogical information that might otherwise be lacking,” noted Mr. Cadell. He reconstructs the family tree of a Johnstone family from 1667 to 1767 to show how it could be done.

—If Quakers appear among your family background, you have a doubly good chance of finding genealogical information because two sets of minutes of Church meeting were kept—one by men, called The Minutes, and another by the women. If one set has been lost, the other set usually makes up the difference, notes Willard Heiss, a certified genealogist, Birthright Quaker, and Clerk of Lanthorn Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in Indianapolis.

—Do you know the difference between a customary court, a leet court, and the court baron? Cecil R. Humphery-Smith, director of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies in Canterbury, England, explains that a customary court was responsible for assessments and tenant lists; a leet court was, for all practical purposes, the police court; and the court baron made sure that the lord of the estate received his just fee in connection with tenants moving, marrying, inheriting, and so forth.

Seventeenth and eighteenth century Chile, socially and politically unsettled, gave wide scope to colorful vagabonds who were typically nomadic horsemen, living off the abundant cattle in a frontier region. This group reached its peak in the middle of the eighteenth century, at about one-third of the country’s adult population, points out Ann Hagerman Johnson, an expert on Latin American studies from Davis, California.

—In the Ga society of West Africa, it’s expected that three generations will share a household. But you’ll only find one gender among the occupants. Both men and women are heads of households; thus a home headed by a woman will include her daughters, sisters, niece, and granddaughters, but the male relatives will live elsewhere, in households headed by men, says Marion Kilson of Radcliffe College.

—Linda King Newell, co-author of a forthcoming biography of Emma Smith, discusses the sources used to construct the life of that important woman of the Church. “Emma lived in five states spanning three-quarters of a century,” Sister Newell explains, and Latter-day Saints know relatively little of her life after the death of the Prophet. “She was married to Joseph for seventeen years. She lived thirty-five more years after his death. For thirty-two of those years she was the wife of Lewis C. Bidamon.” She or her coauthor, Valeen Tippetts Avery, in addition to examining primary sources and other documents, visited the places Emma had lived and tracked down and interviewed the grandchildren of Lewis Bidamon.

—Have you ever checked a cadester? That term refers to a land census, usually initiated by a regional or national government with the idea of levying a new tax on the basis of how much land was available. It sometimes included information about livestock; types of crops; the proportion of arable land to pasture, wasteland, or marsh; and the inhabitants, according to Andrejs Plakans, of Iowa State University’s Department of History in his presentation on premodern Baltic sources.

—When your great-grandfather is described in a family record as a milkman, what did he do? Elizabeth Simpson, a professional genealogical researcher in Nottinghamshire, England, and a lecturer in family history at continuing education centers in the East Midland regions, explains that it largely depends on the century. In the early nineteenth century, a milkman sat in a London park beside a cow and sold milk by the cupful on demand. About fifty years later, he was a live-in servant tending and milking cows on a farm. And today, he drives around in a truck delivering milk, “totally divorced from the cow.”

—Knowing the name for something doesn’t necessarily mean you know what it looks like. Frank Smith of the LDS Genealogical Department points out that a “forest” once meant a reserved hunting area—not necessarily wooded; that a dresser used to be in the parlor or kitchen and was a board or table on which drinking vessels were placed; and that the window was once a “wind hole” in a Saxon or Norman hovel. Furthermore, the blanket is named for a fourteenth-century Bristol man named Thomas Blanket.

Thomas E. Daniels (right) and Wayne J. Metcalfe of the Genealogical Department oversee work of inputting names of thousands of conference registrants into a computer. (Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten.)