The Laws of Genealogy

Photo by s_falkow. Used under Creative Commons license.

You’ve heard the rules of genealogy. Cite your sources. Start with the known and move to the unknown. Run for office and have it done for you. What you may not have heard are the Laws of Genealogy.

The Laws of Genealogy guide our research. They explain why things behave the way they do. You would think that they’d be widely known, yet this isn’t the case. My friend Stephanie (of the amazing Corn and Cotton blog) said that she was “Jabba the Researcher,” because she had spread out her things so much at the Genealogy Center in the Allen County Public Library. I was surprised that she had never heard one of the Laws.

So here are some of the Laws of Genealogy, as I have come to know them:

The Law of Horizontal Space: Genealogists shall take up all available horizontal space. Those books, papers, laptops, scanners, notebooks, more paper, office supplies, peanut M&Ms, more paper, file folders, computer bags, and yet more paper will spread out as far as possible. Corollary to this law: There is not enough horizontal space in the world.

Photo by Earls37a. Used under Creative Commons license.

The Law of Last Call: Genealogists will make their biggest discovery after the library or archives announces it will be closing in 15 minutes. This Law is more stringently enforced the further the genealogist had to travel to get to said library or archives. Similar to this is the Law of Departure Time, which states that a genealogist will make his or her biggest discovery within 15 of the agreed-upon departure time from the library (ie, if the group is going to leave at 4:00, the biggest discovery will be made after 3:45). Do not attempt to trick the Law of Departure Time by stating a time earlier that what is really planned. The Laws of Genealogy know this and will punish you by not allowing you to find anything.

The Law of Copies: The likelihood of a library or archives using a copy card system is  inversely proportional to the number of coins you brought with you. Bring lots of coins and you won’t need them. Bring none, and all the copiers will be coin operated.

The Law of Vital Records: At least one member of the family tree will have been born or died 1-2 years before the start of civil vital records. This is to expose the researcher to alternate sources. (Yeah, that’s it… )

The Law of Thumbs: When a record is microfilmed, the camera operator’s thumb must obscure the researcher’s ancestor’s name. You just thought Princess Diana held the record for “most photographed person in the world.” No, it’s the man who ran the microfilm camera. You never see his face, but his thumb is known around the world.

There are other Laws, but these are ones that seem to be the most strictly enforced. What other Laws of Genealogy have you discovered?

16 thoughts on “The Laws of Genealogy

  1. This hits just about every major law on the head – though I’m sure there are a few others. Research time is so precious, and it is just aggravating to have to contend with these laws that we KNOW are going to happen.

  2. The law of brick walls. You can never solve your own brick walls, but if you help a friend, the books jump off the shelf and land to the page with the answer.

  3. The law of the Thumb can certainly be expanded to the Law of the Blurry Image. In 100 images, 99 will be clear but the one that ‘might’ contain your ancestor is blurry. Your left with the fact that you can’t use the dataset but you can’t exlude it either. Argh! But that’s what makes it fun, right? Right?

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