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Master Accreditation of the Genealogical Institute

by Floyd Thomas Pratt, F.H.C. M.A.G.I.


Excerpts from the Digital Text found at the Internet Archive.

Floyd Thomas Pratt's first career was in law enforcement.  He began doing genealogy in 1975 after joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While working as an insurance salesman, he also volunteered at his local Family History Center and offered courses on genealogy.  In 1996, he founded the Genealogical Institute, publishing a series of booklet courses on genealogical techniques.

(NB: This document may not print properly in Firefox.  Paragraph numbers apply to these excerpts, not the original source.  Elipses in square brackets designate material left out of this excerpt.  Elipses not in square brackets are part of the original text.)

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Motivation . . .

Your average researcher may be doing family research out of curiosity, pride, family, even some for fortune. . . .

Regardless of what motivates these researchers, many have no idea or clue as to where or how the researching process took place or where this information was obtained.

Some assume it has always been available and obtainable through the Internet.  With a click of a mouse button they can read any census of any year in any state.  They can search marriage records from various counties in almost any state.  They can read newspapers, war records and social security information from their desk, and if they are willing to pay third-party vendors a fee. . . they can access so many records and family histories as to boggle the mind.

However, this was not always the case and many of you "newbies" do not have an appreciation or full understanding as to how, when and who has made available tot he public, these wonderful family histories that have been obtained from thousands of researchers without proper recognition and compensation[. . . .]

In the Beginning . . .

Since my research began in the mid 1970's, let me relate to you my experiences concerning the deplorable conditions of family history research at that time[. . . .]

In the Crawford, Washington & Franklin County areas of Missouri, I ran across three women who had done a considerable amount of research on the Blantons, Pratts, Harmons and Carters.

Each of these fine ladies has since crossed over the veil, but they are responsible for pointing me in the right directions when it came to the Blantons, Harmons and Carters family history.

However, the Pratt family research they had done was fragmented and heavier on the Blanton side. Since none of them except Dolly had Pratts directly in their lines, their research was not as thorough as their other lines[. . . .]

Let me tell you the extraordinary work they had accomplished under such primitive working conditions.

There were no computers to view these records, [nor] were there printed sources for these records.  You couldn't buy a CD for $14.95 with the entire 1880 census.  Everything had to be obtained from the actual source location; Marriage Books, Deed Records, Tax Rolls, Land Grants, and Wills all had to be viewed at the County Courthouses.

Or viewed at the repository in which they rested.  Therefore, if your ancestor lived in Franklin County, Missouri you had to go to the courthouse in Union, Missouri to view these records.  Many civil authorities were reluctant to allow you to see their records . . . especially in the larger cities.  Sometimes you had to give them your request and they would go look it up for you.

In the smaller courthouses in the rural counties, when you did get to look at an old marriage, deed, and court book, you were astonished to see your ancestors there.  What a thrill[. . . .]

If you wanted to know who was buried in a certain cemetery, you drove to that cemetery and looked for yourself.  Very few books, if any, could be found concerning cemeteries and their inhabitants.

Talking to the "old timers" in the area of interest, would yield locations of hidden cemeteries and burial grounds on various farms, which may have included your ancestors.

These encounters meant long and various sojourns into the wilderness wadding through waist high grass and weeds, braving ticks, chiggers, snakes, wild animals, dangerous and impassable roads sometimes through deep and treacherous creeks, gulleys and paths all in the pursuit of ancestral knowledge.

Of course the reward was meeting new friends and finding information about your ancestors others may enjoy hearing or reading about[. . . .]

Bridging with Census Records. . .

Up to that point in time, no one had any census books available in printed form.

Bryon Sistler was the first publisher to print the indexes only for selected Federal census records into book form.  He only covered certain years and certain states.

I remember seeing his census books for Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and thought how wonderful someday to have them for the middle states as well.  However the transcribing process had to be developed slowly over time for each state.

My first printed census form, I ordered from a computer company was sent on 14" green bar computer paper, if you can remember those.  It was a list of all the Pratts in the 1790 census.  It didn't do me any good because I didn't even know who my great grandfather was let alone my 1790 Pratt ancestor.

Most libraries did not have the financial resources to obtain the full federal census for each state on microfilm from the National Archives.  The St. Louis Public Library was the only place I knew housing all 50 states and all the censuses up to 1890 on microfilm.

The only repository that had the resources allowing you to view the records on microfilm was the local Genealogy Library (now called the Family History Center) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  And for $2.75 you could order records for any county in any state from Salt Lake and view them indefinitely on microfilm at their [Family History Center] libraries.  This included marriage, deed, court and census records.

It took weeks to get your order filled and when your film arrived, a library  patron would call you and inform you of its arrival[. . . . ]

Some public libraries had maybe 1, 2 or 3 microfilm machines and they were never all busy at the same time.  Only the large libraries could afford microfilm or microfiche machines and due tot he lack of prioritized interest by the patrons, they were not being used very often except by a few stalwart researchers like myself [. . . .]

Each page in a census locale had to be viewed and deciphered.  If your family were living in Crawford County, Missouri, then you might start with where you last knew they had resided, i.e., if they lived in Bourbon, which was in Boone Township, Crawford County, Missouri, which has 23 census pages.

However, if they were not in Boone Township, you had to look for them in the surrounding townships of Crawford County, which has an additional 228 pages.

Each page had to be scrutinized for various spellings, handwritings and slang that could have represented your ancestors.

If you were looking in the 1900 census of Boone Township, Crawford County, Missouri, the Boone Township page had grown from 23 pages to 31 pages and the entire County had grown from 228 pages to 245 pages.

If you still could not find them in the whole county of Crawford then you would have to shift your search to neighboring counties which contained thousands of pages, which was time consuming and tedious.

Sometimes this took hours and days before you were able to find them.  Sometimes they left the state or moved to far away places int eh state and you never could find them [. . . . ]

Only by spending long hours at those microfilm machines could you hope for the connections and successes.  However, inch-by-inch, name-by-name the researchers of old discovered their families and with census information were able to bridge generations and create an ancestral line as far as they could validate[. . . .]

Only by the sweat of our brow and the size of our wallets did we find the records.

A Traveling We Would Go, A Traveling We Would Go, Hi Ho a Merry-O . . .

While others watched football on Sunday or did family activities on the weekends, our family traveled on our vacations to cemeteries, courthouses, family reunions, libraries and relative's homes for ancestral information[. . . .]

Some courthouses had their records stored in unindexed cardboard boxes piled in a corner.

If you were lucky, some helpful clerks would go and find records for you in their vaults and share them with you, which would be illegal today.  I'm talking of records like divorce and adoption and other records that are not readily available for public access due to the atmosphere of paranoia in today's society.

I saw books of records stacked in a corner of the vault with no indexes or headings of court minutes and other information pertaining to the county.  Unless you could spend days and weeks reading and cataloging these records, you didn't have the time and who knows how much valuable information these records held about your family history[. . . .]

While our family were in the vaults of the courthouses, all of our school aged children were given surnames on a piece of paper and given a marriage book and told to write down all the information about those marriages with those particular surnames.  After all these years, I still have their handwritten notes listing those marriage records.

If you had more time at your destination you would check the local newspapers for old newspaper articles for information about your ancestors.  Death notices, marriage announcements, day-to-day activities and what I found amusing would be visitors who visited your ancestor.  Sometimes, these visitors were relatives from far away places revealing where they were living at that particular date and time[. . . .]

Today, [. . .] "old time" researchers are responsible for 95% of the material discovered on your ancestors on the Internet you can so easily access with a click of the mouse.

Everyone Had a Story

I remember while researching at a library, looking at microfilm, on more than one occasion jumping up out of my chair with excitement when I discovered a new link to one of my ancestors and shouting out loud with great joy . . . Eureka!!!!

Other research patrons came over and congratulated me on my success and we were all like a family helping each other find what we were looking for because the task was so difficult and the work so slow and tedious.

It seemed for every one of us who was looking for our ancestors, hundreds of others in the world had little or no interest at all[. . . .]

Enter Roots, A New Age. . .

In January 1977, a television mini-series program came on TV called, "ROOTS."

The author, a black man named Alexander "Alex" Murray Palmer Haley, (1921-1992) who became obsessed with his ancestry in 1963, began a 12 year quest to discover his "roots" . . . and found them [. . . .]

He was so intrigued by the research, he wrote a book based on the facts of his research and it became the second mini-series ever broadcast on television called "ROOTS" in 1977.

As an avid reader, my mother introduced me to that book long before it became a mini-series.  But, I never found the time to read it.

Little did the rest of the world know the impact this book and mini-series was going to have on the world of genealogy [. . . .]

The most important appeal of Mr. Haley's book to me, was how he explained the true role the white and African slavers had in the slave movement around the world . . .  especially in America.

It showed the black race as a civilized culture brutally seized from their homes and forced for the sake of monetary gain into slavery [. . . .]

This mini-series made such an impression on the American physique, after the mini-series aired, everyone wanted to know about their families.  Black, White, Latino, Asian all races were interested in the answers to the eternal questions; who am I, where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going.

The big boom for genealogical research took off with a feeding frenzy.

All of a sudden, it appeared, everyone was in the library.  People of all races were copying marriage records, deeds, wills and publishing them into books.

There was a waiting list for access to microfilm machines.  The National Archives in Washington D.C. bought 100 additional microfilm machines and still there was a 45-minute waiting period for access.  It became "in vogue" to research your family [ . . . .]

"ROOTS" bound the human race together unlike anything I have ever seen.  The pursuit for answers about ancestors built a common thread through all races of people in all countries [. . . .]

Of course, to the outside community nothing had really changed but to us insiders, who had been in the genealogy field, we saw an explosion of interest.

To our way of thinking . . . the more the merrier.  We needed all the help we could get and welcomed the additional researchers and shared what we had with them at no charge so we could bring them up-to-date quickly.

If you have not seen the mini-series . . . "ROOTS", truly you have cheated your soul from enjoying one of the pleasures of this life and a milestone in genealogy research [. . . .]

Books, Books and Did I Mention More Books? . . .

I personally had accumulated so much family research information, I became confused and stuck with boxes and boxes of information (15).  I was researching 300 or more family lines.  So, like most advanced researchers, I had reached my capacity to manage such a collection and I did what other researchers have done . . . . I stopped.  And then another miracle took place. . . the computer.

Computer, Where Have You Been All My Life? . . .

What the originators of the modern computer age were unaware; when they invented the computer in the early 1980's . . . these computers were a tool in the Lord's plan to expedite family history research.

With the advancement of the Apple computer for home use, word processors were being tooled to write letters and databases were created for the purpose of data storage of records.

In a few years in the early 1990's, Bill Gates invented "Windows" which was similar to Apple's MAC program and this made the computer "user friendly" to most users.  This opened the door for quick and fast retrieval and storage of genealogical records[. . . .]

The Generations Network created in 2006 later renamed Ancestry.com in 2009 opened for business, but with very limited records or resources.  They really didn't come into their own until the middle of the last decade.

There was and still is much resistance to giving ancestry.com or any website all your family records without compensation since it has cost you so dearly to obtain such information.

I didn't join their organization until I found they had completed the database for the census records up to the 1930 census.  Then and only then could I justify spending a membership fee to access those records.

However, since then, the Church has written a Beta system program that offers free access to census, marriage and other records. (Known as Family Search)[. . . .]

Up until around the early 2000's many researchers were still handwriting their family history letters, family group sheets and pedigree charts to fellow researchers.

Documentation . . .

With family history research in it's infancy in the 1960's and 1970's, so far as details go, concerning where and when and whom, all of the researchers save a few lacked a basic primary discipline . . . documentation!!!

Most of what I received from all of them had to be proven again and again, because it was heresy evidence.  I'm not talking about stories but copies of documents, marriages, deeds and newspaper articles without identifying the source or repository.

Having been trained in the techniques of family history research through professional programs offered by my church, I was required to document everything and prove all information before it could be submitted to the temple for ordinances [. . . .]

After proving the information found in my research, I submitted the information to two sources between 1976 and 1986.  The Temple file for ordinance work and the Ancestral file of the church.

The ancestral file was made available to all those everywhere who inquired about a family line and if they connected to oen of my families, they would receive my name and address and would call or write to me requesting information.  Because, I had submitted thousands of names I was overwhelmed with requests.

I had one individual call to inquire about the Hansell line and he thank me for submitting my work to the Ancestral file.  He said my work was the starting point for his research into the Hansel family, which he has linked them to England and several additional generations.

This has been my primary purpose . . . to help others find answers.  However, many just took the information without a thank you and failed to give credit where credit was due.

When I use information obtained from other sources, I go out of my way to make sure the title of the book, the author, the publisher and the page number is identified.  This is the right and courteous way.  And those authors and researchers have earned my respect and deserve the respect of others [. . . . ]

In Conclusion . . .

I have wrestled with this first chapter in the M.A.G.I. series (Master Accreditation of the Genealogical Institute) for many years.

Wondering if I should write what I have seen and been a participant concerning the "old timers" research procedures and difficulties[. . . .]  Out of respect and love for my fellow researchers I decided their story needed to be told.

I realize my research experience did not start until 1975, so my entry into this field was as a late commer and not one of the early pioneers of family history research.

However I, having been shown by example of the sacrifice necessary to find this information about our ancestors from previous veteran researchers, knew that I too would have to pay my dues in order to find the answers as they have before me.

So, following their example, I have driven many miles to sit for hours reading through books in libraries from the east coast to the west coast of the United States.

I have sat for hours looking at microfilm machines, looking at census records page after page of documents so light you could hardly read them.  Stretching my vision to discern the slightest recognizable letter or name hoping to identify my ancestors.

I have driven many miles to wade through weeds waist high looking for "lost" cemeteries that held the resting place of my ancestors.

I have driven many miles to vist the courthouses from county to county, state to state looking for information about the marriages, divorces, deaths, births, deeds and court minutes of my ancestors to help me build their histories from such documents[. . . .]

As the early pioneers of family research had paved the way for future researchers, by following their example, you too can pave new roads into your family history.

Deed records need to be digitized, marriage records are sparse and need work, newspaper articles needs to be made available.  The work has really just started.

The Lord has need of willing hands who wear the workers seal.  Be of gladfull hearts there is still much to do.

But remember, the next time you log on to a website and with a click of your mouse button open up an unlimited amount of records . . . someone, somewhere and at sometime had to research, find, compile and submit those records that you so easily access.

Every record, newspaper, photo, story, family group sheet, pedigree chart, book, military records and immigration records to name a few had to be written, copied, scanned or physically input into a computer database by someone so we could locate the information we seek.

You can show respect for these research "pioneers" and their sacrifice and dedication by acknowledging their contributions to your family history.  I know they have earned your respect and it is the right thing to do.

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