Five Unspoken Laws of Genealogy


You’ve heard the rules of genealogy. Cite your sourcesStart with the known and move to the unknown. What you may not have heard are the Laws of Genealogy. Much like the Law of Gravity causes an apple to fall down and not up, these laws are all around us. Here are 5 of the unspoken Laws of Genealogy, as I have come to know them:

The Law of Horizontal Space

Genealogists shall take up all available horizontal space. Books, papers, file folders keep taking up more and more space. It starts on our desks and spreads to the dining room table, the coffee table, the floor… Even in our digital world, this law is still in effect. Add up our laptops, smartphones, scanners, tablets, chargers, spare batteries and all our techie toys and we still take up a lot of space.  Corollary to this law: There is not enough horizontal space in the world.

The Law of Last Call

Genealogists will make their biggest discovery after the library or archives announces that it will be closing in 15 minutes. This Law is more stringently enforced the farther the genealogist had to travel to get to said library or archives.

The Law of Departure Time

Genealogists will make their biggest discovery within 15 minutes of the agreed-upon time of departure from a library or archives. 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 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 Legibility

A record’s legibility is inversely proportional to how much a genealogist wants to read it. This is perhaps the most unjust of the Laws. You finally found that record that will tell you who great-great-grandma’s parents were! Unfortunately, it’s the one record on the page that has a giant ink smudge on it. Or you finally found your immigrant ancestor’s passenger list — and the person who wrote it was a graduate of Mrs. Chickenscratch’s School of Penmanship.

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