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Noting the inscriptions

This week’s discussion here at The Legal Genealogist of law books and legal dictionaries morphed into noting what’s written inside the covers of books.

And, of course, what that writing tells us about our families.

And about ourselves.

Now… The Legal Genealogist surely doesn’t have a treasure like the one colleague Gordon Remington found — a Revolutionary-era family record set out in the covers of an early law book owned by his lawyer grandfather and great-grandfather.1 There’s nothing in my possession, or even the possession of my extended family that I know of, that goes back much beyond my own generation.

But even when it’s just our own generation, or our parents’ generation, noting the inscriptions is important — because we are the historians of the future.

Someone in a future generation, for example, is going to want to know what was going on in the covers of a set of World Book Encyclopedias owned by my family.

Of course, anybody who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s is going to know these encyclopedias. Just about every family owned a set — door-to-door salesmen came around and convinced middle-American parents that their children had to have them to succeed.

Published by the Hanson-Roach-Fowler Company in 1917, then by W.F. Quarrie & Company, the encyclopedia was sold to Field Enterprises in 1945.2 The set we owned had blue covers, and we called it the “Blue Book.”

For my family, the World Book was the singular answer to almost every question asked by any kid. The answer: “Look it up!”

And so we did. Over and over and over. To the point where I’m surprised the covers stayed on and the print didn’t wear off.

And, somehow, those books survived years of use and moves and storage to surface after my mother’s death in 1999.

At which point the question became, what do we do with these books?

It would have been easy to simply chuck the whole set. We’re talking seriously outdated reference materials here.

But my two youngest brothers came up with a different idea. Warren took half of the books and Bill took the other half. And each time they get together, one volume from Warren’s set gets swapped for one volume of Bill’s set.

And inside the covers they write a note.

Most of the time it’s funny. Sometimes it’s poignant. It’s always wonderful. These are already a treasure. And any genealogist can only imagine how cherished these volumes will be in a generation or two.

So even in our own generations, in our own lifetimes, we need to note the inscriptions in those books.

Sometimes — as in the case of these World Books — the physical volumes will survive to be passed on. And sometimes it will just be the memories of what was written that can be noted and handed down through the years.

Like my own memory of finding a volume in my parents’ attic while helping them prepare for a move to Texas in the early 1970s.

My father’s job was taking them away from the house where we’d lived for years in New Jersey and the first major weeding of accumulated stuff had to occur. I was going through some boxes of books to see what was and what wasn’t worth keeping.

That’s when I came across it.

A little volume with a title along the lines of The Rhythm Method. Written by somebody with the letters S.J. after his name.

Now I wish I’d had the forethought to snag this little gem at the time, but I didn’t. I did, however, carefully study — and consider the implications of — the book.

The first thing you have to remember is that my parents had a lot of kids. I have six full siblings and one half-sibling.

The second thing you have to remember is that they weren’t Catholic.

That by itself is funny enough.

But it’s what was written on the inside front cover that was priceless.

My parents were married in the month of January in a particular year that will go unspecified. And written there, in that front cover, in my father’s oh-so-careful German handwriting, was a chart:

• January to February, so many days
• February to March, so many days
• March to April, so many days
• April to May, so many days
• May to June, so many days
• March 13, 19xx, Diana Marie

Yep. Proof positive of the failure of the rhythm method… and a birth record of my older sister.


Even better… considering that the record is proof positive of the failure of the rhythm method?

The chart went on:

• March to April, so many days
• April to May, so many days
• May to June, so many days

Some people never learn.

No wonder I have a ton of siblings.

And a story I can pass on to the youngsters of the family.

What’s your family’s story, recorded on the inside covers of a book?


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Recording all the details,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Mar 2017 ( : accessed 25 Mar 2017).
  2. Wikipedia (, “World Book Encyclopedia,” rev. 9 Mar 2017.
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