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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 6, Number 7
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
March 26, 2014


Author's Notes

In this issue we discuss the 'vanity press' publications. While they do have some shortcomings, they are a great resource for your family information if they are included.

Don't forget, we will be in Wytheville, Virginia next weekend for a workshop. It is April 5th at the new Wythe Community Center on the campus of the Community College. This is sponsored by the Wythe Co. Historical and Genealogical Society. We have been going to this one for about 15 years and is great for those interested in the area surrounding this beautiful southwestern town. Contact them at www.wythecogha.org.We would love to see you!

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at jimd@mountainpress.com. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.

Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press




Everyone who has spent a few hours in researching their family tree should have come across one or more of the ‘vanity press’ publications that were very popular for nearly one hundred years. The craze started in the late 19th century and continued up until about the last half of the 20th century. This is where a publishing company would go into an area or state and collect as many family stories and family records as they could. The major point of the endeavor was to make money for the publisher. Even today Arcadia Press contracts with individuals and/or societies to produce photograph collections of a particular area or event. The individuals that do the work receive a fee for their work with most of the money going to the publisher. In all respect to the publisher, they do bear all of the cost of the publication, marketing and returns which is the major portion of the expense.

With ‘vanity press’ work, the individuals contacted provide the information and then were ask to purchase a copy of the proposed book. This makes for a great source of the information on the various families. The records of births and deaths are generally taken from the family Bible of the day and other records kept by the various families. The information is generally correct as far as the family at that time knew. In a few cases, researchers have proven the records to be only partially correct or totally in error. We have to remember that the families were putting down on paper what they have been told most all of their lives. After all “Grandmaw said.....” and that made it a fact.

One of the great advantages is that most of the information is only about one to three generations in scope. This amount can be in the normal memory of those giving the information, but it is great to have that much detail in the 1880s. The source of the military service, movement of the families from point A to point B is seldom found anywhere else. At this time period, many of them can even be aware of the “old country” as to when and where their ancestors came to the United States. Much of the information is very reliable.

It is important to remember the main weakness for these ‘vanity press’ publications is that they include only those that subscribed to their publication and did not cover all the residents of a particular area or county. When the title reads “No Name County History and Biographies” is a little misleading to make the researcher to think that this volume contains “all” of the families of a particular county when it does not. Even a census of a particular county does not contain “all” of the names for that area. Along the way, more than one is missed in both the census and in these publications. These vanity press publications were never intended to cover the entire area with everyone included.

The second weakness is that the listings are usually alphabetical by surname, so neighborhoods are ignored. Of course, sometimes, the census do the same thing so this is not a “biggie” but one has to be aware of it when researching. If you understand the weaknesses and the strengths of these publications, then they become so much more important.

In these records, Goodspeed and Hardesty seem to have been the two major publishers for the material. Goodspeed includes a number of states most notably Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. In most of these states, they did a county by county publication of each of these areas. On the other hand, Hardesty published primarily in Virginia and West Virginia. In these records, the originals were in groups of counties in a single volume which makes them fairly rare and hard to find in this form due to the size of the publication. You can find them broken down into smaller areas that are not as expensive. In other states, there are collections which are compiled from various other sources, but each of these collections is very important to the researcher for the first hand information that they contain.

One another side of the coin, there are many publications of “biographical” sketches that do contain a great deal of information on these selected individuals. Here again, there is no effort to touch each family in the particular area of interest, but for those that are given, there is a wealth of information.

Happy Hunting!





Over the years, we have reprinted many of these biographies because they have great information that can't always be found elsewhere. We have listed just a sampling of the ones we have reprinted below.



Carter County, TN

Franklin County, TN

Greene County, TN

Haywood County, TN

Lincoln County, TN



Burke County, GA

Dade County, GA

Newton County, GA

Putnam County, GA

Washington County, GA



Allen County, KY

Green County, KY

Mercer County, KY

Nelson County, KY

Woodford County, KY



Norfolk County, VA

Montgomery County, VA

Pittysylvania County, VA


West Virginia:

Cabell County, WV

Greenbrier County, WV

Monroe County, WV




If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.