Monday, February 17, 2014

Cousin Bait, Sixties Style

Without social media, without online genealogy forums, without even copy machines to make handy extra duplicates of letters or articles, how did genealogy writers of the last century—forget that, even just fifty five years ago—get the word out about their publications? Or even about collaborative efforts?

Nowadays, we are awash in technological tools to help us spread the news about our research goals and projects. We can tweet about them, blog about them, text about them, email them. We can post them on Facebook, Google Plus—even post pictures about them on Pinterest. We have online collaborative arenas where we can share our genealogical work for free on everything from good ol’ Rootsweb to the latest iteration of We can even pay good money for the chance to post our data on genealogical sites where others are sure to find us. was just the beginning.

But after he published his book on the Genealogical Data of the Broyles, Laffitte and Boyd Families in 1959, Dr. Montague Boyd of Atlanta, Georgia, was quite limited in how he could announce his latest venture to all his distant cousins.

As it turned out, Dr. Boyd evidently used a mimeographed form letter to do the heavy lifting for him. And he relied on the good will—and a lot of word of mouth—of many others to finish off the work.

I was fortunate to stumble upon a copy of Dr. Boyd’s March 1960 letter to my grandmother, found in my aunt’s belongings, where the letter had been parked ever since my grandmother’s passing in 1993. Dr. Boyd’s request to my grandmother, which you may have read yesterday, was scribbled on the back of the form letter I’ve included below.

When I read his postscript, added to the bottom of this form letter, along with his plea to those receiving the note to spread the word among their relatives, I realized just how different it would have been, back then, to accomplish the networking aspects of genealogical data-sharing we take so much for granted in our own times. We have so many systems at our disposal for assembling networks of people who might be supportive of our projects. The very use of the term, “Cousin Bait,” reveals a casual consideration of the ease with which we can attract the attention of interest groups such as distant relatives.

I used to publish a newsletter back in those days of sending manuscripts off to the printer—after the tedious process of dealing with the typesetter and poring over final proofs—then waiting a seemingly interminable time until the printer, having missed his promised deadline, finally turned over the finished (and pricey) copies. I can certainly relate to Dr. Boyd’s dilemma.

I wilt, also, when I consider—in terms of the time of his 1960 letter—his postscript apologizing that “I find that I shall have to do over” a part of that project. How incredible it seems, in light of all those handicaps (that they saw merely as the way things were), that many books of genealogical data were produced at all—and that any were completed without subsequent discovery of errors, for which was incurred yet another tedious process of rectifying the said discovered errors.

How incredible it seems, correspondingly, that we, in this age of such technological conveniences, haven’t produced quantum multiples of genealogical reports to pass down as our contribution to the published heritage of generations yet to come.

Letter concerning 1959 publication of a book on the Broyles family genealogy


            A limited number of copies of the genealogical data, collected by me over a period of several years, has been published. My sister, Mrs. Elinar S. Trosdal (Lucy T. Boyd) of Savannah, Georgia, has paid for the multilithing and binding.
            The publication can be sent to any member of any of the above families without any cost, except that for the envelope, the postage, and handling (addressing, loading, and mailing), in all only one dolar.
            I began a study of my ancestors, the Broyles, Laffittes, and Boyds, having in mind the preparation of some simple outline for myself and for my immediate family. But, in time, it seemed desirable to add much more data than I had intended, and I would like now to have all of my relatives have if possible one or more copies of the collected information.
            A Family Tree of each family is also available – a blue print with blue letters on a white background. The actual cost of the blue print for the Broyles Family, with the mailing tube, and the postage, etc., is $1.14. The Laffitte and Boyd Trees $1.00 each.
            I have only a limited number of addresses of members of these families, so I hope that those of you who received this letter will send additional addresses to me, or notify those who do not receive a letter that the books and blue prints are to be had without cost.
            To obtain copies please send your request, enclosing the amount of payment necessary. Print your full name and address – (1) on the back of the envelope, and (2) in the letter. I shall use the envelope to have the publication and the blue prints addressed and sent, and I shall keep the letters in my files.
            The books and blue prints will be sent out in batches, not singly, so that there may be some delay in their reaching you. If you do not receive the data within a few weeks please write to me again. I shall not have time to acknowledge the receipt of all the letters. But I shall certainly send the book and the blue prints if I receive a suitable request.
                                                         Montague Laffitte Boyd, M.D.
                                                         2560 Habersham Road, N.W.
                                                         Atlanta 5, Georgia

P.S.   I find that I shall have to do over the Boyd and Laffitte Family Trees. I shall complete them as quickly as I can, within a week or two, at least.

envelope for 1960 letter from Atlanta Georgia to Columbus Ohio regarding the publication of a volume on the Broyles family genealogy


  1. SOMEBODY back in the 1980s did a project on my husband's surname. I think she had a crew going through phone books in libraries so she could send a letter to everyone who might be interested in her project. Of course, my father-in-law bought one. I recall everyone looking at the book and being disappointed they couldn't quite figure out where they fit in. If my calculations are right, the 1920 census probably wasn't available then.

    I own the Armentrout book, the biggest book on my shelf -- it's about 3" thick and weighs a ton. The author did an update about 20 years ago and I submitted 2 little "corrections." I wish he'd do another update because I'd have a lot more to say now.

    1. A corollary to all these observations is that, given all our connectivity at this point, we also can compile loads more data than those researchers back in the 1980s and before could do. That surely includes being able to now send multiple corrections to those brave souls who did stick their necks out there and publish books.

      Come to think of it, Wendy, you now probably have enough to publish a book or two of your own!

  2. I have some of those books at the museum...they are labors of love for sure:)

    1. I'm so glad those researchers were willing to put themselves through all that work. Yes, Far Side, labors of love for sure!

      There is nothing like the feeling when you find your own family's name in a genealogy book and can see how you are connected to the big picture. I know that was a compelling experience for me when I first started out researching.

  3. Yes, there is something thrilling about seeing "someone you know" in print!



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