22 June 2012

Murphy's Law of Genealogy

As genealogists we're supposed to cite our sources but I've searched. None of the places I've seen this posted includes a source. If anyone knows who wrote the original (I've edited it slightly) please let me know so I can either credit them or take it down and link to their page.


The public ceremony in which your distinguished ancestor participated and at which the platform collapsed under him turned out to be a hanging.

When at last after much hard work you have solved the mystery that you have been working on for two years, your aunt says, "I could have told you that."

You never asked your father about his family when he was alive because you were not interested in genealogy then.

The will you need is in the safe aboard the Titanic.

Copies of old newspapers have holes occurring only on the surnames.

John, son of Thomas the immigrant whom your relatives claim as the family progenitor, died on board ship at the age of 10.

Your great grandfather's newspaper obituary states that he died leaving no issue of record.

Another genealogist has just insulted the keeper of the vital records you need.

The relative who had all the family photographs gave them all to her daughter who has no interest in genealogy and no inclination to share.

The only record you find for your great grandfather is that his property was sold at a sheriff's sale of insolvency.

The one document that would supply the missing link in your dead end has been lost due to fire, flood or war.

The town clerk to whom you wrote for the information sends you a long handwritten letter which is totally illegible.

The spelling of your European ancestor's name bears no relationship to its current spelling or pronunciation.

None of the pictures in your recently deceased grandmother's photo album have names written on them.

No one in your family tree ever did anything noteworthy, owned property, was sued or was named in a will.

You learn that your great aunt's executor just sold her life's collection of family genealogical materials to a flea market dealer 'somewhere in New York City."

Ink fades and paper deteriorates at a rate inversely proportional to the value of the data recorded.

The thirty-seven volume, 16,000 page history of your country of origin isn't indexed.

You finally find your great-grandparents' wedding record and discover that the bride's father was named John Smith.

The family you are looking for will be on the last page of the unindexed (of course) census film that you check. However, if you begin at the end of the roll, they will be on page 1.

The microfilm that you have diligently searched page-by-page will have an index at the end.

All of your spouse's ancestors will be mentioned in county histories. None of yours will be.

If you need just one record, the microfilm will have page numbers. If you need 3 or more records, there won't be any page numbers and the records will not be in the proper order.

The book you need most will be out being rebound.

You will need item 23 on a microfilm roll that has 22 items. The rest of the film is continued on another roll that will not be in the drawer, and the librarian will tell you that it is "missing and presumed lost."

The records will end just before the entry you need. They will begin again two years after the date you need.

If one brother is left out of the genealogy of a family, guess whose ancestor he will be?

If there is a family history on one branch of the family -- it won't be yours.

The researcher you hired to read the original records at the courthouse will inform you that only the particular probate packet you need is missing.

After spending a week at Family History Library in Salt Lake City, you finally find the book that will tell you about your ancestors ten minutes before closing time. Needless to say you have to return home and will probably never make it back to Salt Lake City again!

NEXT POST: You did WHAT?!!? - The Sequel


  1. So much of my research is described in here

  2. Knew I had seen this lots of years ago.... Earliest reference I could find was from 1998. And it was shorter. Seems like people have been adding to it over the years, much like verses to a 'traditional' ballad. That appearance is http://www.bjhughes.org/murphyslaw.html and it says this was 'submitted' by Jim and Judy Burant. They may have written it, or just compiled such sayings that were around and about. Or it may have been 'published' in some society newsletter long before the net, and they added a couple, and passed it along.
    The concepts that are what we now call Murphy's Law have been in print since the 1870s (per Wikipedia), and genealogy was hot then. And the two things have such a natural confluence!! I suspect that variations and bits have been floating around for a long, long time.