Genealogy of the Olmsted Family in America
The Olmsted Family, Inc. and the personalities involved will be covered on another page of this website. The two primary motives for the existence of the organization were to (1) bring family members together and (2) publish a genealogy.
Dr. Henry King Olmsted of Hartford had for years collected records of the family and devoted much of his time to that effort in the 1880s and 1890s. Other Olmsteds of Hartford and New York had realized the value of Dr. Olmsted’s efforts to create a family genealogy and following his death began discussions to see the work to the completion. As noted in the preface of the genealogy when it was published in 1912, others were engaged to continue gathering information. Rev. George Ward of New York had retired from his pastorate due to ill health and had devoted a number of years compiling the “Ward Genealogy” Andrew Warde and His Descendants, 1597-1910 (New York, 1910). He was hired to complete the Olmsted Genealogy.
To increase the financial base to pay George Ward and to involve more individuals in submitting their records, the family association was formed. The work was completed and submitted to DeLaMare, one of the larger printers of the day, in New York; the firm’s name appears on the title page but in reality the family association was the publisher as they paid all of the associated cost for printing and binding and handled the promotion and sales of the work. It is interesting to note that the copyright given in the book was in the name of George K. Ward; I do not know the reason behind that; I would think that it should have been “Olmsted Family, Inc.”
Printing and binding
In that time period, text was set using a linotype which creates lead slugs that were locked into frames page by page for printing. It was common practice to begin a print job before the entire book had been set, print a given number of signatures (a group of pages on one sheet of paper that was then folded and trimmed), then melt the lead down for reuse. Lead was expensive and locked frames took up a considerable amount of space. When all of the signatures were printed and collated the binding process could begin. Another common practice was to only bind a portion of a press run, rather than the entire run, to keep investment to a minimum. I am unaware of any records existing today but I would venture to guess that only 500 copies of the original book were printed and that maybe only half of those were initially subscribed to or pre-sold. Only those initially sold copies were bound at that time and then others were bound as additional copies were sold. I have come to this conclusion because I have found copies of the book in different cloth colors but are still original bindings. A bindery might be using brown cloth today and when that roll was finished they would go to the next roll which might be blue or maroon. The dies used for the stamping on the spine cover were most likely preserved and reused when additional copies were bound “on demand.”
When issued in 1912, the volume contained 22 pages of front matter, 520 pages of text, and a number of unnumbered plates. The original book was just under two inches thick when bound; the pages were 7×10″ in size. The inks used were of high oil content and the illustrations were printed from etched copper plates that created almost solid areas of ink that would dry slowly. The text was printed on a soft paper that absorbed some of the ink which causes some bleed or spread; to keep illustrations sharp they were printed on a coated (gloss) stock which did not absorb the ink. To keep ink from transferring to the facing page a glasslike sheet was placed between the pages; these sheets often deteriorated faster than the paper stock or became bent or broken and often were later removed by owners of original books.
Genealogical style and numbering of descendants
In 1845 the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) was founded in Boston and two years later the first issue of The Register was published; the organization and publication are the oldest and most respected in the genealogical world today. The editor of the Register established a standardized style and numbering system that is still used today, where all children are given Roman numbers to indicate the order of birth but only the male descendants are given Arabic numbers to identify them in the next generation; this chauvinistic system was a product of that day when women were considered property and had few rights. Also, it is much harder to trace lineage due to the English practice of a woman taking a man’s surname upon marriage. More recently, the modified Register system gives Arabic numbers to all children. The National Genealogical Society (NGS) established a different style of presenting the genealogical information which includes numbering all children and following female lines. In the early 1900s there were a number of other systems in use, some using upper and lower case letters to indicate male or female while another is a series of numbers built on the parent’s number which also identifies the generation.
In the 1912 Olmsted Genealogy, all children were numbered. Additionally, to save space, the children were all included in paragraph form rather than placing each child on a line of their own. In a few cases, children were “squeezed in” after the numbering was established and given a suffix of a letter or a fraction that was added to the previous child’s number. We have also found that in the supplements, some children were given duplicated or wrong numbers from the original book.
Even before I began using genealogical software such as Personal Ancestry File (PAF), Roots, Family Tree Maker (FTM) which is my current application, or the many others that have evolved with the advent of the desk top/personal computer, I was having trouble identifying which partner in a marriage, where neither carried the Olmste(a)d name, was the lineal descendant. I was also having trouble relating a specific person in my records to one listed in the 1912 volume–there are just way too many John Olmsteds, many without further information, in the old genealogy. My solution was simple and still works well for me today. I simply imbedded with the persons name an asterisk within parenthesis (*) and if the person was numbered in the old genealogy the number was added too as (####*). Thus in my records you would find John (####*) Olmsted or Jane (*) Doe.
All names as Olmsted
As stated in the Introduction, the compilers use the “simplest” form of the family name throughout as was common practice in that day and that is “most commonly spelled by descendants.” The compilers also reference themselves as “Hartford Olmsteds.” I beg to differ with that decision. My own research has shown that 60 to 65 percent of the family use the name with the “a”, i.e., Olmstead. I also believe that their decision was slanted in that the majority of those involved in the compiling of the work were descendants of James of Hartford and that line does have a greater number of descendants today who use Olmsted. It should also be noted that today more than 80% of the descendants of Richard of Norwalk (James’ nephew) are Olmsteads and that the descendants of Jabez of Ware, who is not at all related to the 1632 immigrants James and Richard, predominantly (70% or higher) use the Olmsted form of the name.
The placement of the descendants of the Olmsted surname as the primary index is understandable but I often wondered why the compilers chose to create separate indexes for males and females. I realize that in 1912 there were few names that were not gender specific; today we have many. To further compound the problem of not having a single index they separated spouses (by gender) not named Olmsted from the descendants of the same name; thus a Charles A. Smith married to an Olmsted would appear in a different index than his son Charles B. Smith or his wife Mary (Olmstead) Smith. Those practices created six indices. To compound this, within the original 1912 volume there was a Supplementary Index for the names appearing in the addenda or the biographical section creating seven more for a researcher to consult. The errata was not indexed. The practice of six indices was carried forth in each of the four supplements issued by the Olmsted Family, Inc. The second supplement also had six additional indices, one with only three names. Until recently, with the advent of searchable electronic text files, the researcher would need to consult 35 different indexes located within five areas of the combined bound volume.
In 1986 I realized the need for an all-inclusive index. I had discovered that there were many names in the old genealogy that were not included in the 45 indexes including the parents of spouses. I solicited a number of my correspondents to help create a new index that would not only serve us, but the cards created would be given to the Newbury Library in Middletown, CT for inclusion in their combined index of over 1000 genealogies. Marty Lamb Olmstead became my primary assistant creating well over sixty percent of the index cards, while I undertook the job of checking each entry for accuracy and that none were missed. In 1989 the 157 page paperback All Name Index to the Olmsted Family in America was published by Heart of the Lakes Publishing and is currently available for $10 postpaid from HLP Books, PO Box 299, Interlaken, NY 14847-0299.
As any genealogist knows, a fact of life is that when you finally publish your work you will begin to accumulate additional information, often from individuals that had failed to respond to initial requests with cut-off dates. Not just new births, deaths, or marriages, but older data that others had but just never took the time to submit. Such was true of the genealogical committee of the Olmsted Family and supplements were published in 1914, 1920, 1923, and 1928. I have seen copies of the 1912 volume with the 1914 supplement bound as part of the original binding, supporting my belief that not all of the original printing was bound in 1912. The only time I have seen the genealogy bound including later supplements were in public libraries where they had been rebound due to heavy use and deterioration of the original covers.
What happened to the original information used to compile the 1912 genealogy?
Briefly, the bulk of the material was destroyed in the 1950s and I will relate that story at a later time. Some items were given to the NEHGS in Boston and I examined six boxes of holdings in the early 1970s. One box contained the original copper plates of the illustrations from 1912. The family crest required four–black, silver, red, gold; the black plate was missing from the box. Four other boxes contained a few letters of correspondence received c1925-1940 from which I either extracted the relevant genealogical data or photo copied them for later reference. The final box contained a wooden file box with 4×6 cards with genealogical information. After reviewing everything I met with NEHGS Director Jim Bell to tell him of my findings; at that time I suggested that the copper plates be destroyed as they had no value and would never be used again due to changes in technology in printing and requested that I be allowed to take the file box home so that I could photo copy the entire set of cards, estimated at some 400+. He agreed and the box was returned to them a week later. What I learned as I reviewed the cards was that they were not an original source with notes of any kind, but someone had just copied (typed) each entry exactly as it appeared in the printed volume.
Modern reprints of the 1912 Genealogy
Other firms have produced various reprints over the years. The price was high and often pages were not clear due to the method of reproduction.
University Microfilms International of Ann Arbor, MI (now a holding of ProQuest) sold the book on roll microfilm (you need a reader) or as a on-demand, microfilm print where two pages on one side of a piece of paper were folded and then multiple pages bound creating a very thick volume. They included the four supplements.
Higginson Books of Salem, MA (and maybe others) produced photo copy reprints of the 1912 edition without any supplements.
I believe Tuttle Books of Rutland, Vermont also produced a reprint in the 1970’s. It was in their catalog; I have not seen a copy. They had been the largest company specializing in used genealogy and local history books. They discontinued that service before 2010 as other book dealers and individuals began using online sites such as eBay.
A reprint of the 1912 volume and the four supplements was issued by Heart of the Lakes Publishing, Interlaken, NY in 1994. This was a true, offset printing with quality binding in light blue cloth with silver stamping. By 1998 all 250 copies were sold.
The 1980 reprint by Ralph Olmsted of Evansville
Ralph Evans Olmsted (8472*), a 9th generation member of the Richard line and the retired archivist of the University of Evansville, Indiana, wished to have copies of the 1912 Genealogy available to give to his family members. In 1976, Ralph contacted Laddie Warren (Unigraphics, Inc.), a local reprinter of historical books for genealogists. Laddie suggested to Ralph that if he solicit genealogical additions to be placed in a supplement that many of the submitters would likely by copies of the new printing. When Ray & Jane Olmstead of Galesburg, IL received a letter (1977) from Ralph about his planned reprint, they phoned me as I was already publishing Olmste(a)d’s Genealogy Recorded (OGR).
I called Ralph and we discussed his plan. I learned that he was well into his project. The University had extended the use of an office, a secretary, a copy machine, and postage to help him in his endeavor. Ralph told me that he had budgeted the addition of 60 pages to the book. When I told him that there were four previous supplements he had to revise his plans to include them. He told me his goal was to sell the planned press run of 300 copies. I suggested that 1000 copies would be the appropriate number to print.
Ultimately, eighteen months behind schedule, Ralph’s 5th supplement of 250 pages was complete and 600 copies were printed by Unigraphics, all of which were sold prior to the binding being accomplished. Ralph then experienced what all of us do when issuing a genealogy–more material continues to arrive. A year later, a 6th supplement was created and included in a new, 200 copy press run. The 6th supplement was also sent as a booklet to all who had purchased his first printing. Then six months later, a third printing of another 200 copies was made, all of which shortly sold. All told there were slightly under 1100 copies printed by Unigraphics, all of which are bound in a bright red cover. Many in our greater Olmste(a)d family refer to the volume as “the red book.”
Ralph phoned me in the fall of 1982 and asked if I would like all of the correspondence and information forms he had received while doing his updates. Shortly thereafter I made my second trip to Evansville. On my first trip to see Ralph, we had walked the two short blocks to the University where he introduced me to some of the staff members, including one of his daughters, who worked in the administration building. It was between my first and second visits that the administration building was renamed “Olmsted Hall” in his honor. [Future: it is my intention to include Ralph’s bio elsewhere on this site] During my second visit we again walked back to the University and he proudly showed me the “Olmsted Maple” that had been planted there by the OFA as a thank you for his work in the reprinting of the 1912 Genealogy. He died the next spring.
Ralph was an archivist–one who keeps documents and records. He used a numbering pattern in his genealogy that is built on the parent’s number. Though accurate as it is presented, it is confusing in that many persons, each in a different line, can receive the same number. Ralph would have loved to use the tools we have today, primarily desktop computers and genealogical database software. He had to rely on matching individuals and creating family groups based on handwritten indexes. Contained in his supplement are numerous family groups that should have been merged but he had to work with to information received from divergent sources that often were in disagreement or not enough data to know who belonged to who. But, despite these gaps and errors, he provided a service to future family researchers by publishing the information received.
1912 Olmsted Genealogy on CD
James G. Ferris, a 5th generation descendant of Sylvanus and Sarah (4471*) (Olmstead) Ferris of Galesburg, IL, and genealogist of the Ferris family in America, realized the need for the 1912 Olmsted Genealogy for his family and others and undertook the mammoth project of keying the entire volume into a set of seven MS Word documents; the PDF files can be viewed using Adobe reader. There are separate files for the lines of James, Richard, and other Olmsteds, just as they were in the original 1912 book and the six supplements. He added corrected and updated information on the Ferris family descendants. These files have been placed on a CD. Also included on the CD are scanned images of all of the original illustrations that can be viewed or copied into your own genealogy file; I’m sure Jim would appreciate a credit for his work if you use the images. [Note: no index is needed; just use the FIND <Control + F> to locate any character string (i.e., name).]
Jim will make copies of the CD for $10, postpaid. Send your check to James Ferris, 271 Dug Hill Rd., Brownsboro, AL 35741-9337. For more information contact him at jgferris @ ferristree.com (not valid; waiting for update from Jim) or view his website “Bombs & Bones”
1912 Olmsted Genealogy On-Line
The Family History Archives digital collection at Bingham Young University (BYU) at (www.lib.byu.edu/fhe/) is now placing many of their old genealogies on line. The 1912 Olmsted Family in America has recently been made available. None of the six supplements are available. Each page has been scanned and can be used using Adobe Acrobat. The basic problem is that you have to open each page individually, including the 12 indexes. You can download the entire book (it is in five sections) to a print file. On the other hand you can cut and paste from the site to your own file. This may be the answer to the casual user but I would recommend the CD version above as a better alternative.
Since 2010 other locations for the 1912 genealogy have become available at no charge on the Internet. All are just the original book without supplements. I know of these:
The 1912 genealogy may also be available on Kindle via Amazon. I haven’t tried it but I expect it follows the format of the on-line versions.
Used copies are often available
Used copies of the original and various reprints appear in on-line listings for sale by individuals or book stores. Prices vary widely depending on condition and what the seller believes is its value. I have seen as low as $20 and as high as $250 over the years. Used book stores often list in but do not stock and order it from someone else. Buyer beware as there are often “no return” policy it it doesn’t meet the buyer satisifaction.
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Last Updated May 12, 2022