by Joe Garonzik, Marketing Director, Genealogical Publishing Co.

Forgive us for beaming, but 2009 marks the 50th birthday of Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Jules Chodak, the company’s founder, frequented book auctions   and amassed a sizable collection of rare and out-of-print books pertaining to general Americana. He advertised his acquisitions in a series of catalogues and canvassed book dealers hoping to interest them in his hard-to-find titles. Trading as the Southern Book Company, he moved his office and stock out of his home to a location in downtown Baltimore, Maryland.

During the 1950s, Mr. Chodak’s book dealership underwent two important changes. First, he narrowed the range and increased the depth of his interests from general Americana to genealogy, heraldry, and local history. Second, he went into the publishing business to accommodate the demand for out-of-print titles. In 1952, the Southern Book Company published its first book, the reprint edition of William M. Clemens’ Virginia Wills Before 1799. The reprint segment of the business grew, and in 1959 Mr. Chodak changed the company name to the Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. (GPC). By the time of Mr. Chodak’s death in 1968, publishing revenues were on a par with sales of old books.

Over the next thirty years, GPC completed its metamorphosis to a specialty publisher. It ended its book dealership and liquidated its inventory of old books. Under the direction of Barry Chodak, Jules’s son, and managing editor Michael Tepper, GPC emerged as the leading publisher of genealogical reference books and research manuals. One critical episode in this transformation occurred in 1969, when a local genealogist/attorney delivered the manuscript of a genealogy textbook to the GPC staff at the World Conference on Records in Salt Lake City. Four years later, in 1973, the publication of Val Greenwood’s Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy set the standard for commercial book publishing in genealogy. Revised and updated through three editions, this work continues to be the reference book that U.S. genealogists reach for when they need assistance.

Val Greenwood’s textbook represented the first of over 100 guidebooks or genealogy how-to books from GPC. Additional titles covered numerous facets of American genealogy, such as census research, old handwriting, state-by-state research, ethnic genealogy, new technology, and more. Nor did we limit our attention to the United States. In time, we produced titles devoted to genealogical research in Canada, Italy, Poland, Germany, and the European continent as a whole. Still other books dwelt on Chinese surnames, British and Irish research, and Hispanic America
Notwithstanding the spate of how-to books, most of our titles are collections of genealogical source records or compiled genealogies. The selection of topics is broad, ranging from the more common marriage records, wills, deeds and land instruments, vital records, pensions, and ships’ passenger records to apprenticeships, adoptions, and age determinations. These compilations include collections of genealogies on a particular theme (Virginia, New England, Revolutionary War veterans, etc.) by a single author, and multi-volume extractions of genealogy articles from leading genealogy journals such as the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, to name just three. I remember well combing through thousands of back issues of periodicals in search of the appropriate ones to include in what became a large, multi-volume, indexed compendia of previously inaccessible genealogy.

Most, but not quite all, of GPC publications have two things in common: Their coverage is limited to colonies/states east of the Mississippi River, and to the period prior to the American Civil War. In fact, many of our books can assist researchers hoping to extend their genealogies to their ancestral homelands in the 18th, 17th, or 16th century. In a typical year, GPC publishes as many as forty original works in genealogy, written or compiled by experts in the field.

Clearfield Company was established in 1989 to market and distribute GPC’s overruns and remainders. Since the early 1990s it has also published original and out-of-print titles that have a slightly more specialized focus in the fields of genealogy, local history, folklore, and Americana. Clearfield publishes about 150 titles each year, and it has made available hundreds of discount reprints that otherwise would remain out of print. Over the years, GPC and Clearfield have published more than 2,000 books.

Although I have described our evolution from used bookseller, to reprint publisher, to full-fledged reference book publishing house with thousands of books in print under three different imprints: Genealogical Publishing Company, Clearfield Company, and Gateway Press, we continue to change, particularly with the advent of the digital age. Today, about one-third of the titles we publish are also available on CD-ROM.

The process began in the 1990s when GPC collaborated with Banner Blue Software, the company that introduced Family Tree Maker software to the genealogy market. Banner Blue wanted to make genealogy data available to its customers, and we wanted to get as much of our material as possible into an electronic format. As a result of that collaboration, over 800 of our books were imaged, indexed, and made available on CD-ROM at a fraction of the cost of the books themselves. These books are available on approximately 85 Family Archive CDs, which use Family Tree Maker’s patented Archive Viewer. Over the last four or five years, we have produced about a half-dozen newer CDs that work with the Adobe Acrobat Reader software, which, like the Family Archive Viewer, can be downloaded free of charge. Within the next few years, we expect to digitize the remaining books in our collection and make them available either with an online subscription or by downloads.

The inclusive index to the books found on our CD-ROMs yielded an important enhancement to our website genealogical.com: the name search feature. You can now search the names on all those CDs (and the books found thereon), before you decide whether or not to purchase a product. Because the index is not comprehensive to all 2,000 books in our collection, failing to find the name you are looking for in our “name search” should not discourage you from considering books not yet indexed online. We recognize that this arrangement is not perfect, and we are in the process of indexing the remainder of our titles. Meanwhile, the millions of names currently indexed on our site, most of which go back to the colonial period of American history or earlier, are a valuable, free resource for our customers.

As we embark on our next half-century, our website, genealogical.com, promises to be the key mechanism for bringing you the newest and best in genealogical resources. For example, in recent weeks we have launched a new weekly feature on the site called “Today Only.” Modeled after the in-store shopping specials you encounter in your local grocery, Today Only offers deep discounts on popular books/CDs for a 24-hour period, the same kind of deep discounts you have come to expect on slow-selling titles at our “Genealogy Warehouse” bargain basement. Be sure to look for the “Today Only” icon on our home page on a regular basis. Look to “Genealogy Pointers” or our website for announcements of the latest genealogical reference materials, like Drew Smith’s Social Networking for Genealogists, or the new 3rd edition of Elizabeth Petty Bentley’s County Courthouse Book. Finally, as we digitize the remainder of our existing products, you will discover that increasing number of our titles will be in print at all times (thanks to print-on-demand technology), and available in a variety of formats. If you know of an out-of-print book, or would like to propose a new one for us to publish, please send your suggestions to mailto: info@genealogical.com . With your help, we look forward to bringing you the best books and CDs that genealogy can offer in the years to come.


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