February 14, 2021

Pages 2791-2793
Whole Number 131

(with various other titles)
A Critical Review (again)

by Russell E. Bidlack

For the December 1982 issue of The Sparks Quarterly, Whole No. 120 (pp. 2483-87) your editor prepared a highly critical review of a book published in 1982 by a firm calling itself "Beatrice Bayley, Inc." The book reviewed has the title The Sparks Family Heritage Book. I pointed out in that review that in the spring of 1982 thousands of persons named Sparks all across the United States received a postal card from one "Beatrice Bayley" of Sterling, Pennsylvania, who claimed to be a retired school teacher who had become interested in genealogy. The implication was that she had become specifically interested in the Sparks family history and that she was about to publish her findings in a very limited edition. The truth was that, while there may have once been a Beatrice Bayley, she was not the writer of the postal card nor did she have any interest whatever in the Sparks family. A clever business man with little regard for truth or fairness had found a way to make money through misleading advertising at a time when genealogy was becoming one of the most popular hobbies in the United States.

The same postal card received by Sparkses, announcing what was actually the same book, had been mailed, and continues to be mailed, to tens of thousands of other people bearing hundreds of different surnames. Only the surname on the postal card differs in these mailings, and when people send their orders, regardless of the name, they receive the same book - - except for the name on the title-page and a list of the names and addresses of the people to whom that particular postal card had been mailed. Contrary to what the advertisement received by Sparkses implied, The Sparks Family Heritage Book is not a history of the Sparks family. Rather, it is a second-rate introduction to genealogy with many blank leaves for each person to record his or her own family history.

Much has been written by genealogists throughout the country trying to alert people to the Bayley "rip-off," but Beatrice Bayley, Inc. continues to flourish despite investigations by attorney generals, members of Congress, and U.S. postal authorities. While Kurt J. Schneider, director of the firm, has been forced by the U.S. Postal Service to alter somewhat the wording of his advertisement, unless one studies the language on the postal card very carefully, and has some knowledge of genealogy, one can be misled into thinking that the promised book, "limited to one copy per household," is a family history. In 1983, Van A. Stilley, executive director of the National Genealogical Society, summed up the problem nicely: "There is no genealogy in the... Bayley books, just boilerplate historical information that anybody can find in a public library."

When we mailed out the March 1985 issue of The Sparks Quarterly, we included a letter warning Association members that Beatrice Bayley, Inc. was again mailing postal cards to thousands of Sparkses announcing the publication of "her" same old book. The outrageous price remains the same ($29.85), but a "nonrefundable postage & handling" fee of $3.00 has now been added. As in the past, the firm promises a refund (except for the $3.00), if the book is returned within ten days of receipt. The Federal Trade Commission's mail-order regulations require that a company doing a mail-order busness must send a requested refund within seven working days of the return of the item by the purchaser, but there have been many complaints that several months often pass before a refund is made by Beatrice Bayley, Inc.

While the 1985 issue of this book remains the same as in 1982, with the same copyright date (1981), the title has been changed. In fact, from the copies of the postal card advertisement (all dated March 20, 1985) that several Association members received and have shared with me, it seems that two new titles are being used, "Tracing the Sparks Family Roots" and "The Sparks Family Album." The books are the same, of course, whichever the title.

It seems that Kurt J. Schneider is also associated with a publishing company that uses the name "Sharon L. Taylor" and is located in Copley, Ohio. The Taylor books are very similar to the Bayley books, except that the title of each is "The Amazing Story of the [surname inserted here] Family in America." For this, the claim is made to the recipient of the advertisement that "you are in it." Actually, the individual is "in it" only because he or she is included in the mailing list that is reproduced in the Taylor books as in the Bayley books.

In order to report here regarding the 1985 issue of the Bayley book bearing the name Sparks, I ordered a copy. The title for my particular copy is "The Sparks Family Album." The cover is of a slightly different design than that of the 1982 printing "The Sparks Family Heritage Book." The contents are identical, however, including the many blank leaves for recording one's own family record. The mailing list of persons named Sparks is new, however.

The 1982 volume contained a list of 17,928 Sparkses with their addresses. Based on the membership of our Sparks Family Association at that time, we concluded that the list represented about 80 percent of the adults named Sparks in the United States who were either heads of families or were living alone. The 1985 printing contains a list of 17,570 Sparks names and addresses, from a high of 2,064 in Texas to a low of 13 in Rhode Island. As in 1982, these names and addresses are arranged in zip number sequence--as would be expected of any modern mailing list.

From our use of the 1982 list in seeking new members for the Association, we concluded that the addresses were fairly current, perhaps within two years. The same appears to be true of the 1985 list. It is in the interest of the company to have an accurate mailing list for sending its advertisements, of course, and, as noted above, it is this same mailing list that appears in the book. Except for the inconvenience of the zip number sequence (unless one knows the zip number for an individual, he or she is extremely difficult to locate in a list of over 17,000 names), this list could serve as a useful tool in trying to locate a missing person. An occasional individual (detective?) may actually purchase a Bayley or Taylor book for this very purpose.

On each of the postal card advertisements sent out by Beatrice Bayley, Inc., it is claimed that "Thousands of dollars and months of work went into researching through 70 million families. From this we have located almost every... member in the United States." (The surname is changed in this sentence, of course, to fit the particular mailing.) There is the further statement that "My findings show the... name is very rare. Only about one citizen for every quarter million Americans belongs to the... family." For Bidlacks in the United States (yes, I bought a copy of "The Bidlack Family Heritage Book" issued by Beatrice Bayley in 1981 in which are listed 281 Bidlacks), this statement is reasonable, but when the name Sparks is inserted, the statement becomes absurd. Even if the 17,928 Sparkses listed included every child and spouse bearing the name Sparks, one "for every quarter million" would mean that the population of the United States would be just under 4 billion. This kind of absurdity results, of course, from using the same statement for every family name for which a Bayley book is published.

What is Mr. Schneider's source for his surname mailing lists? The introduction to each Bayley book has included the statement that initially there was a manually conducted search among telephone directories, and an H.E.W. government publication entitled "Report of Distribution of Surnames in the Social Security File." Now it is claimed that a "computerized approach" among "data banks" is used. Some critics have speculated that Schneider has access to utility company records and state automobile registration data.

In addition to causing many people to waste their money, the Bayley books (the Taylor books, also) do great harm to the cause of genealogical research and publication. More people are now becoming interested in learning about their forebears than at any point in history. It is not easy to conduct genealogical research, however, and the beginner can quickly become discouraged and confused. For many Americans, the receipt of the Bayley postal card, implying that a family history has been compiled for one's own family, quickens the genealogical interest, but the disappointment and disgust that one feels upon receipt of the book often destroy that interest and makes one suspicious thereafter of all other genealogical research. As I noted in my 1982 review, not only is Beatrice Bayley, Inc. making a great deal of money for Kurt Schneider from a shoddy and misleading product, but he is doing serious harm to genealogy. Again I say, SHAME ON YOU!