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County gets $128,773 in settlement
By: Howard Roden, Courier staff


Regarded as probably the best-known of American genealogists, very little is known about
Ronald Vern Jackson. Save for one thing.

He held a special place in his heart for Montgomery County.

When the Salt Lake City, Utah resident died in 1999, he left a percentage of his business fortune to the genealogy division of Montgomery County's library system. But it wasn't until 2004 that the county became aware of the gift.

Two years of legal wrangling between Montgomery County and Jackson's heirs ended Monday when County Commissioners agreed in executive session to accept a settlement of $128,773. Per Jackson's wishes, the money will be spent for improvements and enhancements to the county's genealogy division.

Jackson was a pioneer in the realm of genealogy. He was founder of Accelerated Indexing Systems, the first commercial company to index genealogical records based on U.S. census data. Before he sold it in the mid-1990s, AIS provided computer-generated printouts that revolutionized genealogy searches before the arrival of the Internet.

"He ran a business that extracted records and made the search so much faster," said Dick Eastman, a noted genealogist from Boston, Mass. "Before his system, you were faced with going through handwritten census records, which could take a person days or even weeks.

"He was the first to go out on a large scale and create indexes like telephone books."

With the indexes as reference, research was streamlined. Those index books could range in cost from $150 to $500, Eastman said. The books, which included every county and state in the United States, were updated every 10 years to coincide with the census.

"The major libraries have the entire set of the indexes," he said.

Jackson's generosity to Montgomery County began early on, said Barbara Franz, genealogy librarian. She said he donated the county a copy of every index book he compiled in Texas.

"He really wanted to see this section grow and he donated so many things," Franz said.

Jackson was a good friend of Imogene Kennedy, who founded the county's genealogy division. She, like Jackson, published a number of books on the subject and was supportive of his efforts.

"He was partial to this department," said Franz, who was appointed to the genealogy division after Kennedy retired in 1992. "They were very good friends. She had helped him in many ways in helping him get information.

"He was the kind of person that if you helped him, he'd turn around and do something nice for you."

But for a man who revolutionized the genealogical searches, almost nothing is known about Jackson's personal life. All the Internet searches conducted by The Courier Monday about Jackson reference his efforts in researching other people and families.

"I had met him a couple of times," Eastman said. "But on a personal level, I can almost tell you nothing. That is the irony of his legacy."

County Attorney David Walker said the county reached the settlement through the efforts of the Salt Lake City firm of Stoel Rives LLP. Walker said there were times throughout the two-year period he was uncertain whether the county would receive any of Jackson's gift.

"I do not know what the size of the estate was, but I do know the will was not probated" by Jackson's six heirs, Walker said. A portion of the settlement was paid by a Utah attorney, Charles W. Hanna.

Walker praised the Utah firm of Stoel Rives, and assistant county attorneys Roy Johnson and Cara Wood for reaching a settlement. Wood, now the judge in the 284th state District Court, started the investigation back in August of 2004.

County Judge Alan B. Sadler said all of the settlement money would go to the Montgomery County Library System's genealogy division. Franz said her department has various needs, ranging from shelves to more genealogical reference materials.

"We also plan to do some memorials specific to Ron Jackson," she said.
 
Howard Roden can be reached at
hroden@hcnonline.com.

Reprint from The Courier
01/09/2007

 

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