Saturday 10 November 2018

Comments to my Past Posts

It seems I have been neglectful in reviewing the many kind comments to past posts.

Today I will go through and publish them. And I resolve to keep regular track of any that come in from now on. I will reply to those that have left an email address.

For whatever reason, I have not been receiving notification from Blogger that people offered feedback. Must have some box unticked.

Thanks to all my readers who responded.


Tuesday 6 November 2018

Genealogical Expectations

Definitions of genealogy:

Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd Edition): 1a A line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor, 1b an account or exposition of this. 2 the study and investigation of lines of descent. 3 a plant’s or animal’s line of development from earlier forms.

Encyclopaedia Britannica: the study of family origins and history. The word genealogy comes from two Greek words—one meaning “race” or “family” and the other “theory” or “science.” Thus is derived “to trace ancestry,” the science of studying family history.

Wikipedia: (from Greekγενεαλογία genealogia from γενεάgenea, "generation" and λόγος logos, "knowledge"), also known as family history, is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has been instrumental in finding and making available documents from past centuries for the purpose of tracing ancestors. They are still the central focus, through their facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, for the collection and preservation of material from all over the world. The purpose in doing so was well-defined in a 2017 blog post (Why Mormons do Genealogy? by Mette Ivie Harrison), provided to me by a friend, explaining what their beliefs entail: “In Mormonism, family history is basically a requirement for getting to heaven, where you will meet all your ancestors and be part of one giant, eternally bound family. . . Mormons believe that families are eternally sealed to each other in heaven, which means not only our nuclear families, but generations in the past and descendants in the future. Mormons also believe that certain rites are necessary for entry into heaven and that the dead wait for this work to be done so that they can pass from spirit prison to spirit paradise, both of which are places souls wait to be resurrected after this life.”

So those are the basic meanings of what genealogy is. But what is its purpose for family historians in general? And what are the expectations of those who are involved in such studies?

For most of us, the reasons Mormons state for their work that has and is being done is not important, it is the fact that the information and knowledge of past generations is available to us that is the most significant.

Most of us family historians are primarily curious about:
·         who our ancestors were;
·         where they lived;
·         what they did for a living; and,
·         whether any of them were famous or had any notable attributes

We trace records as far back in time as we can in order to unearth the details of their existence. Some genealogists particularly look for, and delight in finding connections with powerful people of the past, including royal families.

There are now hundreds, if not thousands of websites dedicated to genealogical studies: providing data; dispensing advice; relating stories; and putting people together with others who share specific interests or familial connections. It’s overwhelming at times! Judging by the number of commercial ventures and conferences, family history has become a major industry with many companies and people engaged in providing information and expertise.

I noted that conclusion in an article in the Journal of One-Name Studies (October-December 2018 issue, titled, Surname Origins – Why? When? Why then?): When the climate cooled [during the little Ice Age], weather became unstable, growing conditions deteriorated and famine was common. Large parts of the population of Europe required the assistance of local parishes and governments. “Relief for the poor was organized or expanded through government legislation and Church policies. In order to pay for these plans and distribute aid, authorities needed to know who had money and who needed it. . . what may have spurred [surname] introduction was the need to identify people on tax and welfare rolls by more than their first or only names. Populations had increased significantly during the Medieval Warm Period, so references to occupations, residences or family associations - or surnames - came to be added to single out specific individuals. In any case, naming patterns became more complex and unique across the social strata almost overnight.”

My thesis is that surnames only became more common during the period of the Little Ice Age (from 1300 AD). The article was based on a review of the names written into a Medieval document, the Durham Liber Vitae which can be seen on the British Library website. It contains over 11,000 names of royalty, landowners and members of religious communities, along with other historical comments from scribes or church leaders at various times. The pattern of the timing and use of surnames in this document is very revealing.

The upshot, in my opinion, as I expressed in my last blog, is that we should not expect to be able to confirm who our ancestors were further back than the late Middle Ages. That would certainly be the case using surnames, which unfortunately most of genealogical studies are based on.

Tree of Jesse, oil on oak panel, painted ca 1500 (attributed to Jan Mostaert (ca 1475-1552); in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam): While he is sleeping a tree is growing from Jesse's body, on it depicted the twelve Kings of Judah, the ancestors of Christ, and Mary with the Christ child in the top. The kings are: David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. On either side of Jesse two prophets are standing, probably Isaiah and Jeremiah. To the left a nun in a white habit, probably from the Order of St.Mary Magdalene, is kneeling. She is the donor of the painting. The metaphorical picture originates in a passage in the biblical Book of Isaiah.