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  • #50 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: The Completion of Some Major 20th-Century Genealogical Projects

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : August 8, 2000
    In this milestone 50th column I wish to call attention to the recent completion of several major genealogical compendia or massive printed databases. In columns #43-44 and #49, I treated changes since 1993 in the royal descent literature -- new and corrected lines for my forthcoming RD600. In doing so I several times mentioned the new 24-volume set, American National Biography (1999). A few further comments about it are in order. I am delighted to have new capsule scholarly biographies of noted Americans dying through 1995, and found many new figures of interest, both colonial and 19th or 20th century, but I was somewhat dismayed to find very little use of the printed genealogical literature. In several cases, parents of colonists were said to be unknown when English-origins articles in genealogical journals cover them well (I was particularly disappointed to read such a claim about Henry Norwood of Virginia). Sometimes, however, new articles in cited historical journals or monographs have identified the parents of immigrants (Gov. Edward Hyde of N.C. is an example), or brought figures of known parentage to general historical attention (examples are Henry Fleete and Arthur Storer). I was also pleased to see the inclusion of various 20th-century figures whose career was somewhat divided between America and Great Britain or Europe (examples from the above-cited earlier columns include Noel Coward, Mrs. David Niven, Mary Josephine "Maisie" Ward Sheed, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mrs. Alfred North Whitehead) and to note the inclusion, finally, of figures prominent largely in "society," as media celebrities, or as "aides and confidantes" of political figures (Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, Barbara Woolworth Hutton, and Kaye Summersby are examples). Regrettably, some figures in the old Dictionary of American Biography were deleted -- especially, it seems, New England ministers. Among new inclusions, however, are many recent or contemporary figures of 19th- or 20th-century "ethnic" background (Scandinavian, Irish, Italian, French or English Canadian, Slavic or Greek, Jewish, black, Hispanic, or Asian), some of whose wives, husbands or mothers may have colonial ancestry.

    In column #45, I spoke of the 1999 106th edition of Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, of the 1998 Addenda & Corrigenda vol. 14 of The Complete Peerage, and of the new Almanach de Gotha in English. In column #46, I wrote on the Mayflower Families Through Five Generations (MF) series and "Recent Advances in Mayflower Research." Shortly after that column appeared, Robert S. Wakefield wrote to call my attention to the various additional families given a or b numbers (i.e., 180a between 180 and 181) in vol. 19, and I am pleased to note receipt today (August 8, 2000) of vol. 20, part 1, covering four generations of the progeny of Henry Samson, whose medieval noble and gentry ancestry was the subject of an article in The Genealogist 6 (1985): 166-86, by Robert Leigh Ward, for which I combed all the pertinent literature listed by Marshall, Whitmore and Barrow. This new volume ends its list of nuclear families with #170 and covers 145 pages; the 4-G pamphlet of 1995 covers the same people with 186 numbers and 137 pages. The new volume is, of course, fully indexed, and I might note that former First Lady Barbara (Pierce) Bush and her eldest son, current presidential candidate George Walker Bush, are descendants of Zilpha/Zilpah (Thayer) Holbrook of the fourth generation (see The Mayflower Descendant 41 [1991]: 4-5). Through former President G.H.W. Bush, the current presidential candidate, I might add, is also a John Howland and probably a Francis Cooke descendant. Vol. 20 is the work of the late Robert M. and Ruth (Wilder) Sherman and Robert S. Wakefield. Yet to appear are definitive volumes on the younger children of John Howland; the fifth generation of Alden, Samson, and Soule descendants (for this last see the 4-G pamphlet and the "silver book" for 5th generation descendants mentioned in the 4-G pamphlet), plus the fifth generation of the three youngest children (including the two sons) of Richard Warren; and "silver books" for Bradford and Brewster, subjects of 4-G pamphlets (and a second Brewster pamphlet on the fifth-generation descendants of Jonathan2).

    In addition to these major compendia in national biography, royal and Mayflower studies, I wish to note also the completion of a subject of my second column, The American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI). About 15 volumes of supplements are planned, but the second series has ended with vol. 206 and Christopher Zyranius. That this monumental work was completed before the end of the 20th century should be a source of considerable satisfaction for the Godfrey Memorial Library (134 Newfield St., Middletown, CT 06457) and its various employees of the last 50 years. That it was finished without subvention or major grant subsidy speaks well indeed of Fremont Ryder, the library's founder, and his colleagues and successors. Almost certainly the last mostly pre-computer index, this work is nonetheless one of the three great databases, along with the six volumes of Register indexes and the IGI, for New England genealogy. I use AGBI almost daily, especially for Boston Transcript entries, and have watched it progress from the D's and E's when I was in graduate school, to L's, when I first visited the Godfrey in late 1977, through S's and T's as I wrote revised introductions in the 1990s to Torrey's New England Marriages Prior to 1700. Future genealogists will find AGBI indispensable. Most of it is available on CD-ROM from (doubtless the remainder will soon be added). On-line accessibility may well be imminent or already in place (check with the library in Middletown or I could well be mistaken, but data-entering or scanning indexes with over a million entries still seems beyond the immediate capacity of most commercial websites. Our debt to Mr. Ryder and his long-diligent successors is thus immense, and I extend them my heartiest congratulations.

    Before moving to one of the more interesting historically-based genealogical compendia of this century, I wish to note one particular body of source records which I myself helped bring to fruition. The eight volumes of The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot, published by NEHGS between 1989 and 1999, were edited largely by B. Emer O'Keeffe (the first several introductions were by Ruth-Ann M. Harris of Northeastern University, who designed and initiated the project). These advertisements for missing relatives identify the place origins (county and parish, townland or barony) of probably over 100,000 19th-century immigrants. Most Northeasterners of largely Irish, especially "Boston Irish" descent, should find ancestors or kinsmen herein - as did Marie Daly of our staff and Sheila Fitzpatrick of TIARA. The Pilot was the major Catholic newspaper of 19th-century America, and these paid (and by no means cheap) advertisements compose, I believe, the largest body of known place origins for any "Old World" ethnic group of the last 150 years. The ads also tell thousands of capsule "stories," often poignant and in the aggregate of much interest to historians of Irish America. An initial Savage or Torrey for Irish-American genealogy, Missing Friends is perhaps a first work toward a "genealogical dictionary" for a sizable section of this population, and is the major non-Yankee publication effort to date by NEHGS or, I believe, any other genealogical society. A few other multi-volume lists or compilations on 19th- and 20th-century immigrant groups are mentioned in column #9.

    A final project is both outstanding and somewhat disappointing. Rev. Frederick Wallace Pyne has completed his 7-volume Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (1997-2000), published by Picton Press in Camden, Maine. This set treats only descendants of the signers - not their ancestry, and not the descendants of siblings or cousins. It was compiled largely from the manuscript of Frank Willing Leach, who began his study in 1885 and finished by 1922, when the manuscript was sold to the pertinent hereditary society (Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence [DSDI]), founded in 1907. To this manuscript have been added much data from lineage papers for that society. Material from some, even many, other sources was collected as well, but unfortunately many pertinent genealogies were not consulted, nor, apparently, were major college class books, social registers, or biographical dictionaries. Unpublished vital records, wills and deeds also seem minimally used beyond those incorporated into the Leach manuscript or DSDI lineage papers. In addition, there is no biographical treatment of notable descendants, nor even any indication of which were historical figures of prominence.

    It is certainly splendid, however, to have Leach's manuscript readily accessible at long last. I used a copy at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland over 25 years ago, and manuscript or film copies were available only, I think, there, at the Filson Club and SAR headquarters in Louisville, at the Library of Congress, and at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Many DSDI applications, moreover, cover living people, and there is some undocumented, very recent material gleaned perhaps from letters or personal knowledge of DSDI and SAR members. Quite surprising, perhaps, is the size of the New Jersey (largely John Hart) and Virginia volumes - by far the biggest - and the final volume, on signers from the Carolinas and Georgia (by far the smallest).

    This set deserves wide dissemination, and I hope many genealogical librarians point Rev. Pyne in the direction of new books and manuscripts that will augment this series and can be used in future editions. Rev. Pyne is visiting Boston later this month, and plans a new edition of the now out-of-print vol. 1, covering the 14 signers from New England. I covered their ancestry in NEXUS in 1986, and re-edited these columns into two chapters (16-17) of Notable Kin, Volume One (1998). Signers outside New England with forebears here may be the subject of a future "Notable Kin." Among notable progenies of the New England signers, I have published (in the above and other "Notable Kin" columns) lists or generation outlines covering John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Oliver Wolcott descendants especially. Among Sherman descendants, Mabel W[ellington] White appears as a child, and is said to die s.p., but her marriage to U.S. Secretary of War and Secretary of State Henry Lewis Stimson is omitted. Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, Jr., appears only as a child, with no marriage, and the next generation, which includes actor Perry King, Cox's nephew, is not covered. Such omissions can be readily corrected in forthcoming volumes, but in this current edition, minus biographical notes or genealogical comprehension, the full historical prominence of these "signer" progenies is not readily apparent. Overall, however, the series is a valuable contribution to post-Revolutionary American genealogy, and a first step in identifying and assessing the historical role of these families. Presidential descendants have been generally well covered in Burke's Presidential Families of the U.S.A., 2nd ed. (1981) and American Presidential Families (1993) (note that two presidents, Adams and Jefferson, were also signers), and the Mayflower progeny of course is the subject of the ongoing 5-G project covered in a previous paragraph.

    The 20th century ends December 31, 2000. I shall be delighted to report the completion of other series later this year, and invite readers to bring such sets to my attention. The above seem to me the most important of these compendia, and speak well indeed for the sophistication and breadth of contemporary genealogical scholars. My next column will, once again, be a surprise.

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