An article on the website of the British newspaper The Mirror recently reported that British World War I soldiers with the names White, Walker, and Thomas were most likely to have won medals for gallantry. The data comes from ancestry.co.uk, which compiled a list of soldiers awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The article went on to report: “Despite research revealing only 4% of people know about their ancestors from the Napoleonic war era, 41% believe they have got at least one hero in their family tree and two million think there is a bravery gene that runs in families.”
Claims of a bravery gene reminded me of the introduction to The Grant Family: A Genealogical History of the Descendants of Matthew Grant of Windsor, Conn., 1601–1898 by Arthur Hastings Grant. (Published in 1898, the book is available on Archive.org.) I’ve never seen such sweeping claims for common family characteristics across hundreds of years and thousands of miles as in this book. Arthur Grant grouped the Grant family into a clan system — “each clan consists of the descendants of one of the great-grandsons of Matthew Grant in the male line” — and enumerated general family and specific clan characteristics in the introduction.
Certain other traits are found generally throughout the Family, among which may be noted absolute honesty in word and deed, unflinching tenacity of purpose, and a tendency to reticence and unobtrusiveness. . . . The Family has been characterized by a devoted loyalty to American institutions, not a royalist being found among them, and many who did not fight in the Revolution rendered services of equal value at home . . . There have of course been black sheep among us, although the compiler has not felt it necessary to uncloset the few skeletons that we have; but Dr. Patterson, whose opinion was based upon a wide knowledge of the history of New England families, said that ours was the cleanest he knew, and a corroboration of this is found in the fact that only seven illegitimate births have come to the knowledge of the compiler.
There is, however, a marked difference in the characteristics of the various clans . . . This is especially noticeable in the matter of general education, one clan in particular being on the verge of illiteracy, while another (Z) is noted for its long continued interest in educational matters. Three clans suffered to an unusual degree from consumption and one from intemperance, but both these tendencies appear to have been largely overcome. Considered geographically, clans A, C, and Z are the most widely dispersed, while L and Q are the most concentrated, the former in southern New York and the later in two small districts in Connecticut and Ohio; it is quite probable that these two clans would be benefited by migration, as too close a nesting of families tends ultimately to impair vitality and check development. Clan B resides in the South; it has been noted throughout its history for its military achievements, and was at one time the wealthiest clan, but suffered severely through the Civil War. K is today unquestionably the wealthiest of the larger clans. A, K, L, and Q are noted for raising large families, while D and E have narrowly escaped extinction, and within a few years the name will have disappeared in clan H.
I have used the Grant genealogy myself (my husband and children being members of Clan B) and found it to be quite reliable. Arthur Grant was clearly a devoted and meticulous genealogist, but his opinions about family characteristics seem quaint and rather misguided from a modern perspective. Other nineteenth- and early twentieth-century genealogies also reveal quirky or outdated philosophies that I personally find fascinating, as part of the ongoing evolution of the field of genealogy.