New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845
#88 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources Additions to Ancestors of American Presidents, 2009 Edition
An Ancestral Lines Pairing System: Uniquely Numbering Each Ancestral Line, Generation, Pairing and Sibling
A Note from the Editor: Historical Markers of Massachusetts
MURDER? At the St. James
#72 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Notes on the Total Ancestry of Princes William and Harry
DNA Solves A Wilder Ancestral Enigma
Scots for Sale
#80 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Reminiscences of Thirty Years at NEHGS
Gary Boyd Roberts
Published Date :
June 2, 2006
The Holiday 2005 issue of New England Ancestors contains an article of roughly three pages that delineates some highlights of my NEHGS career since 1974. Below is the longer, updated version of this article, in its earliest format an interview conducted a year or so ago by Laura G. Prescott, former Director of Marketing. In future columns, after perhaps a guest column of further reminiscences, I will return to my series of brief genealogical coverage of Hollywood figures, plus perhaps some notes on new immigrants of royal descent, the ancestry of a few American architects, etc.
Laura: You’re celebrating your thirtieth year in Boston and with the Society. What were you doing before you came here?
Gary: I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and had been a part-time instructor, off-and-on, at Roosevelt University.
Laura: Your field? Gary: History – Tudor, Stuart, European, intellectual, and modern. Laura: Can you give me an idea of how you first became interested in royalty and the famous connections for which you’re so well known?
Gary: I saw a movie called Royal Wedding (1951) with Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, and Peter Lawford, and was fascinated that real kings and princes still existed. My mother told me that the princess who married in the movie had just had a little girl [Anne] and her son [Charles] was about two. I was seven and became absolutely fascinated with royalty. Cowboys and Indians were very ordinary to a child in Texas, but the kings and queens of fairy tales were exotic indeed. My favorite babysitter, Mrs. Stephenson, told me about the abdication and everything else in the then-recent history of the British royal family. And a visiting aunt told me that one of my great-grandmothers had been a Devin, an Irish surname, and through that great-grandmother we were descended from the Duchess of Devonshire. So I checked my Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 edition (a kind of family heirloom, given to me instantly by my grandmother when I asked for it), found that the wife of the 1st Duke of Devonshire was the daughter of the 1st Duke of Ormonde and that his ancestor, the 1st Earl, had married a grandchild of Edward I. And so I must be distantly related to all these kings and princes. I have two immigrant forebears with royal ancestry, but I’m only descended from a soldier in the army of the first Duchess of Devonshire’s father.
Laura: Pretty close. Gary: But someone remembered “Duchess of DevON-shire when a family member married a DevIN. My soldier ancestor’s name was Nowlan. His family later came to Virginia, a Nowlan/Nowlin married a Devin, and my great-great-grandparents on that side were first cousins. So the Devin-Devonshire similiarity was undoubtedly noticed; someone remembered it and told it to their grandchildren. Only what was passed down was that “we’re descended from the Duchess of Devonshire,” not a man who fought for her father. Laura: Isn’t that typical of many family stories?
Gary: Yes. It’s also typical to have two genuine royal lines, but not the ones talked about when you’re a child. I recently found that I’m probably, almost certainly, descended from both Edward III, King of England, and Sancha de Ayala, the Spanish lady who gives all of her descendants a fourth-cousinhood to the king who sponsored Columbus (Ferdinand, of Ferdinand and Isabella). Thus my kinship to European royalty, from the late medieval period to the present, is several degrees closer than I thought. In a recent “Notable Kin” column I wrote about renewing one’s genealogical definition – self-definition – by making discoveries late in life.
Laura: What attracted you to working at the Society?
Gary: I more or less exhausted graduate school. The history department of the University of Chicago had only placed four of its last 63 Ph.D.s. My own Ph.D. advisor was leaving. He was (mostly) Tudor-Stuart legal historian Charles Gray, whose wife Hannah became provost of Yale and later president of the University of Chicago. He was to be succeeded by an Irish historian who thought I represented “onward-and-upward with the British upper classes,” to him complete anathema. We had an immediate personality clash. I looked over my prospects and was advised by major professors in the department: “You’re already as well qualified to be a genealogical librarian, if that’s what you want to be, as anybody in the country, more so. And you’re the best genealogist we’ve ever met. You have prestigious degrees and you don’t need to go any further academically.” I decided my advisors were right. I also did not want to spend any more years…I was already 30…satisfying Ph.D. committees, struggling for a first tenure appointment, or fighting for the validity of converting genealogy into sociology or social history. I had already fought that battle at the Newberry Library. It was clear that social historians despised genealogists, that we spoke completely different languages. I would be much happier personally in a great genealogical library. I applied to the twenty or thirty I respected, most of which I had visited between 1962 and 1974. I had been to NEHGS once. Jim Bell had become director the preceding year (1973) and quickly dismissed or possibly retired all of the older employees, largely female and underpaid, mostly hired in the 1930s and 40s (one young woman had probably arrived in the 1960s). Mrs. Daybre was the last of these ladies, hired, I believe, in the early 70s. At any rate, Bell wished to replace everyone with younger “professionals.” He had not yet found a genealogist to head the library, so when I sent a résumé with Yale, the University of Chicago, and Phi Beta Kappa on it, it was a “dream come true” for him. I was immediately asked to come for an interview. I called my father, who sent me money for the trip. I was hired the day of the interview, and I remember telling my wife that I was a little reluctant to relinquish independent scholarly status. “Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news.” “What are the two parts?” “It’s the same thing. I was hired.”
Laura: Which person in the Society or event of the last thirty years launched you into the genealogical public eye?
Gary: I’ve had a long-term partnership with the director, Ralph Crandall. We were left the Society after nine years under Bell. Ralph assumed the administrative and financial functions and I was left to guard, preserve and protect the scholarly functions. Despite all kinds of complicating factors, that distinction basically stands. We were both young and we were both excited at the prospect of saving the most learned and distinguished genealogical institution in the country – the world, really. Ralph, having been an editor, learned to be an administrator and businessman. I learned not simply to write articles, but to compile and write books, put together a publications program, head several departments in succession (I was head of the library, then research, then publications), and edit a journal. I began to lead American genealogy in several directions – towards royal descent, towards presidential genealogy, and towards “notable kin” (the ancestry of major figures in European, British and American history). And I worked enough shifts in the library to develop a following of people I much enjoyed, who were grateful for my advice and “reviews” of their genealogical charts. I also received a lot of genealogical material from them. A sizable number of royal descents and “notable kin” that I have developed over the years are derived from patrons who shared their discoveries with me.
Laura: Are these members? Or genealogists in general?
Gary: Members mostly, but genealogists from all over. I knew a large number of elderly colleagues: John Coddington, Meredith Colket, George McCracken, Milton Rubincam, Lee Sheppard, and Kenn Stryker-Rodda. They didn’t really train me; we interacted at all kinds of scholarly levels. John Coddington actually wrote the first article published under my name, on the royal descent of Puritan leader Rev. John Davenport of New Haven. I made a few little changes and he insisted that I submit it under my own name. It was based on a discovery I had made at his house in Bordentown from books there, but John had the time to write it, largely from handwritten charts and notes I sent him, plus his own Davenport file. He did so, saying “Now send this to George McCracken. It will be interesting to see if anybody recognizes my style.” George, of course, didn’t. At any rate, that was my first article and John was quite correct – it became the first of over two hundred if you include “Notable Kin” and Internet columns.
Laura: Was his style similar to what yours became?
Gary: It was close enough, but a little different from most of the articles I’ve written since. And of course McCracken published it with two typos, par for McCracken, who was in his declining years. But these declining men were our link to Jacobus, and to the Register of the 1920s and 30s. Ann Harding and John Coddington both discussed everybody with me. Frances Davenport, the older librarian soon to retire from the Connecticut State Library, told me what Jacobus had and hadn’t used at various points in his career. Coddington had known Jacobus, Moriarty, and Davis well, plus most twentieth-century editors of the Register. This generation of grandfathers took us under their wings and told us a great deal. And I almost immediately had protégés, including David Dearborn, Bob Anderson, Roger Joslyn, Alicia Williams and other young people I somehow attracted to the Society in my first tenure there, 1974-1977, as reference librarian. My protégés soon began to lead American genealogy.
Laura: You are well known for having names, relationships, and dates imprinted in your brain. Is that memory something you nurtured, or do you have a “natural talent” that is simply very useful in this field?
Gary: I came here with about ten years of experience in tracing the ancestry of everyone in the Dictionary of American Biography and its first two supplements, about 14,000 people (everyone notable in American history who died before 1940), plus lots of notable British and Continental figures. My life’s work, which I began as a senior at Yale (or even a little before), was named and assumed essay format when I was earnng my master’s degree. I spent most of my Ph.D. time, under academic supervision, writing the first chapters and preparing about six thousand charts treating the royal descents of major figures in American, British and European history. I was tracing the ancestry of notable figures in American history back to any of, at that point, 100, then 200, 400, and finally 600 immigrants of royal descent. In doing so, I traced the full known ancestry of these figures in all the books at the Newberry Library in Chicago. I myself had a great-great-grandfather (Ephraim Hough Root) who migrated from New England to Texas, and I had traced all his ancestry while I was at Yale. His father was born in Southington, his mother in Wallingford. Judah Root and Sarah Hough migrated from near New Haven to upstate New York and E. H., the youngest child, born in 1813, came to Texas in the early 1850s. Having traced E. H. Root’s ancestry I was eager to ally myself with as many people in the Dictionary of American Biography, to the range of eighth-twelfth cousins, as I could. I was interested in tracing the royal descents of those notables as well. That research I undertook from 1966 to 1974, eight years (not quite ten), and so came here with considerable experience. I was probably also the only person (I may still be the only person, at least in this country) who’s had considerable experience with printed sources for noble French, German, Austrian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Swedish, and Russian genealogy. I actually traced the ancestry of Tolstoy and Turgenev, of Cortez’s wife and the Spanish dukes responsible for the Armada, of the Medici, Farnese, and Castiglione’s wife, and of Lafayette, Mirabeau, and de Tocqueville. My friend Bill Reitwiesner and I undertake a lot of work on the ancestry of European kings and their recent spouses – generally noble, commoner, from other countries, or of any background whatever. So I brought all this background to my job and I would immediately look at people’s charts and see ancestors I’d encountered before. I had performed this service from time to time in Chicago when I conducted my research at (but never worked for) the Newberry Library. I met a young fellow, Richard Evans, whose work on the ancestry of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, I’m now sponsoring. We hope to publish volume one, covering the first thirteen generations, next year (2006). Another volume, a few years later, will cover generations fourteen through eighteen. This set is designed to be a companion piece to Paget’s on the ancestry of Prince Charles. Thus I was interested in international genealogy but had a lot of experience in tracing New Englanders and the two other major American groups traceable from books, Quakers and Tidewater planters. My experience was only with books, however, not documents, at the Newberry Library, the New York Public Library, and Sterling Library at Yale, which in some way I never left, and where I “cut my genealogical teeth” (there, and as a child, at the Houston and Dallas Public Libraries). The skills I learned in these libraries are not known to most genealogists. Put trained genealogists – those who attend seminars, take courses, even write articles – in a courthouse or state archives (i.e. among documents) and they are a whiz. Put them in the British Museum or the Bibliothèque Nationale or even the Library of Congress for two hours, however, and they often won’t know what to do. Or they will do it with far less efficiency than I can. This speed, and bibliographical knowledge, was due to all this training in some of the world’s great academic and public libraries. I had thus encountered most New England families long before I came to Boston. I also knew most families in the Virginia and Quaker patriciates – the Quakers, many of Welsh royal descent, who founded Philadelphia, and the great planters of Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina. I had traced many notable Livingston descendants, plus some New York, English-derived manorial families. I have done little work on the New York Dutch, and am not particularly interested in Germans, or Scots-Irish, or nineteenth-century immigrants unless they belong to the gentry diaspora. This last refers to people of gentry origin in some European country who migrated to a colonial part of the world and often drifted finally into the United States. Of course we began as a colonial gentry, our leaders were of that class, and we’re almost the first colonial outpost of Europe. Later ones include Australia, Canada (from Britain and France), parts of North Africa (from France and Germany) and South America (from Spain). I’m largely interested in Europe – its nobility and gentry – and in their descendants throughout the world. I’m not much genealogically interested in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. Of course, I’m infamous for not being at all interested in computers, which I do not use and never plan to use. I do not wish even to learn about them until they no longer require keyboards or mouses, so people with bad hand coordination or arthritis can use them. At that time I might buy one, but until then the techies can make their living without my money.
Laura: But do you appreciate what computers are bringing to genealogy – the good, the bad, and the ugly?
Gary: I’m more aware of the ugly. I know of the sharing and the great convenience of using the Web in house slippers at three in the morning without leaving the house. Frankly I consider much of the Web a crutch, almost like Cliff Notes for genealogy. Sharing used to flourish through correspondence. Now it’s much more immediate. Within, for example, a week of John Edwards’s vice-presidential nomination, a handful of good genealogists around the country, some in the Carolinas and some in great libraries, had traced most of his ancestry in most lines for six or seven generations – with further lines to many early colonists. Pick any figure in the news whose background is of historical interest and people like Rhonda McClure, Rob Martindale, Robert Battle, George Larsen, Bill Reitwiesner, Chris Child and I will begin work on his or her ancestry. Bill may have been the first to consolidate many websites, almost like fanzines, that treat the immediate background of all kinds of notables. I used to check biographies, and can remember spending a week or more at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, because all biographies in the university library system were together. I examined biography after biography to learn the parents, grandparents, and occasionally great-grandparents of well-known people whom I would then trace through standard sources. The first time I went to Salt Lake City I did not use the films (I still don’t use them very often) but ran 175 problems unsolvable at the Newberry Library or NEHGS through the family group sheets. I found solutions, or data that led to solutions, for about 35-40, maybe 45, of my 175. So I brought all this expertise in printed sources to the Society, where most of my colleagues arrived with considerable experience in using primary materials in a certain area, or primary and published materials, and then only slowly acquired mastery of other areas. I remain the only person who knows much about the South, Continental Europe, or the British nobility and gentry. On the other hand, I know nothing about the ordinary people of Scotland or Ireland, and nothing about French-Canadians. In the course of tracing the ancestry of notables I have encountered most printed genealogies and local histories, and much of the ancestry of individual Society members is shared by notables. Thus I can review patrons’ charts and say, “That chunk of your ancestry is shared with Mamie Eisenhower or John Foster Dulles or FDR, and here are the best books available on those families in your ancestry.” Shortly after I came to NEHGS I got to know Torrey (New England Marriages Prior to 1700) very well. I had already used many of the best multi-ancestor works. Thus I soon knew when to consult Dawes-Gates, Stevens-Miller, Warner-Harrington, the Pillsbury set, or any of the modern, often tycoon-sponsored, multi-family works that go beyond standard 1880 or 1910 genealogies and often contain definitive English-origins data or the best documentation for colonial generations. Journals also contain such articles and even in college I was reviewing all TAGs (The American Genealogist). Later I examined all Registers individually and within several years of my NEHGS career had examined each issue of many more journals. I keep checking the major journals in compiling various bibliographies. Keeping abreast of bibliographical knowledge is a huge job, and I probably do it better than anybody.
Laura: It appears that you do.
Gary: But I’m also not bad at courthouses. I’ve been to all the courthouses and State Archives in the South where my ancestors actually lived. My colleague David Dearborn has been to almost all courthouses in the country, I sometimes think, in any area where Dearborns ever lived. In those cities where I lecture I usually visit any major genealogical facility.
Laura: Having visited so many libraries, how do you rank NEHGS and the Society’s library as to resources, and how has that ranking changed in the thirty years you’ve been here?
Gary: It’s now the best library for my kind of research in the country, perhaps the world. Salt Lake City is superb for films documenting the ancestry of nineteenth- and twentieth-century working-class European immigrants. David Dearborn calls one component of this enormous immigration the “mill English.” NEHGS is good for all the colonial groups I mentioned. We are absolutely definitive for New England, but we are also good for all colonial groups and most of their descendants. I wish we had more county histories from the Midwest, but our collections for the Atlantic coastal states are superb. In the mid-1980s, moreover, as part of our NEH Challenge Fund match, we were given, by John Hutchinson Cook of Bordentown, New Jersey, the biggest collection of European genealogical volumes ever assembled by an American. John came into his money in the early 1940s (his parents died when he was relatively young) and as Europeans were selling everything they owned for food and firewood in late 1940s winters, he instructed several booksellers in Paris to buy everything they saw that was genealogical. Everything!
Laura: Or it would have been burnt?
Gary: No, it would have been sold. John bought most of his collections on the cheap, or relatively cheap. Later we acquired Fred Kaufholz’s collection of German volumes, and I have given sets on Belgian, Austro-Hungarian (Wurzbach) and papal genealogy (Italian and Spanish). We received a grant from the Donner Foundation to build a Canadian collection, and it now covers the Atlantic Maritimes, French Quebec, Ontario, and even western Canada. But our European noble collection is superb. A colleague at the Library of Congress might retire here to use it and Brandon Fradd, Don Stone and I co-sponsored Settipani’s recent book on the families of ninth- to eleventh-century Carolingian (French-German) counts.
Laura: What is ancient genealogy?
Gary: Ancient genealogy covers, basically, pre-feudal, pre-Charlemagne, and pre-700 (A.D.) families, plus possible descents from the Roman Empire, ancient Egypt, ancient Athens, and the Muslim world. The Biblical exilarch descent, first proposed in the 1970s, regrettably fails, but we keep hoping for another Davidic line. Most Muslim lines have also failed, but there are real possibilities of descent from the first Ptolemies and Cleopatras of Egypt (via Persia and Syria) and from a first cousin of the Greek historian Thucydides. These lines mostly go through Armenia, which intermarried with the West from say the early Crusades to about 1400. There must have been Muslim-Spanish marriages but they are well hidden. All of these ancient possibilities intrigue me, and royal descent intrigues me even more. When I first wrote an introduction to “The Mowbray Connection” of several hundred pages, I listed 200 immigrants with royal descent. I now know of 650, but John Brayton and Bill Reitwiesner each this year brought several more to my attention, so the total comes to about 660-665. Before I die we may know of 1000 immigrants of royal descent. There will certainly be more nineteenth- and twentieth-century gentry immigrants whose children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren or later descendants become notable in American life. We will also find royal descents for more and more Scandinavians, Dutch, and Germans who came here in the nineteenth century. I am good with colonial Americans and immigrants in printed works on European families. But bourgeois Europeans who came here and happen to have a noble great-great-great-grandmother often haven’t yet appeared in print. There are probably many of these and I simply don’t have a command of the documents needed to trace them. If you examine any recent Burke’s Peerage you’ll find numerous families who came here and left descendants, mostly not yet notable. But I found a Wedgwood of Seattle in Who’s Who in America and added him to RD600. Many English noble families have a younger branch in Australia, Canada, South Africa and/or somewhere in the U.S. Occasionally these people succeed to titles, but usually they lead fairly obscure lives. Only a few, like Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming, an eventual heir to the earldom of Portsmouth, become notable figures. Our own Julie Otto’s paternal grandmother belonged to a gentry family connected with the Indian Army in Burma, and Julie is a fourth cousin once removed of Mark Phillips, former son-in-law of the Queen. Ernie Henderson’s paternal grandmother, wife of a German history professor at Harvard, was a von Bunsen, distantly related to the Bunsen burner family, but the granddaughter herself of a Barclay of Barclay’s Bank. The nobly connected wife of David Niven came and left sons here, as did writer and famous “sister” Jessica Mitford. The gentry wife of Alfred North Whitehead followed her husband to Harvard and among actors and actresses, Rupert Everett, Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, Joan Fontaine, Gloria Grahame, Olivia de Havilland, Peter Lawford, Catherine Oxenburg, Rachel Ward, and others are also (British) immigrants of royal descent.
Laura: In the past 30 years there has been a lot of forward movement in our profession. We’ve already discussed the computer revolution somewhat. What other trends have you seen besides the growth of the library?
Gary: Primarily the growth of the Society and its membership, plus the growth of the genealogical community overall. The first great impetus was probably the Centennial of 1876, but there was a huge increase as well in 1976.
Laura: Because of the Bicentennial?
Gary: The Bicentennial and then Roots. Roots didn’t so much begin African-American genealogy, although it may have done so somewhat; more importantly it convinced ordinary Americans of either ethnic or pioneer background that their ancestry could be traced. (Many people had previously assumed that if they weren’t upper-class they couldn’t trace their ancestry.) Now they began to do so and genealogy became as popular as stamp and coin collecting (or, to be a bit naughty, as beer, wine or cigarettes). That popularity was quite new. When I was a child, to be seriously into genealogy was considered almost a form of mental illness. My parents saw psychiatrists about my seeming “obsession”; to them genealogists were social misfits, anathema to both businessmen (my father) and socialites (my mother). When I was about twelve the only aspect of my interest of which they approved was collecting toy soldiers. Visiting libraries was strongly discouraged. Later, when I became an academic en route to becoming first a lawyer, then an historian, my parents accepted these choices and financed them long before they accepted my being a genealogist. One of my professors at Yale told my father, after I had graduated magna cum laude and we were having a dinner at this professor’s home to toast my career, “Well, why doesn’t Gary become a genealogist? I’m sure there isn’t much need for them in this country, but I’m also sure there’s a place for ONE, for the best in the country!” My father was dumbfounded! Then my professor added, “One of the most successful men I know is an Egyptologist and there can’t be much demand for Egyptologists, but he’s the best in the country.” My professor didn’t mention that the Egyptologist had married a Rockefeller heiress, but I’m pleased now to be a bit of a philanthropist in my own field. It’s true that if you are among the very best in something arcane, you can survive. But it helped a lot in my career that genealogy became popular. And all that training at Yale helped enormously. The Ivy League really matters in this world, or certainly colleges and learning to write and speak really matter. I can remember being a guest on a television program with Eileen Slocum, the great doyenne of Newport society, and author Stephen Birmingham. We were asked a question about the Kennedys and rather than hear either Eileen or Steve give a hackneyed response, I said “Let me take that one” and answered genealogically. The Kennedys are a family who marry very interestingly, often to other upper-class families. They became famous through one great man, much like the families of Napoleon or Oliver Cromwell. Compare Kennedys to Cromwells and Bonapartes. You’re far beyond the question of whether Kennedys are real Brahmins, which of course they aren’t, or whether they betrayed their Irish heritage by becoming rich and imitating the “Protestant establishment.” Occasionally a great statesman or conqueror or tycoon or even criminal elevates his family to the point that it intermarries with various elements of the local aristocracy. Cromwell’s children and kinsmen and Napoleon’s siblings and step-children so married, and President Kennedy, his brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces married first into the Catholic upper class, then into some prominent Protestant families (one ducal), and then into the jet-set, meritocracy or celebrity worlds (Lawford, Schwarzenegger, Cuomo), where distinction is often more important than background. You have to have self-confidence to interrupt people like Eileen Slocum or Stephen Birmingham. I’ve never been ashamed to assert myself, especially intellectually. I’ve also never been afraid to express strong views about politics. I consider myself kind of “edgy,” left, a bit of of a social revolutionary. I believe in challenging the middle class, not comforting it. I’m closer to a Bohemian intellectual from New York than a Republican businessman from the heartland.
Laura: I’d like to talk about your upcoming book.
Gary: I published The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants in January 2004. My friend Doug Richardson published two thousand-page volumes, in 2004 and 2005, that are partly companion pieces and partly a vast expansion of mine, called Plantagenet Ancestry and Magna Carta Ancestry.
Laura: Did you contribute to those at all?
Gary: In many telephone discussions, Doug shared most of his discoveries, as he was making them. I occasionally sponsored research on specific immigrants or to develop further certain discoveries. I have also kept in contact with Paul Reed and Neil Thompson and Jack Threlfall and many other scholars in that field. In 2004 (and earlier) I edited and massively updated all my book introductions and articles in learned genealogical journals. Talk about rewriting – try updating something you wrote in the 1970s or early 1980s, to bring it in line with everything published since, everything available on the Internet, new ways of looking at the problem and the new levels of speed at which you can get answers. Each chapter is a much revised article on the best sources for, say, Connecticut or Rhode Island or Mayflower families, central and western Massachusetts or the South Shore, and ancient genealogy and the evolution of royalty. I suggested a genealogical librarians’ code of ethics in the late 1970s and in 1985 listed the best genealogical publications 1960-1985. In 1996 I wrote on the best post-1960 sources for seventeenth-century New England. The Best Genealogical Sources in Print, Volume One, was published by the Society in December 2004.
Laura: In this book you comment on such sources as well as list them?
Gary: Yes, most of the book is narrative commentary. It’s Gary’s guide to the best sources for everything, in part because we are now entering the age of Internet genealogy. Most people look at the Internet at home before printed books in a library. This work is a personal guide to the best sources of my generation, and probably a generation or two before it – all the great compendia, most of the last twenty-five years, that summarize everything known about a variety of areas. The generation previous to these compendia was largely an age of articles. Books became much cheaper to produce in the 1960s and 70s and genealogists, a little richer, could afford to sponsor books by the mid-80s. GPC (Genealogical Publishing Company) became very prosperous and was able to commission, and publish, many volumes and projects. These major compendia also summarize 150 years of scholarship, since American genealogy began. If readers will buy what I recommend and get to know it, they should learn enough to use libraries. Even people compiling databases can input from these sources (when legal, i.e. not a violation of copyright). I think the field will much advance if the best of what’s in print is known to the world. This book is my attempt to tell everybody what the very best is. Laura: Are you also highlighting sources to ignore?
Gary: Not especially. I talk about some items that have been superseded. If the book is the only item on the topic and I have reason to mention it, I may say something about its middling quality. I will, if a middling work is superseded, talk about the new work and state among its virtues that it supersedes a certain volume long in use, which can now be discarded or sold. But these essays are not all the articles I have written. I also often write on how A is related to B – usually the royal or noble or interesting ancestry of all kinds of notables in world history, especially Americans and Europeans. The articles updated in The Best Genealogical Sources in Print concern the best sources for X or Y, plus book introductions. Other lists not mentioned above include a bibliography for all Middlesex testators, 1649-1660, and all immigrants whose origin has been treated in the Register since 1984 (275, in just one journal in twenty years). This book is my attempt in the middle of much fast-moving progress to identify all the best to date and alert genealogists who just came to the Internet or lack immediate exposure to new material readily available in a great library. I see everything that arrives, look at it quickly, and evaluate it. Someone working from home is not so exposed, and not many practicing genealogists come in daily contact with genealogies. The field supports national conferences in part because people who work from their homes and don’t otherwise meet the larger genealogical community can make such contact once or twice a year. I make it every day, and this book is my way of passing a large chunk of that knowledge to the world at large.
Laura: This book is called Volume 1. What about Volume 2?
Gary: Volume 2 will contain NEXUS and NEA articles, plus source discussion items from my website and lectures (passouts not superseded by other articles).
Laura: Anyone reading these words, or anyone who knows you personally, will be astonished that you have a website.
Gary: Indeed, I don’t use the Internet. I dictate to very nice people who take my dictation, or I write text in longhand. The technology staff then puts it on the website, with various links.
Laura: And you have a personal website begun last year?
Gary: It’s basically a teaser website for the Society’s. We opened it with charts of the eight kinships between Kerry and Bush, ninth to fourteenth cousins, typical of any two people with New England ancestry. Most couples with considerable New England ancestry are probably eighth or ninth cousins. Genealogists likewise often discover that their parents were eighth or ninth cousins (my parents were seventh, through mutual ancestors in Southside Virginia). This website will undertake special tasks from time to time. As I revise various parts of “The Mowbray Connection” over the next few years I might cover, for example, from the French section, the Bonaparte Empresses Joséphine and Eugénie.
Laura: What are your future plans?
Gary: I will of course have more time for books, articles, website columns, etc. In addition to the second volume of The Best Genealogical Sources in Print, I will probably issue another edition of Ancestors of American Presidents in 2009 or later, after election of a post-Bush president. At least 40 (of 125) charts will have to be adjusted to include George Walker Bush, and sizable text revision will be necessary to absorb new discoveries of the last ten years. I could see myself revising my Princess of Wales volume into one entitled American Ancestors and Cousins of Princes William and Harry, or of William, Prince of Wales, when his father becomes king. I hope to write one article a year for New England Ancestors, probably a commemorative item (so far in this journal I’ve covered – in honor of Yale’s 300th “birthday,” the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and the 2004 presidential campaign – the royal descent of Yale’s presidents, new discoveries about notable American cousins of the late Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales, and additions to my presidential opus). I will doubtless honor future anniversaries (I published a first edition of Ancestors of American Presidents in 1989, for the two-hundredth anniversary of the presidency). But my main future activity will be a return to “The Mowbray Connection,” updating and publishing it not just on our website but also probably in book form. I shall first revise the huge American section, covering descendants notable in the nation’s life of the 650 immigrants of royal descent (387 of the colonial period). Probably forty percent of the figures in the Dictionary of American Biography or American National Biography are descended from at least one of the 650. The children of Robert E. Lee and Franklin D. Roosevelt had lines from ten or more of these immigrants of royal descent. George W. Bush has descents from nine, Laura from one, and John Forbes Kerry from twelve. So updating “The Mowbray Connection,” upon which I stopped work about 1987, preparing both online and print versions, plus simultaneously keeping current my royal descent, presidential, and perhaps even William and Harry volumes – these activities together should provide a very rich and busy retirement. Post-2005, I shall continue consultant-editing the Register and New England Ancestors, participate in education programs, and write my Internet column, but I will become more a philanthropist and less an employee. I hope to have an office on the first floor, at a desk given to us by my good friend Ernie Henderson, whose multi-volume compendium on his entire known ancestry I will also edit within a few years. In late 2003 I bought an apartment around the corner in part to have only a three-minute walk to the Society. I will not “follow the sun” to Florida, or go very willingly to a nursing home. My good young colleagues will, I hope, bring me books when I’m sick or help me walk here at age eighty-seven or ninety-five, so that I can perhaps continue visiting the library until I literally collapse. Then of course there will be a big memorial service, I can lie in state for a day or two in the Society’s rotunda (open casket, in my family’s Southern tradition), and burial will be at Mount Auburn in Cambridge. Laura: Who will succeed you? Whom have you designated?
Gary: I have indeed designated some heirs. Chris Child will probably assume my presidential project; in 2040 he’ll be the major scholar tracing Ancestors of American Presidents and publishing, I hope, under that title (Julie Otto plans to continue her charts, and both she and Richard Andrew Pierce will continue to attack various difficult presidential problems). All my copyrights, reprint and electronic rights, and intellectual property will be left to the Society. If used wisely during the century after my death these rights should be valuable. Bill Reitwiesner, Douglas Richardson, Kim Everingham, and others may continue with parts of “The Mowbray Connection,” including digitization of all descents from immigrants of royal descent to notable figures. We’ll also have to see who becomes interested in royal descent in the next generation; Reitwiesner, Richardson and Everingham are all in their 50s. One superb young royal descent scholar also keenly interested in the ancestry of notable figures is Robert Battle, of the University of Washington. Richard Evans, compiler of the forthcoming 18-generation study of the ancestry of the late Princess of Wales, also has an extraordinary command of printed sources and might, I hope, succeed to the Diana/William and Harry volume. Among staff protégés here, several of whom I knew from the library, encouraged to apply for their first Society job, and have nourished with some care, are Brenton Simons, David Lambert and Chris Child, plus, among employees hired in the 1970s/80s, David Dearborn and Julie Otto. Protégés not at 101 Newbury Street include Alicia Crane Williams and Robert Charles Anderson (in his early career). Former librarians deserving tribute include George Sanborn, Jerry Anderson, and the late Marshall Kirk. The succession of one generation by another is something to which Ralph and I (and lots of others) have given serious attention. But mentoring is a job never completed. I’m always looking for bright young genealogists and stand ready to advise, collaborate or acknowledge (Chris Child contributed to my 1995 presidential volume at age 15). I like young people, like to learn why they like rap music, why they’re forming different types of families, and why they intermarry with many ethnicities and races. An amateur sociologist, I’m intrigued by all of this newness, not turned off by it. Laura: Any final words?
Gary: There’s much more we could discuss, about recent Society history especially. Ralph Crandall virtually “invented” (by massively “developing”) genealogical philanthropy, so that our endowment rose since 1982 from under a million to over 17 million, not counting funds collected for renovations at 101 Newbury in the 1990s. Many of our trustees and councilors have become fine genealogists and authors, sometimes under the aegis of the Newbury Street Press (started by Brenton Simons). Our pre-Internet publication program (The Great Migration Study Project, Missing Friends, multi-volume Charlestown, Sandwich, Springfield, Mass. and Hampton, N.H. VRs, and various guidebooks and genealogies) was probably second only to GPC’s. David Dearborn and I have each delivered at least several hundred lectures, often at the Society or under Society sponsorship, but also to groups that invite us (other staff members also lecture frequently). Even with administrative responsibilities, Ralph and Brenton have each published three books; I have published six (two in more than one edition) and edited almost 20. Since the late 1970s we’ve had an active sales department, and since 1981, a research service variously called and staffed. An assistant director, head of the library, heads of library floors, and virtually the entire technology/Internet department are additions of the past decade or so. NEXUS and New England Ancestors, both of which I have copyedited for years, began in 1984 and 2000 respectively; the Register during my tenure as editorial consultant passed its 600th issue, and has been indexed and placed on www.newenglandancestors.org. The Internet revolution generally dates from the mid-1990s, and most patrons who came to genealogy after that time began their work online. What I so strongly condemn about the Internet (the sharing and convenience are obvious benefits) is the non-scholarly, indiscriminate assembling of massive databases without any peer review or even resolution of obvious contradictions. Progress at NEHGS over the last 30 years has been gargantuan. Often in the center of the activity that produced this progress, I am grateful indeed that my sole job since 1974 has been intricately involved with the flowering of American and New England genealogy, and with a hectic but exhilarating “Golden Age” at 101 Newbury Street.
New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA