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  • #19 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: First Observations on Reviewing Ancestral Charts for Patrons (Divisions into "Kinds" of Ancestry)

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : May 22, 1987

    After two weeks of illness, vacation, travel, and index-proofing of Notable Kin, Volume Two, I return today to make a few observations about reviewing the genealogical charts of many NEHGS members and library patrons. I now undertake such individual help, consultations, or tutorials either in usual library duty, on-the-road seminars, or hour-long special appointments which sometimes extend to half a day or more. I wish to say, firstly, that I prefer either one large foldout chart or a series of four or five-generation charts covering all your known ancestry in all lines. I much prefer charts to computer printouts because the former immediately tell us what you don't know; computer printouts, ahnentafel, or lists of ancestors usually cover only known forebears and one must undertake considerable cross-checking to discover whose parents are unknown. I often review 50, 100, or even 200 charts, many of which will concern the English origins of Great Migration forebears or the medieval ancestry of immigrants of royal descent. Any number of charts are welcome.

    The major initial observation always concerns the multi-national variety encountered on the first chart. Most twentieth-century Americans have some kind of 19th century immigrant ancestry or some surnames among great-great-grandparents that identify those ancestors as German or Scots-Irish. Often members have traced German or Scandinavian ancestry for many generations through Mormon films or visits to Salt Lake City. Often, too, by such visits, by using specialized libraries in New England, or by combing our Canadian collection, French-Canadian ancestry has been traced to the mid-17th century or earlier and Scots or Irish Atlantic-Canadian ancestry has been traced to the British immigrant to Canada. Italian, Slavic, or Jewish ancestry is often derived from late 19th century immigrants for whom research will either end on the member's first chart or require research abroad (sometimes already undertaken). "Mill English" or British artisnal ancestry requires an exact location and work in parish registers, also often filmed by the Mormons (pre-1900 Mormon ancestry is largely Yankee, Scandinavian, and British yeoman or artisnal). Tracing Irish ancestry also requires an exact place, often unknown, but sometimes found on naturalization papers, in cemeteries with Irish stonecutters, on censuses transcribed by an Irish census clerk, or in "Missing Friends" advertisements in the Boston Pilot (1831-70 published to date, 1871-1918 due in two more volumes from NEHGS in 1999).

    Southerners and border-state families, plus many descendants of Pennsylvanians and residents of the Shenandoah Valley, very often have Scots-Irish ancestry, which requires knowing two place origins (one in Ireland and one in Scotland) that have seldom been remembered. There is little published literature on 18th century Scots-Irish origins, but Annette Burgert, Hank Jones, and others specialize in 18th century Pennsylvania German origins (Hank has written on the Palatines, especially in New York) and thus the second major group of immigrants in the 1700s can often be traced for several generations in Germany (presidential examples include Hoover and Eisenhower).

    Yankee ancestry divides into pioneer problems (1750-1850), which often require work in documentary sources in the areas to which the pioneers moved, and colonial generations, basically the 6 or 7 between the 1630s and about the Revolution. NEHGS has many manuscript genealogies and county histories or transcribed documents from the Midwest, etc., that contain many clues to the New England origins of pioneers. Mostly, however, we depend upon published genealogies, often written between the Civil War and about 1920, that were collected by the contemporaries of pioneers, sometimes pioneers themselves, and contain much data transmitted by letter as to exactly where New Englanders moved. For difficult cases I often recommend the six volumes of the Register index, the IGI (or Ancestral File, for clues only), and the American Genealogical-Biographical Index, 195+ volumes to date, this last for entries in the Boston Evening Transcript. I wrote on these and other sources for pioneer genealogy in the October 1997 75th anniversary issue of TAG.

    Yankee colonial generations and English origins are, in reviewing ancestor charts, my particular specialty. I request such charts of all of your known ancestry because I can usually recommend only sources for ethnic or pioneer problems, but colonial New England families I often know individually. Thus I hope to add to almost anyone's Yankee ancestry, especially if you have undertaken your research outside New England. Our collection of not only "classic" genealogies and town histories but especially of multi-ancestor works," town genealogies," and periodicals and their multitude of new discoveries in the last several generations, is almost unequalled, and David Dearborn, Jerry Anderson, George Sanborn, Scott Bartley, and various other librarians here use them daily. My four just-named colleagues specialize in northern New England especially, we all know Massachusetts, and I particularly enjoy working with Connecticut and Rhode Island families. Henry Hoff is available for New York expertise, Jane Fiske of the Register also for Rhode Island, Marie Daly for Ireland, Michael LeClerc for French Canada, David Lambert for military data, Marcia Melnyk and Jonathan Galli for Italian, etc.

    In my research on the ancestry of presidents, notables, and the late Princess of Wales, plus my own New England ancestry, immigrants of royal descent, and forebears of many visitors to the NEHGS library for the last two decades, I have become familiar with a very large percentage of colonial families. My colleagues and I often remember the location of English origins articles and the best treatment of many families in some of our favorite multi-ancestor works. Thus if some of your New England ancestry is undeveloped I can often lead you to a new Mayflower or royal descent, a "town" genealogy that deals with many of the families in a certain section of your ancestry, or simply new 16th-century English yeoman or merchant ancestors. Sometimes my colleagues and I have been able to as much as double the known number of ancestors of library visitors. I hope you will have such an experience when you visit us or arrange for a consultation or tutorial.

    Next week I shall comment on the very common discovery of cousin intermarriage and on some geographical divisions in New England Yankee ancestry. A few statistics should be surprising.

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