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  • #3 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: A Few Summary Compendia, and the Significance of Distant Kinship

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    I’ve spent the past week exploring the medieval and baronial ancestry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Lord Tennyson (my next "Notable Kin" column), and rereading with some initial suggestions for his consideration for a new edition, Ralph Crandall’s Shaking Your Family Tree. While doing this last I have been very much struck by how many areas of our field have made massive progress–with sometimes an authoritative single summary work–in the last decade. I covered two basic areas--seventeenth-century New England and the century of "lost ancestors," 1750-1850, in the 150th anniversary issue (October 1996) of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register and the 75th anniversary issue of The American Genealogist (July/October 1997). Among the topics I covered were new compendia and databases, English origins studies, royal descents, Mayflower works, multi-ancestor studies, town genealogies (all for 17th century New England), Revolutionary soldiers lists and pension abstracts, census indexes, "mugbook" indexes, newspaper abstracts, modern biographical data, and artifacts (for the century of "lost ancestors").

    My articles were organized mostly by chronological or area topic. Shaking Your Family Tree is organized by type of record, and here too there have been some big advances in the last 10 years. Many new or updated guidebooks have been published by Genealogical Publishing Company in Baltimore, Ancestry, Inc., in Utah, and our own NEHGS. The American Genealogical-Biographical Index, which I discussed last week, has now reached 195 volumes (when Shaking Your Family Tree first appeared the number of volumes was only 135), and is almost through the alphabet. The NEHGS NEXUS has become a major periodical, and I’m personally proud of its popularity and coverage of new kinds of topics (my "Notable Kin" column is now appearing in an updated book version, with volume one now available}.

    Periodical indexes have been expanded into PERSI (Periodical Source Index), Revolutionary and War of 1812 pensions have been wonderfully abstracted or indexed by Virgil D. White, and census indexes now exist for 1860, much of 1870, and for a  few western areas beyond. For obtaining vital records, one need only consult the International Vital Records Handbook, now in its third edition (1994), by Thomas J. Kemp. Immigration lists have especially flowered. In addition to Germans in America and Famine Immigrants, we now have Italians To America and Emigrants from the Russian Empire (largely Polish and/or Jewish). GPC finished its periodical extracts program with Genealogies of New Jersey Families, and The Search for Missing Friends, with thousands of Irish place origins, has now reached six volumes.

    In tracing the ancestry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Lord Tennyson I discovered that they were 9th cousins. I often say that members of the "New England Family"are 8th-12th cousins, and my non-fans think that kinships this distant are meaningless. They are wrong! Such relationships show us the extent of kinship among various classes and nations, and they suggest the century in which common ancestry for very different groups can be traced. Such kinships may also suggest how distantly members of the same class may be related (9th cousins was a bit more distant than I expected. The common forebear was an Elizabethan peer). Many Americans with New England forebears in common with the Princess of Wales are her 9th, 10th, or 11th cousins. If you only share other Elizabethan ancestors with her father, you may be only 12th through 15th cousins. Members of the high peerage in England are often as closely related as Social–Register leaders are here. Diana and Charles, and Andrew and Sarah Ferguson were 7th cousins (once removed, I think, in the case of Andrew and Sarah). Diana and Sarah were 4th cousins and Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles were also 7th cousins. Members of European noble houses are often 15th to 20th cousins of many Americans through common descent from late medieval kings. Except for some remarkable kinships through the Byzantine marriages of earlier medieval kings, 20th to 25th cousins are probably as distant as traceable European lineages extend. Anthropologists claim everyone on earth is a 40th cousin. How is a topic I might discuss in another column.
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