Researching genealogy - Unidentified soldier in Union uniform, woman and baby c1863

Researching genealogy: The new rise of interest in ancestors

Genealogy, according to the makers of dictionaries means “family, pedigree, lineage — the science that treats of tracing pedigrees.” And as a science of this kind, it naturally has a deep interest to many persons all over the world, to all who can trace their ancestry back to a remote past.

Among Old World families, this tracing backward may extend for centuries; but in our country, as far as relative origin is concerned, it goes back only to the period of the very early settlements, with incidental reference and importance, of course, to the ancestors who crossed the ocean to make their fortunes in the then new and unknown regions on this side of the Atlantic.

But our country is now old enough, in respect of established settlement, to afford ample material for the genealogist and those who have an intense desire to engage his services in tracing family lineage.

And this pursuit has long been followed by those who could trace a straight line from the early Pilgrims and Puritans of New England, The Cavaliers of Virginia, and the offspring of that fine old English stock which first had its local bearings in William Penn’s colony.

Researching genealogy - Soldier in uniform, wife in dress and hat, and two daughters wearing matching coats and hats 1863

Researching genealogy: Genealogists busy with interest in ancestors

The men who make a business of tracing family trees (genealogists) report that they are in work to their ears. The war started an epidemic of interest in ancestors, especially among new millionaires. The same curiosity is found to be greatly stimulated among what the bromidic orators call “the rank and file of the people.”

A very good thing, to know where we originally came from, though scientists claim that all of us — if we trace back far enough — will find ancestors who’d be kept in the zoo today.

Americans seem to have an aversion to pedigrees of people, though intensely interested in the lineage of livestock, dogs, cats, racehorses and machinery.

This is natural, since, our national attitude is that what really counts is what you are today, not what you were yesterday or your ancestors in the past. A man stands on his own legs, not someone’s else, in democracy. However, each of us is the result of a long stream of generations of toiling people whose foremost motive was to produce a child better in character and more successful than its parents.

The Encyclopedia of American Last Names

We owe it to our toiling ancestors to give them at least passing curiosity. Intensely interesting is tracing back your family tree. Nothing beats it as an enjoyable diversion. If you want to start, the local library can tell you how to go about it. Try to find out something about the man and woman of several centuries ago, from whom you are descended. In most cases, it’s difficult work.

In tracing your family tree, you’ll run into surprises. And most people will find family skeletons that they will not care to circulate. For instance, many of the early settlers of America were fugitives from European courts, though some of their descendants claim blue blood.

A friend of ours stopped his researches when he traced himself back lo a man who was recorded by pen and ink in these words: “May 15, 1652 — Resolved, by the Amsterdam, Holland, chamber of the West India Company, that Adriaen J, pilot of the ship, the Court of Cleef, be not molested for having accidentally shot his captain in 1649.” Adriaen’s blood, by the way, flows today in several of the leading society families of New York City.

The early records of Americans are rapidly disappearing, burled by time like everything else. If you want to leave a family tree for your descendants, better get busy.

Researching genealogy - Unidentified husband and wife - Portrait c1855


About this story

Source publication: Independent (Helena, Montana)

Source publication date: May 13, 1923

Filed under: 1920s, Culture & lifestyle, Family & parenting

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