|Oriel College CharterPublic Domain|
From a genealogical standpoint, our main interest is the existence of records of people's lives during any part of the world's history. Interest in genealogy is not confined to the descendants of Western European Ancestors and the existence of very old genealogical records in any area other than Western Europe depends on some of the same factors that determine the existence of records from that time period in Europe.
|Gutenberg Bible Genesis|
So by moving back into the Middle Ages with our genealogical research we are leaving the world of printed books behind and entering the world of manuscripts (from the Latin manu "by hand" and scriptus "written").
|Augustine Gospels Full-page miniature of St. Luke as an evangelist, 6th century.|
The total number of medieval manuscripts in existence is subject to some conjecture, but of course, there are no new manuscripts being made, so the number is related to those in libraries, museums, privately held, etc. For a detailed analysis of the number of manuscripts in existence, see:
Buringh estimates the total number at around 2.9 million but this number includes every handwritten manuscript including those from Egypt, sheet music, autograph letters, deeds, charters and other types of documents from around the world.
OK, now what are the challenges? How many of these manuscripts would have genealogical data? The difficulty in determining this number is that the libraries do not break out records by year but only by catalog entry.
|Family tree of theOttonians, from the Wolfenbüttel manuscript (Cod. Guelf. 74.3 Aug., p. 226)|
To get some idea, you might want to look at the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy website. Many of manuscripts are protected by "copyright" claims from the library or other institution. I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can claim a copyright to a book published in the 1300s, but that is what they do. Here is an image that is in the public domain:
|Genealogy of the Kings Of England, In A Collection Of Chronicles Of English History And Miscellaneous Tracts|
Even assuming that you could work out the details of gaining access to any substantial number of these medieval manuscripts, you would still have all of the challenges I outlined in my previous recent blog post. See What are the sources before 1550 A.D.?