Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Impossible without its historic background

"A thorough understanding of the modern land law is impossible without a knowledge of its historical background." Moynihan, Cornelius J. Introduction to the Law of Real Property: An Historical Background of the Common Law of Real Property and Its Modern Application. St. Paul, Minn: West Pub. Co, 1962.

That phase has been underlined in my real estate law book for more than 35 years and it is as true today as it was that long ago. As it states in the case of New York Trust Co. v. Elsner, 256 U.S. 345 at 349, 41 S. Ct. 506 at 507, 65 L.Ed.963 at 983 (1921) "Upon this point a page of history is worth a volume of logic." Likewise, for genealogists, a point in the page of history is worth more than bare dates and sterile lists. As Mr. Justice Cardozo said back in 1921, this is a field in which there can be no progress without history. Cardozo, Benjamin N. The Nature of the Judicial Process. New Haven: Yale University Press; [etc.], 1921.

It is interesting how the quotes concerning understanding land law also apply so appropriately to genealogy in general. If you try to ignore the historical context of the times and places you research, you will find that you can make no progress. In the case of Anglo-American land law, the foundation was laid with the Norman conquest in 1066. In an early writ (order) dating from April of 1070, William I ordered the abbot of Bury St. Edmunds to "give into my hand all the land which those men held who stood against me in battle and were slain there, who belonged to St. Edmunds' soke. See Reg. no. 37. A soke was the lord's power or privilege of holding a court in a district, as in manor or lordship; jurisdiction of causes, and the limits of that jurisdiction.

The significance of this writ, and others, was that William I established himself as the legitimate successor of Edward the Confessor and therefore, had all of the rights and prerogatives of an English King. This action resulted in the redistribution of all of the English lands and established fewer than two hundred major honours where there had been several thousand smaller Norman estates. This change in ownership established what is knows as feudal tenure.

More to come.

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