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

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back to Adam?

Recently, I have had several people brag to me about their extensive pedigrees. It seems that they have completed some of their lines back to Adam! I am always grateful to find out we are related, but I do have several comments about these old extended genealogies, some of which are apparently showing up on New FamilySearch.

Before getting into a discussion about the validity of these ancient records, it would be a good idea to get a feel for the types of records that survive. One good site is "Some notes on medieval genealogy" a British Website. Here are some other sites:

The Foundation for Medieval Genealogy
ProGenealogists Great Britain-Genealogy Research

The number of records containing genealogical information surviving from before is 1500 is definitely finite. It is highly likely that very, very few of the people claiming extended pedigrees have actually read or researched those records considering that nearly all of them are written in Latin. Quoting from ProGenealogists, Great Britain - Genealogy Research:

Most records of genealogical value dating from prior to 1500 concern only a small percentage of the total population, namely the nobility, royalty, and land-owning or merchant classes.

The primary sources for genealogical research in the British Isles is church and probate records. The earliest church records in the British Isles date back to 1538. Prior to that limited probate records, tax lists, population lists, court records, land records, and manorial records exist, however they contain much less genealogical information and are difficult to research, generally written in Latin. This is also true for most of the countries of Europe whose earliest church records begin in the 17th century. ProGenealogist

The ProGenealogist article is written by Gary T. Horlacher, he cautions "Various genealogies have been compiled for royal and noble lines. Some of these connect with the Bible genealogies which continue back to Adam and Eve. Although it may be reassuring to some to think they have connected their lines back to the earliest times, such compiled genealogies contain many errors. None of these genealogies have been proven. Some pedigrees include the names of various gods from which the earliest ancestors of their peoples supposedly descend and which come from early folk tales or mythology. It is practically impossible to separate the fact from the fiction. At this time it is not possible to document a lineage back to Adam."

In an article in The Ensign Magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for February, 1984, Robert C. Gunderson, Senior Royalty Research Specialist of the Church Genealogical Department wrote a short article entitled "I've heard that some people have extended their ancestral lines back to Adam." He states,"In thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have yet to see a pedigree back to Adam that can be documented. By assignment, I have reviewed hundreds of pedigrees over the years. I have not found one where each connection on the pedigree can be justified by evidence from contemporary documents. In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. a.d. 450–a.d. 752). Every pedigree I have seen which attempts to bridge the gap between that time and the biblical pedigree appears to be based on questionable tradition, or at worst, plain fabrication. Generally these pedigrees offer no evidence as to the origin of the information, or they cite a vague source."

Gunderson gives the opinion that "I would recommend that no one undertake research prior to a.d. 1500 without first checking with the Genealogical Department, and then only after all avenues of research for more recent generations have been exhausted."

Again returning to Horlacher's ProGenealogist article, "

Of five thousand heads of families who came to North America between 1620-1640, less than 50 or less than one percent were known to have belonged to the upper-class of England. Less than 250 more (5 percent) were minor mercantile or landed gentry. The rest were from the local farming or labor classes of England. Most claims to the British noble class in America are unfounded and unsupported by evidence. If you have a connection to royalty through a colonial North American immigrant ancestor, you should look carefully at the documentation for that connection."

So far, in my own experience, I have yet to meet a person who claims to have such a genealogy with sufficient education and research experience to even know what they are talking about. Before you waste your time adding these extended genealogies to your own family file, please read the ProGenealogist article carefully.


  1. Thank you so much for this article. I too meet so many people who brag to me that they have their families traced back to Adam.

    First, I'm unsure what the purpose of such research would be anyway since you are just name and date collecting, not really doing research and learning about your ancestor's lives.

    Second, it sounds crazy to me to even suggest you could do such a thing. One man started bragging to my son about tracing his line to Adam and I told my son, "gosh I didn't know Adam had a birth certificate."

    I'm glad you addressed this-I wonder if those who have their pedigrees traced to Adam will start a dialogue with you. In an age where more and more we stress to researchers to cite their sources, it's interesting to me that people still make these claims.

  2. Thanks so much for writing about this. I was a volunteer genealogy chat moderator for several years. Every so often someone would wander into chat making the claim that their tree goes back to Adam and Eve. You just have to sigh. Without documentation you cannot make the claim. I've got a line with nobility. Even with those well known lines genealogists argue over various parts of the pedigree.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light!