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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Is a royal line back to the Middle Ages real genealogy?

In a recent comment to my statement about old royal pedigree, Martin said,
It's an incorrect opinion. You've confused two things. I don't believe in lines going back to Adam either. However, I can verify using modern genealogical standards, my line back to medieval royalty and that royalty back to the early dark ages (about 400-600 A.D.). So it is real genealogy and real history.
 Given Martin's expertise in genealogy, it is highly likely that his pedigree is as accurate as possible, but unfortunately not all of the claimants to genealogical validity have the same degree of expertise. I applaud those, like Martin, who have the intellectual tools to research Medieval genealogy, but before anyone makes such a claim, it would be a good idea if they are careful that they did not just copy the information out of an online database.

Normally a "pedigree" show father/son/daughter or mother/son/daughter relationships. What I meant by real genealogy, is the documenting of actual family relationships to the extent historically possible. The commentator raises the issue of both the accuracy of his own genealogy and that of the traditional royal lines back as far as 400 A.D. What I meant by my comment that royalty had descendants was just that. Royalty had children just like the rest of our ancestors and it is possible to be related to royalty. My comments go to the accuracy of the early records and the fact that traditional royal genealogies are not always historically accurate.

So how accurate are the old pedigrees? Where do the records start to become more fiction than fact? The first place to go for lots of information is the British site, Some Notes on Medieval Genealogy. It is also important to be aware of such projects as the Victoria County History. Founded in 1899 and originally dedicated to Queen Victoria, the VCH is an encyclopedic record of England's places and people from earliest times to the present day. Obviously, there are similar records for other European countries.

Here is a comment made in 1984 by Robert C. Gunderson, then the Senior Research Specialist, of the Genealogy Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "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)."

Here is another opinion, from the English Website, Explore Genealogy, "1538, when Anglican parish registers were really first kept, is a watershed date for all genealogists. After that, however murky it might seem at times, there was at least a system in place to record births, marriages and deaths that can hopefully be traced. But going back before that date is rather like venturing into a dark old forest with no paths, unsure if you can find your way through. Not many genealogists have managed to break the 1538 barrier."

Here is another quote from Powell, James M. Medieval Studies: An Introduction. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1976.

As you can see, the scholars in this area acknowledge the difficulties in making claims to accuracy. It is probably inevitable that one person who actually did viable research into the Middle Ages would comment on my post.

1 comment:

  1. Connections to royal lineages are not rare, and not uncommon. It is easier than you think to find a link to a royal lineage with all the books such as "Persons of Quality" and "Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants" and other books by Gary Boyd Roberts. As long as your lineage to the gateway ancestors in these books is a solidly document line, the rest is easy.