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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Challenge of Biblical Genealogies

A key element of the "Back to Adam" type of copied genealogy is reliance on genealogies in the Bible. From a genealogical standpoint there is not a religious issue here. Genealogy, as a historical discipline, and as such, is not prepared to comment on whether or not the genealogical accounts in the Bible are "true" because there are no sources on which to base an evaluation. But strictly from the genealogical standpoint, the Biblical genealogies are no more or less useful than any of the other thousands of other surname books lacking sources. I an not questioning any aspect of the validity of the Bible as a religious text and its Divine origins, but in genealogy, lack of sources is lack of sources.

I write about this topic because the phrase "back to Adam" can be considered a cliche for any unsupported genealogical pedigree. If you copy a pedigree without substantial sources from or some other online family tree parking program, then your pedigree is no more and no less as valuable as one tracing your ancestry back to Adam. I write about this issue from time to time because it comes up regularly. In fact, there are several pedigrees showing connections back to Adam loaded in the FamilySearch Family Tree although in this regard, I am relying on the accounts of people who have spent the time clicking on the links in that program.

However, if you have made it this far without calling me a heretic, then I can address the real issue with the inclusion of Biblical pedigrees in a current family tree; the lack of any reliable or substantial proof of connection departing from the Biblical account to a reliably documented historical figure subsequent to  that account. In short, after you reach the end or most recent Biblical figures, there are no records or source establishing descent from the Biblical lines. This approach avoids any doctrinal disputes as to the validity or truth, per se, of the Bible and focuses instead on the lines of descent from Biblical individuals.

Because of the religious overtones to any discussion involving these genealogies show lines going "back to Adam," many of the online discussion of this topic verge on hysteria. For that reason alone, I do not look to online sources such as Wikipedia for any support in discussing this issue. So, are there any scholarly treatises on these early genealogies? Has anyone ever taking this issue seriously? It turns out that the answer to that question is much harder than one would suppose.

Rather than start with the Biblical account, the real issue for genealogists is how far back in time can any genealogy be reliably established? That question really depends on the culture of your ancestors and records they kept. There are reliable genealogies that go back thousands of years but they do not exist in Western European countries.

If you are really interested in finding out about this subject, then there a good starting point in an article summarizing the work that has been done and the limitations of the research called, Medieval British Isles Families by Gary T. Horlacher for ProGenealogists. If you find a pedigree that extends beyond 1550 AD start taking classes in Old Latin and reading ancient manuscripts before you talk to me about it. Oh, and it will also help to learn how to read Old German and Old English.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link to the Horlacher article. I hadn't seen this one. We were recently discussing this topic on the FamilySearch Blog as well: BTW great job on your FH Expo keynote!