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

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The more things change, the more they stay the same

In the 1868 revision of his book, The American Genealogist, William Henry Whitmore said,
The improvement in the subject matter of our genealogies has been very apparent. Twenty years ago nearly every man who knew anything of his pedigree beyond his grandfather, was firmly possessed with the idea that three brothers of the name came over here; every family was confident that it was of noble descent; nearly every family was positive that it was the rightful inheritor of an immense fortune in England.
See Whitmore, William Henry. The American Genealogist. Being a Catalogue of Family Histories and Publications Containing Genealogical Information Issued in the United States, Arranged Chronologically. Albany: J. Munsell, 1868.

Well, it is interesting that Whitmore saw improvement, because now, more than a hundred and forty-five years later, we have some of the exact same issues. I am still hearing the "three brothers" story regularly and most of my researching friends are fully confident of their noble descent. We have perhaps made some progress in the area of expecting to inherit a fortune from our remote English ancestors.

In fact, I can quote the story from one of my own family's books,
The first known Welch Morgans to come to America were three brothers bearing the names of James, Miles and John, sons of William Morgan of Glamorgan County, Wales. They came in a sailing vessel and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in about the year 1636. 
From these three ancestors came a long line of distinguished men and women who have played important roles in the growth and development of America. 
See Richardson, Arthur M., and Nicholas G. Morgan. The Life and Ministry of John Morgan: For a Wise and Glorious Purpose. [S.l.]: N.G. Morgan, 1965.

It is claimed that the rich Morgan bankers of New England are their descendants. The story goes on to say that one stayed in Massachusetts, one went west and one went south. What happens next in the book is extremely interesting. The descendants of the Morgan who went south are listed until it is noted that "During the War of the Revolution there were several men by the name of John Morgan residing in the area included in old Frederick County, Virginia." There are in fact, five such men. Guess what, there is no proof in the book or otherwise as to which of these John Morgan's we are descended. But conveniently, the one with the rich relatives was chosen as the right one.

My own research is not as well founded as it could be, but it is certain enough to put into doubt the whole story accepted as the truth by thousands of the Morgan descendants. The family line as it appears on's Family Tree is also inconsistent with the book's narrative. There are no sources cited for the account in the book but various documents are alluded to and the online trees, including several on fail to give any sources at all except citing other family trees. Well, I have my work cut out for me.

It is amazing that these stories, such as the three brothers, have such permanency. They are passed down and preserved without any supporting documentation or even a hint of a reliable source. But once told, they become the canonical text. Every once and while, just to drive us all crazy, someone substantiates one of these stories and that fact, of course, validates all of the others.

I am not suffering under any illusions that I can reform the pedigree of the ages in my own lines. I am not even sure I can get past the village with the five John Morgans, but that is what genealogical research is all about.

1 comment:

  1. I'm amazed at how indignant descendants become when you question the veracity of this misinformation.