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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Eleven

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter Eleven: An Introduction to Medieval Research by John M. Kitzmiller, II, AG, FSA(Scot), FSH(Eng).

When I was in law school at Arizona State University, one of the most influential classes I took was in Property Law. One of the text books was

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.

Of all the law books I used in school, this is the only one I still refer to. Reading the chapter by John Kitzmiller immediately made me think of this book. The brief introduction to Medieval Research in this chapter belies the riches in the Moynihan book. This class had all of the students, including me, running to Black's Law Dictionary (Garner, Bryan A., and Henry Campbell Black. Black's Law Dictionary. St. Paul, Minn: West Group, 1999). almost after every class.

One key to doing research in Medieval times is understanding land tenures. As pointed out by Kitzmiller, the Middle Ages are usually divided into three periods; the Early Middle Ages from the Fifth to the Tenth Centuries, the High Middle Ages from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Centuries, and the Late Middle Ages up to the Fifteenth Century. You might remember that the year designations are 100 years behind the Century designations, so the time period is from the 400s to the 1400s, just about a thousand years. The records and forms of land ownership and use changed over that extended period of time.

Quoting from Moynihan:
A thorough understanding of the modern land law is impossible without a knowledge of it historical background. 
Moynihan further quotes a statement made by Mr. Justice Holmes, who said, "Upon this point a page of history is worth a volume of logic. See 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). These statements not only apply to lawyers and their litigating parties, but equally apply to those using land law and the records created by the law in any given time period for genealogical research.

I find it ludicrous that so many genealogists copy books and records that go back through this Midieval time period without a semblance of understanding of either the history or the evolving legal landscape of this extensive period. As Kitzmiller points out that research back through these time periods can only be done with "great caution." As he further states:
Be careful in using early, published genealogies and histories, which have a tendency to be inaccurate when it come to a connection to the landed gentry.
I would strongly second that opinion. As I have written several times before, pedigrees showing royalty are usually just copied and as indicated, usually from a very unreliable source. I certainly admire the person who can do original research in the Middle Ages, but I would hope that the rest of us would recognize the difficulty and not be so quick to extend our pedigrees through mere copying.

Here is a very short test to see if you are ready to do research in the Middle Ages. See if you can recognize and define each of the following terms without looking them up in a dictionary or online:
  • baronial estates or honours
  • servitia debita
  • sub-tenures
  • tenants in chief or tenant in capite 
  • tenure by knight service
  • Sergeanty
  • Frankalmoin
  • Free and common socage

I hate to tell you this, but these are really common terms and really do matter for an understanding of the Middle Ages for genealogical research. Kitzmiller gives a very abbreviated discussion of most of these terms in his short article.

As usual, the articles in this excellent book are a jumping off place for a great deal of discussion and further investigation. Here is a summary of the articles so far:

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