Property and Genealogy are Inseparable

While preparing for my Scottish Marriage Records presentation at BYU-Idaho on Saturday, I took time to review an article in The Scottish Genealogist which I set aside a long time ago to read. It’s a long article, the kind editors usually split into two or more issues. And I read it twice with a yellow marker in my hand. Highly recommended reading and I wanted to share some things from this article with you today:

Prof. Geoffrey W.S. Barrow, “Some Problems in Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Scottish History: A Genealogical Approach,” The Scottish Genealogist XXV (Dec 1978): 97-112, with 114 footnotes and a descent pedigree chart showing just one of the complicated genealogy puzzles in this time period.

I am an historian, University trained, because I am a genealogist. And I was a genealogist first. When I entered the graduate program at the University of Utah, I did not dare (upon suggestions of professors there) mention my purpose–to become a better more effective genealogist. A rather fierce debate was going on among historians at that time, as to the place of genealogy in the scheme of scholarship. Since I wanted acceptance in the archival world as well as academia, I sought university credentials.

Dr. Barrow, an historian of great merit, was a genealogist as well. He had a keen understanding of the underlying genealogy for the famous (and infamous) Scottish historical figures. That is the subject of this article. He uses only three examples. And lays the ground work for the origins of several Scottish families in England, France, Ireland, and Scotland.

You see, property and genealogy are inseparable with the medieval Scots–there is considerable evidence that the same thing is true for England among the great families, in Wales among the majority of families, and in Ireland before the native Irish were unseated by their English masters. If you carefully follow the property title in property documents, along with the surnames, you will prove the genealogy. (Works well among Southern U.S. families too.)

Here are some of the key learnings in this article:

1. Hereditary claims require hereditary evidence and proof. The interests of one’s heirs gave a continuity and stability to medieval social order. Pre-industrial society, chronically unsettled by casual violence, extremes of wealth and poverty, and ever present disease and death, clung to the validity of hereditary claims for security. These were based on property holdings.

2. Relationships are legally precise. Proving unsolved or incompletely solved probelms in Scottish history, requires genealogical evidence and arguments. They are essential, especially in claims to the throne. These early claims were taken seriously at the time, because they were based on legally precise relationships. And by taking the claims seriously, Barrow traced the relationships. (p. 98-99)

3. Evidence tampering is glaringly present. “The rise in one or at most two generations of an obscure knightly family from the unfashionable side of Normandy to the highest baronial rank in Scotland, and the rapid disappearance of this family until it could be said, as far as Scotland is concerned, to have been completely obliterated even from historical record and popular memory.” (p. 100)

4. Conjunction of names in more than one place show kinship networks. These kin, sometimes under obscure disguise, misleads even skilled historians to identify a Scottish family as English. Once the property documents are examined thoroughly along with the neighborhoods where the property lies, the kinship begins to emerge. (p. 103)

5. Illegitimate sons were preferred with high position, high rank, and shrewdly chosen coats-of-arms. They appear from nowhere. They rise quickly. They achieve wealth and prominence in preference to others of legitimate lineage. You recognize that they are highly connected. ( p. 105)

In fairness, to Professor Barrow, these conclusions are mine based on the carefully documented evidence he presents in each example. Most historians could not solve these problems in Scottish history. Only genealogical evidence can do it. His parting word to us is “…one of the most important tasks for the genealogist is to maintain the supply and improve the quality of the genealogical data for the historian.” (p.107)
Read the article. The Scottish Genealogist is found in many genealogy libraries in the U.S. and if your library does not subscribe, contact the Allen County Public Library, Ft. Wayne IN and request a copy of the article from their PERSI archives. (Can’t supply a direct link to their website–my Word Press format was changed since Monday and the link is gone. I’m such a novice!)

In Memoriam: Diane Dieterle, “World’s Greatest Genealogist,” passed away 7 March 2007 in West Jordan UT. Two things I remember most about her: 1. Her constant willingness to help even the rank beginner learn how to trace a family correctly, without losing her sense of humor. 2. Her persistence in forming the Genealogical Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Inc. so her oldest son would have a gainful occupation to carry him through life. She did it in spite of those who said it wouldn’t work and thus, gave hope and courage to many handicapped persons.

When I was going through one of the toughest periods in my life, she encouraged me with phone calls and letters to keep on with my genealogy work. “You need the creation it gives you and the world needs what you create.” I will never forget Diane. My prayers and my love go out to her family.

Be sure to check the new content on my Home Page–my webmaster, Kathryn Bassett, another genealogist of long-standing, has up-dated the content. We plan to add new stuff every month. Be sure to watch. Your genealogy expert of choice, Arlene Eakle.

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