Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ode to the Genealogist

"No evil-minded person ever felt any interest in his ancestors, or made any efforts to rescue their History from oblivion."
That is a pretty powerful and somewhat provocative statement! The quote is part of a tribute to the genealogist I came across a few years ago. I re-read it recently and decided to share it with whoever might look at this blog. The tribute was in the introduction to a book about the Buell Family. This was (is) an ancient family that settled in New England as part of the Puritan migration in the 1630's. The book is typical of the family histories and genealogies written by a family researcher (or other party) in the late 19th century. In this case, the book was compiled by Albert Welles, the President of the American College for Genealogy Registry, Family History and Heraldry and was published by the society in New York in 1881.

This seems to be a period when Americans started serious research into their family histories. There are many publications about pioneering (ancient) American families that were published in the 1880's, 90's and into the early 20th century. It makes some sense as the country seemed to be discovering that it had become old enough to have a history of its own. The civil war was a recent memory and America had just celebrated its centennial. This was also the beginning of the 'modern age.' What did it mean to be an American? . . . people might have developed a nostalgia for earlier, simpler days, wanted to bolster their families prominence in society or may have just been curious. The introduction to this book, presumably written by Mr. Welles, is short and mostly about the family but a portion talks about the genealogist. It is a great tribute to the family historian.

And so   . . . to the genealogist . . .

"No evil-minded person ever felt any interest in his ancestors, or made any efforts to rescue their History from oblivion. The Genealogist is hereditarily and constitutionally a good man. The pride of Ancestry is the foundation of pride of character, and no man can be great without it. The most important and valuable occupation for a man of refinement and culture is to write the History of his family. It is also a most delightful and absorbing pursuit, in-as-much as the Genealogist never wearies with this work. After many years of toil and persistent investigations he is as fresh and vigorous as in the early days. Accumulation of material only adds to the desire for more, and when once he begins, he continues a Genealogist during his entire lifetime . . ."
My purpose for reprinting this is not to toot my own horn or claim some higher moral purpose for myself. Instead, it is to show my appreciation to all those who did the hard work of researching family histories over the last 150 years (or more). They worked without the present day technologies that bring a vast amount of information directly to us. They had to slog through public and private records, travel to distant places for first hand research and correspond with many parties both near and far. It was a daunting task, to say the least. Yet they did it and seemed to relish in it. We owe them a great deal and I think Albert Welles did a good job of summing it up.

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