How To Trace And Record Your Own Ancestry Part I


by Frank Allaben and Mabel Washburn
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The Lure Of The Pedigree

Who was your grandfather, and whence did he come? Do you boast English, Scotch, Irish,
Welsh, French, Hollandish, or German descent, or are you typically "American" a formidable
mixture of them all? (1) Is the prevailing quality Puritan, Knickerbocker, Quaker, or
Cavalier? Can you proudly say, "I am an American of the Americans?" In other words, did your forbears land on these shores prior to the Revolution?

 How many of them fought, bled, or earned bounty-rights in that struggle, so as to multiply the bars, S.R., or D.A.R., on your insignia? Are you eligible for the Colonial Dames, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Founders and Patriots, and a number of other organizations? Among your several hundred ancestors, on this side of the water at least, can you dig up one who had the grace to embark on the Mayflower? Or can you not lay hands upon some hereditary right to join the Society of the Cincinnati, which has been going begging in your branch of the family?

These are burning questions of the day. One who has given the subject no attention must be astonished to learn of the wide and growing interest in genealogy. North, South, East, and West the ferment works. such leisure as we can snatch from the strife of business, our duties at home, and the pressure of social obligations, we now devote to investigation to discover who and what our forefathers were, and how illustrious the good name and heritage of glory they have left to us.

The only exception is the young man who has newly plunged into business. (2) To him indeed the genealogist is an anomaly, and the latter's disease a mild form of insanity; for who can comprehend the mental kink that goes prying after forgotten ancestors when good coin of the realm can be grasped at? Bu the young business man gets married, and presently, after the honeymoon is forgotten and the flutter over the first baby is a thing of the past, Mrs. Business man begins to frequent the libraries in search of her ancestors, at the same time making demands upon the family pocket-book, with a view to membership in the Daughters of the
American Revolution or the Colonial Dames. It is a shock to her husband to find such an infection working in the bosom of his family. But the final stroke falls when the daughter of the house, Miss Business Man, fresh from High School or Vassar, squarely corners the
terrified papa, demands his pedigree or his life, and pours out an avalanche of scorn and reproaches upon his deplorable ignorance and scandalous lack of patriotism and family pride. Now, at last, the poor, misguided man sees a light, and if of a semi-literary turn of mind, may soon be discovered skulking into some genealogical alcove. In most cases, however, he trusts the case to a professional genealogist of reputation, and, in course of time, triumphantly places in his daughter's hand a type written document, containing the family tree from the time of the Conqueror.

Moreover, he, himself, has been thoroughly inoculated by this time, and he receives without resentment or resistance the forceful suggestion of the ladies of the household that he forthwith join himself to the Sons of the Revolution, the Colonial Wars, the Mayflower Society, and the rest, like a gentleman of honorable family and respectable pretensions. At this stage, he can be found any evening at his club, beaming with a mild and becoming pride, as he avails himself of every chance to allude to this one of his ancestors, Judge This, or that one of his ancestors, Major That, as if the names and virtues of these newly-exhumed
progenitors had been wrought into his consciousness with the earliest traditions of his childhood. In truth, is doubtful if any other investment which a gentleman can make will repay him with so great and lasting a satisfaction as the expenditure necessary thoroughly to acquaint himself with the histories of his ancestors. And if he has had the work of investigation done well, and perpetuates it by spreading out the results upon the printed page, he may pass away with the consolation that his remotest posterity will rise up to sound his praises.

It may be somewhat difficult to account for the tremendous impetus given to ancestry searching in recent years. Doubtless the causes are complex, and some of them far-reaching. The genealogical table has been the foundation of class-distinctions and hereditary privileges from the dawn of history. Yet the desire to know whence we came, and the satisfaction in being able to claim honorable ancestors, are instinctive in us all, as apparent in republics as in monarchies, and never more dominant than amongst liberty-loving peoples.

The Germanic races are jealous of all that touches their freedom, (3) yet respond whole-heartedly to family and tribal bonds, and glory in the deeds of their forefathers. The Anglo-Saxon has come down through history, fighting for his liberty and boasting of his
blood. Our Puritan ancestors crossed the seas for liberty of conscience, yet were most scrupulous in recognition of social rank based in part upon ancestry. Nor were our Revolutionary fathers, who fought for political liberty, irreverent toward the claims of a
like social precedence.

The French Revolution, indeed, which made the confession of having had ancestors a crime which only the guillotine could expiate, brought in another view, which was exploited in this country by the extremists of ultra-Jeffersonianism. The present genealogical movement in America may be regarded as the pendulum's swing from such an extreme to the normal family-consciousness and race-pride of the Anglo-Saxon.

It would, of course, be easy to point to the immense influence of the patriotic societies, some, like the Daughters of the American Revolution, embracing in their membership scores of thousands, in accounting for the growing interest in our ancestors. But such an answer would be superficial. What has caused the birth and rapid growth of the patriotic societies, one after the other? This is the real question.

The true explanation, I believe, lies in the fact that we have reached the stage of reminiscence in our national history. The wildernesses have been conquered, the work of the pioneer is done, we have triumphed, and been compacted into a nation, one of the greatest among the great. Every people that reaches the status of dignity and power delights to look back upon its formative era, where a glamour of romance transfigures all.

We, too, have begun to look backward. For many years the historian and the historical novelist have been calling us to recognize our own colonial period as a time of fateful travail-pains, whose great things were thus conceived, brought forth, nourished, and baptized in book, a day of romance, of giants and heroes. And, as our eyes have opened to this view, suddenly it has dawned upon us that this romance is actually history, and that the giants and heroes were our own flesh-and-blood ancestors. With this revelation breaking in, is it any wonder that we should turn to official files and muster-rolls to discover the particular exploits of our own ancestors, or that patriotic societies should spring up and bud and blossom like flowers in the tropics?


(1) This chapter appeared, as an article, in The Journal of American Genealogy, Volume III, Number 1. Mr. Allaben had planned it as the opening chapter of a book on the subjects of genealogical research and the preparation it was preponderantly English, with Norman-French background. His said, planned book, has formed the basis, and, by far, the most important part of the present volume. Mabel Washburn

(2) Not always, for the War, with its tremendous impetus toward patriotism, thronged the great Genealogical Department of the New York Public Library with keen, bronzed young Army and Navy men, who had left their desks at America's call, en route to Europe, or returning from battle-fields, eager to learn what ancestral urge helped to deepen their own love of country. Since the War, many of my clients for genealogical research have been young successful business-men. Mr. Allaben's delightful sense of humor gives, however, just the touch of delicate burlesque to the undeniably funny side of genealogical research. Called the
Dean of American Genealogist, no one understand more thoroughly, than lie the serious, scientific side of the work, nor appreciated more enthusiastically the value of genealogical study as an influence for patriotism, and its necessity for the comprehension of history. Mabel Washburn

(3)This Germanic love of freedom, corrupted by the irreligion of the Eighteenth Century (which, discarding the means of union between God and man, displaced God-given principles with the materialistic doctrine that might is right and the poor and weak must be ruled by the rich and powerful), was almost obliterated under the iron tyranny of the Hohenzollerns. God grant it may arise to guide the German people out of their boasted kultur into the glorious possibilities of lofty civilization which are their birthright! Mabel Washburn


Website: The History
Article Name: How To Trace And Record Your Own Ancestry Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY:  How To Trace and Record Your Own Ancestry by Frank Allaben and Mabel Washburn; The National Historical Company-New York; Copyright: 1932 by Mabel T.W. Washburn.
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