Our chapter heading is simply a re-christening of the oldest and
hitherto the favorite plan of the American genealogist. We might rather
call it the American genealogy, for nearly all the genealogical works,
which have seen the light, are of this kind.
The plan of most of the existing works is distinctly that of the
exhibition of a genealogical tribe or clan. Its purpose is to assemble
in one book all the known descendants of a certain ancestor, or only the
male descendants who are bearers of the family surname. The head of the
clan is generally the first American emigrant, and his family becomes
“Family 1” of the book. “Family 2” will depend upon our choice of one of
two modifications of the general plan.
Let us suppose that the head of the clan is John Smith, and that he had
three children, Mary, John, and Philip, all of whom had families. If our
purpose is to exhibit the entire clan, we will make no difference
between daughters who marry and give their children the surnames of
their husbands, and sons who give their children the surname of the head
of the clan. In that case, the family of John Smith being Family 1, that
of his oldest child, Mary, will be Family 2, while the families of John
and Philip will be 3 and 4 respectively. In the third generation we will
go back to Mary’s oldest child, who left descendants, who will become
the head of Family 5, followed by her other children, who had families,
in the order of birth. The children of John will next be given in order
of birth, followed by those of Philip, all who had children being
treated as heads of families to which a family number is assigned.
But the work of accounting for all the descendants becomes so irksome,
in the case of fertile families, which have to be carried through a
number of generations, that it is the prevailing custom to shirk the
responsibility of this full exhibit. Thus, only the families of sons,
and son’s sons, are carried down from generation to generation. The
daughters, if their descendants bear other surnames, are set aside,
although the blood-tie is the same. The tribe itself is not exhibited,
but only that part which bears the surname of the common ancestor. This
is the modification adopted by the most eminent genealogists.
All forms of the “clan” genealogy unite collateral lines of descent by
the sentimental bond of a thin blood-tie, affording an excellent basis
for “family reunions.” But they are quite unsatisfactory as attempts to
exhibit one’s ancestry. If we are included in such a book, “The Smith
Family,” for example, we generally find but one of our many ancestral
lines traced. And even if one or two of our Smith progenitors married
cousins of the same name, only two or three of the Smith lines will lead
down to ourselves.
Such an arrangement does not go far toward showing one’s ancestry. Not a
few Americans are in the tenth generation from their earliest
forefathers on this side of the water. Hundreds of thousands are in the
seventh, eighth or ninth generation. Let us reckon the number of our
progenitors for ten generations. We had 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8
great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 ancestors of the
sixth generation, 64 of the seventh, 128 of the eighth, 256 of the
ninth, and 512 of the tenth generation.
The number of ancestors for ten generations is thus 1,022. The different
surnames represented among them may be as many as the number of
ancestors of the earliest generation–i.e., 128 for eight generations,
256 for nine, and 512 for ten generations. The actual number is
frequently lessened by the marriage of ancestors who bear the same
surname. But the general significance of the numerical argument remains.
Are we a descendant of the first John Smith, in the tenth generation and
through a single line? Then the book on “The Smith Family” will only
show 18 of our 1,022 ancestors, assuming that the wife of each of our
ancestral Smiths is mentioned. If the wives are omitted, only 9
ancestors will be shown. And in the latter case the book shows our link
with but one family and surname out of a possible 512. Or, if the book
gives the maiden names of the wives of our nine ancestral Smiths, nine
other family surnames out of the 512 will receive a bare mention. But
none of these lines will be traced.
The reader will now fully appreciate our reference to this kind of book
as the “clan” genealogy. It shows the relationships, most of them quite
distant, between the collateral branches of a single tribe; but it does
_not_ exhibit the many lines of one’s ancestry. The kind of book which
accomplishes the latter object will come before us in the next chapter.
Nevertheless, the “clan” genealogy has its place. The recognition of
tribal relations has become popular, and family organizations, with the
occasional function of a “family re-union,” are rapidly increasing. Many
of these organizations, embracing all the known descendants of a common
ancestor, elect regular officers, and in a few cases the whole tribe has
a legal status as a corporation.
The tribal genealogy is also favored by many who hope to make a profit
by the sale of their book. A fair-sized tribe is considered a promising
field for such an enterprise. Among several thousand clansmen a
considerable number, it is assumed, will purchase a copy of a book which
traces one of their ancestral lines. When the project is well managed
and the book properly exploited this hope is often realized very
The “clan” genealogy also finds a prominent place in local history. The
annals of a town or neighborhood having been given, these are
supplemented by monographs on the old families. Beginning with the first
settler, his descendants are traced down, each family sketch becoming a
“clan” genealogy on a small scale. This feature immensely increases the
interest of town histories, and if the tribal genealogy needs any
justification, it certainly finds it here.
Finally, there is the undoubted fact stated at the beginning of our
chapter, that the “clan” genealogy has pre-empted the field. It is the
work everywhere met, the book which is in every mind when a genealogy is
Special difficulties attend the compiling of this kind of work, and for
the overcoming of these we have prepared a special notebook.
It should be remembered that if, instead of counting one man’s
ancestors, we should reckon one man’s descendants, assuming an average,
in each family, of three children who become parents, in nine
generations some 9,841 descendants would have become parents, each with
a wife or husband, making a total of 19,682 to appear in the tribal
book, without counting descendants that leave no issue!
After the ninth generation the tribe grows with leaps and bounds that
are truly mighty. A single additional generation, the tenth, would add a
new crop of no less than 39,366 husbands and wives, making a total of
59,048 tribesmen entitled to a place in the book! And the eleventh
generation–but peace! Our little work on the joys of genealogical
research shall not be marred by the statistical bore who tries to scare
with his wretched arithmetic!
In truth, formidable as the “clan” genealogy sometimes is, at present it
seldom takes in ten generations, while our estimate of family increase
is perhaps too great. And what genealogist, though he beg and implore
information of the later generations, sending out hundreds of eloquent
letters, is ever able to make a complete exhibit of a great tribe? Our
figures should not terrify, therefore, but simply compel proper
appreciation of the problem of the notebook.
How shall the data for a whole tribe be preserved until the day of
compilation, and how can we keep it from becoming a jumbled miscellany
that will drive us to despair?
The terror of the notebooks first dawned upon us just as we thought we
had the matter well in hand. It was our first extensive investigation,
and as the ancestral names increased on our research list we found that
we must make a choice of methods. Should we search the authorities for
one name at a time? Many advise this to avoid confusion, on the
principle of choosing the lesser of two evils.
But it is a clumsy method, well nigh intolerable, which leads one to
visit certain places and consult certain authorities for data on one
name, and then return over pretty much the same ground for the second,
the third, and all other names on a long list. We rejected the thought
of such a system, determining that as each authority came into our hands
we would extract whatever it contained on any of our names.
This settled, another question presented itself. Should we carry a
separate notebook for every name investigated? Our list of names was so
formidable that such an expedient threatened to transform the
genealogist into a genealogical packhorse. Hence we preferred to carry a
book or two at a time, to which we committed all our discoveries.
Previous historical training had taught us to note the authority with
each item, and we made rapid progress with the work. When one notebook
was full, another took its place. What could be more simple and
But the day came when we sat down to compile. Alas! our sins had found
us out! A stack of notebooks lay before us, and through them all were
scattered our data for each name, without system or chronological order.
Oh, the despair of going through that pile of books, turning down pages
and numbering items according to dates, in a desperate attempt to
arrange the material for each name so as to compile the facts in a
In spite of all our care, the wretched books concealed desirable items
until our manuscript had passed the proper place of insertion,
sardonically calling our attention to the omissions when we were busy
with another subject. How we grew to hate those notebooks, and how they
tormented us with a plague of re-writing! We had a premonition that they
would conceal some things to the very last; and, sure enough, having
tortured us during the days of writing, humiliated us in the
proof-sheets, and demanded a display of errata as the book went to
press, they waited until it was nicely printed, bound and published
before making their final disclosures!
To obviate all this trouble, we now have the Grafton Genealogical
Notebook, American Form. As the last two words indicate, this notebook
embodies the arrangement of the “clan” genealogy used by the most
eminent American genealogists and adopted by such organizations as the
New England Historic-Genealogical Society and the New York Genealogical
and Biographical Society.
This notebook consists of a succession of groups of pages, each group
arranged with blanks to receive the data for a whole family. The facts
are written in their proper spaces when first ascertained, and when the
work of research is finished it will be found that the work of
compilation has taken care of itself! In fact, the notebook is
self-compiling. The blank spaces are arranged in the order of the
statements as they are to appear on the printed page, the connecting
words and proper punctuation being printed in the notebook. Having
filled in all the spaces which our data requires, we simply draw a pen
through the rest, and our book is practically compiled, for its own
leaves may be sent to the printer as manuscript! The leaves are
perforated so that they may be readily detached, and thus we are saved
the labor and the possible errors of recopying.
For example, having written our introductory matter, we detach the
leaves from our notebooks, group by group, beginning with the family of
the common ancestor, followed by that of his oldest child, who had
issue, and so on through all the families and generations in order. In
this order, we consecutively number the leaves in blank spaces provided
for that purpose, and if the “family” and “individual” numbers have not
already been assigned, we note them in the proper spaces.
We may add that this notebook is equally well adapted for tracing all of
the descendants of an ancestor, or those of the sons alone. Its use will
be understood at a glance by experienced genealogists. Detailed
instructions, however, with sample blanks filled out, have been prepared
for those desiring them. These instructions completely initiate the
amateur into the details of the best form of “clan” genealogy.