I’ve been reading Family Origins, by J. Horace Round. It is an interesting book, not only because it discusses an area of genealogy which I’m interested in learning more about. It has an interesting introduction about “historical genealogy,” a subject that has gotten a lot of press recently as “historical biography.”
Mr. Round (1854–1928), an Englishman, was a prolific author of texts on early British genealogies, focusing primarily in Family Origins on those ranging back to Norman times and the conquest of England by William the Conqueror. In this particular introduction, Round describes a “new” school of genealogists who take pride in sourcing their research and citing it. He also discusses the historical bases for genealogical research in England, with passing reference to American genealogy. These discussions pre-date even Donald Lines Jacobus, the premiere American genealogist of the 20th century.
Family Origins dissects, deconstructs, and straightens out various pedigrees going back to Norman and medieval times. Knowledge of archaic Latin and French may be helpful in reading some of the quoted passages, however; but due to Round’s explication of the texts, it may also be unnecessary.
The text goes into some detail on the importance of not only names, but also places. The importance of place in historical genealogy, as Mr. Round practiced it is that one must know the place where the name originated, as it was often taken from the place where the people lived. In the case of the peerages Mr. Round discusses, these places are sometimes in Normandy, part of the France of the time, on which he focuses much of his research.
An example of Mr. Round’s diligence in the study of genealogy is the following quote from page 107:
“It is … of real importance for the critical study of genealogy, to collect and set on record, cases in which evidence has been forged or falsely alleged to exist, for the purpose of affording proof of a wholly fictitious pedigree.”
The statement here quoted pre-dates even E. S. Mills and the Genealogical Proof Standard as goals against which we work. It goes directly to the goals of the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ ethics, which it also pre-dates.
Round seems to take delight in demolishing various pedigrees found in the Burke peerages and their brethren. He also takes on other genealogists’ work and dissects them live, in front of the reader as if he were there discussing them with you. That is the kind of genealogical writing I like at the moment. This book makes good bed-time reading, so the lessons can sink in and be absorbed.
1. Round, J. Horace. Family Origins and other Studies. London, 1930. Reprint Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield Company, 1998.