Property and Genealogy are Inseparable, Part 2

Sometime ago, 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:

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 had 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 documenting the origins of several Scottish families in England, France, Ireland, and Scotland.

You see, property and genealogy were inseparable with the medieval Scots–there is considerable evidence that the same thing was true for England among the great families and other landowners, 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 legal 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 problems 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 shows kinship networks. These kin, sometimes under obscure disguise, mislead even skilled historians as they try  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 granted 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 could do it. Barrow’s 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. Your favorite English genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Ancient Scottish Families with English ties?  Impossible?  Try applying the same approach to Ireland–and you will find Irish families with interlocking English kinship.

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