Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Can you see beyond the leaf?

At the annual History Symposium of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a keynote address in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on 7 March 2014. As quoted in the Church News by R. Scott Lloyd, President Uchtdorf drew from a quote from novelist Michael Crichton and said,
“If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

“History teaches us not only about the leaves of existence,” President Uchtdorf commented. “It also teaches about the twigs, branches, trunks and roots of life. And these lessons are important.”

He said the gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses all truth “but it specializes in the knowledge that will be of greatest worth to us in this life and throughout the eternities to come.”

God warns His children repeatedly not to place their trust in the world’s wisdom, observed President Uchtdorf, “yet we have an almost irresistible desire to assume that the leaf of information we have in our possession is a representation of all there is to know.”
President Uchtdorf's words although directed at history and human experience in general, has direct application to the genealogical research. There are those whose knowledge of history and context of their supposed ancestral lines is dismal at best and entirely missing in many cases. This lack of knowledge usually manifests itself in an attitude that "my tree is correct and all others are wrong."

From time to time in classes and presentations, I have tested this by asking the class members some simple historical questions, such as the time period of major wars. Frequently the response shows only the barest awareness of major conflicts including the U.S. Civil War and World War I. I am not writing about the trivial difference between "family history" and "genealogy," I mean the specific knowledge of the political, social and cultural context of our ancestors' lives. This can be best illustrated by a list.

Let's suppose your ancestors came from "Germany" in about 1800? Where did they actually come from? Do you realize that there was no country called Germany in that time period? If you go to the website you will see a map showing the boundaries of the countries in Europe in 1800. There is also a list of all the countries in existence. Here is that list:

Abkhazia (D)Great-Britain-Ireland-Hanover (S)Moks (D)Savur (D)
Adyghe (D)Guria (D)Moldavia (D)Saxe-Gotha (S)
Ain Mahdi (S)Göksun (D)Montenegro (D)Saxe-Weimar (S)
Algiers (S)Habsburg (S)Mzab (S)Saxony (S)
Amadya (D)Hakkari (D)Mühlhausen (S)Schwabisches Hall (S)
Anah (D)Hamburg (S)Naples (S)Schweinfurt (S)
Andorra (S)Hanover-United Kingdom (S)Nassau (S)Schwerin (S)
Anhalt-Köthen (S)Hazro-Tercil (D)Nemenchas (P)Sigmaringen (S)
Athos (D)Hazzo (D)Norway (D)Small States (S)
Augsburg (S)Hechingen (S)Nuremberg (S)Spain (S)
Baden (D)Helvetic Republic (D)Oldenburg (S)Strelitz (S)
Baghdad (D)Hesse-Darmstadt (S)Ossetians (P)Suli (D)
Batavian Republic (D)Hesse-Kassel (S)Ottoman Empire (S)Svaneti (S)
Bavaria (D)Hildburghausen (S)Ouargla (S)Sweden (S)
Bernburg (S)Hosap (D)Oulaid Nail (P)Tomarza (D)
Biberach (S)Imereti (D)Oulaid Sidi Sheikh (D)Touggourt (S)
Bitlis (D)Iskenderiye (D)Palu (D)Tripoli (S)
Bled-es-Siba (D)Kabarda (D)Papal States (D)Tunis (S)
Bremen (S)Kabylia (S)Parma (S)Tuscany (D)
Brunswick (S)Karachays (P)Passau (S)Ulm (S)
Buchhorn (S)Kaufbeuren (S)Persia (S)Walachia (D)
Cisalpine Republic (D)Kempten (S)Pertakrek (D)Waldeck (S)
Cizre (D)Lebanon (D)Pertek (D)Wetzlar (S)
Coburg (S)Liechtenstein (S)Portugal (S)Wittgenstein (S)
Denmark (S)Lindau (S)Prussia (S)Württemberg (D)
Dortmund (S)Lippe (S)Ragusa (D)Yannina (D)
Eğil (D)Lucca (D)Regensburg (S)Yerevan (D)
Fez-Morocco (S)Lübeck (S)Reutlingen (S)Zakynthos (S)
France (S)Lübeck (S)Rothenburg (S)Zerbst (S)
Frankfurt (S)Malta (D)Rottweil (S)Zeytun (D)
Fürstenberg (S)Mani (D)Russia (S)Ziban (P)
Genoa (D)Meiafarakin (D)Sagman (D)Çabakcur (D)
Genç (D)Meiningen (S)Salzburg (S)Çatak (D)
Georgia (D)Memmingen (S)San Marino (S)Çermik (D)
Ghadamès (D)Mingrelia (D)Sardinia (S)Überlingen (S)
Goslar (S)Mirdita (D)Savsat (D)

Now, which of these countries did your ancestors really come from? What many would-be genealogists fail to understand is that their "leaf" is not the whole tree. The tree consists of a very complicated history. Failing to understand that history almost guarantees that you will not be able to find your family or will end up selecting the wrong people.

Here is another example. On's Family Tree if I go back a few generations in my family lines, I find some of the following people with their dates:

William Tanner, b. 1687 Rhode Island, d. 1757 Rhode Island
his father is shown as
William Tanner, b. 1660 England, d. 1757 Rhode Island
his father is shown as
Nathan Tanner, b. 1639 Glamorgan, Wales, d. 1719 Rhode Island

William Tanner's (b. 1687 Rhode Island, d. 1757 Rhode Island) 
mother is shown as
Hannah Mary Tibbets, b. 1664 Rhode Island, d. 1687 Rhode Island
her father is shown as
Henry Tibbets, b. 1635 Dover Neck, Strafford, New Hampshire, d. 1713 Rhode Island

It goes on and on. Notice that the first two generations of William Tanners died the same year and the father lived to be 97 years old. His father lived to be 80 years old. But what was going on in New England at that time? 

There is little or no historical dispute as to the identity of the early settlers of Rhode Island. See Wikipedia: List of early settlers of Rhode Island. There are no Tanners in the list of early settlers. Disregarding the age issue, how did these three generations of Tanners end up in Rhode Island to die? What about the Tibbets? Here is a statement about Henry Tibbets:
Henry Tibbets, who was born in London, England in 1596 was the first Tibbets in Dover, New Hampshire. He emigrated to this country in 1635 in the ship JAMES with two sons , Jeremy age 4 and Samuel age 2. Their mother’s name is believed to have been Elizabeth Austin. It is unknown if this Elizabeth Austin is related to the other Austin’s in our family. In the clearance papers, he was called shoemaker. He died on June 27, 1676 in Dover Neck, Strafford, New Hampshire.
See RootsWeb. Who is Hannah Mary Tibbets? When did the Tanners come to Rhode Island and who is buried in the Tanner Cemetery? I have written about this in detail. See Finding William

As you can see from the names, the dates and the places, there is almost no awareness of the historical context. The confusion comes from viewing your leaf as the whole tree. 

No comments:

Post a Comment