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From the Green Valley News, Sunday 27 May 2012, page A15

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Genealogy’s Roots: It all began when . . .

Genealogy, as we in the U.S. know it today, is rooted in the early 1800s. The American historian, John Farmer was born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts in 1789. As a young man, he witnessed the growth of antiquarianism - the study or love of antiquity - as Fourth of July celebrations of the day memorialized the Founding Fathers and our success in the Revolutionary War.

Traditionally American’s interest in one’s ancestors had primarily been an attempt by colonists to attain social standing within the British Empire. Farmer realized the pursuit of one’s ancestry was now fueled by a desire to learn how that family was part of our history and how the past could be preserved for future generations. His correspondence with other American historians and antiquarians in the 1820s led to them publishing historical and genealogical tracts for an audience of interested followers.

In 1829 Farmer published the Genealogical Register of the First Settlers of New England. James Savage, a colleague, revised and expanded it in 1860 as A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England, a reference work still used today. Farmer died in 1839 but not before planting the seed that resulted in the founding of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in 1845. View a short film about NEHGS and its role in genealogy’s history at

Genealogy was first popular with wealthy Americans who could afford to hire someone to search for their lineage. In the late 1800s as our nation celebrated 100 years of independence, historical, genealogical and antiquarian societies sprung up around the country accumulating records and making them accessible to any interested persons.

In 1894, The Genealogical Society of Utah founded what would become the Family History Library, a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). As the church’s microfilming program grew it accumulated public genealogical records of families across the U.S. and made them freely available to all.

Donald Lines Jacobus, born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1887 was destined to become the Dean of American genealogy. A prolific writer, he founded New Haven Genealogical Magazine in 1922. Ten years later it was renamed The American Genealogist and became the standard bearer of genealogical scholarship. In 1930 he wrote what may be the first genealogical "how to" book, Genealogy as Pastime and Profession. A classic today, the book was revised in 1968 and is still available at for less than $6.

As the founder of scientific American genealogy, Jacobus described methods, aims and principles of genealogical research. He published an article in which he wrote, "Driven by a zeal to rescue their favorite avocation from its deplorable and desperate state, [a new breed of genealogists] started writing and publishing . . . ." They showed by example how to solve problems, use sources, and interpret records, and attacked the amateurs and charlatans producing illustrious lines of descent from their own imaginations.

Jacobus believed a genealogist needed an inquiring mind adapted to detailed research, a superior education, and independent means in order to succeed. He observed a man who insisted on being his own genealogist had a fool for a client. He also advised Americans not to attempt to do European research themselves.

One wonders what he would think of and the millions of family trees posted online today by amateurs and professionals alike as we travel far and wide in pursuit of our ancestry.

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