Frequently Asked Questions for soc.genealogy.medieval
This regular posting contains a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and their answers about medieval genealogy. It should be read by anyone who wishes to post to the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup or to the associated mailing list, GEN-MEDIEVAL. The FAQ is currently available on the World Wide Web at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~medieval/faq.htm.
Copyright (c) 1999, 2000 by William Addams Reitwiesner.
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1. What is soc.genealogy.medieval?
soc.genealogy.medieval is an unmoderated newsgroup for the discussion of genealogy and family history among people researching individuals who lived in medieval times. The primary focus of the group is likely to be on Europe and neighboring regions, but postings about genealogy in other areas during this time period are welcomed.
The mailing list associated with the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup is GEN-MEDIEVAL. The newsgroup and mailing list are gated, i.e., all email sent to the mailing list also appears as a posting in the newsgroup, and all postings in the newsgroup (except those that originated with the mailing list) are emailed to the mailing list. See question 2 for information about subscribing to the mailing list.
Scope of the Group
The medieval period is loosely defined for the purposes of this group as the period extending from the breakup of the (Western) Roman Empire until the time public records (such as church, tax, and census records) relating to the general population began to be kept. This period would extend roughly from AD 500 to AD 1600, but these limits are not intended to exclude related topics of discussion lying outside of these boundaries, e.g., royal or noble genealogy in earlier time periods. A related mailing list is the GEN-ROYAL list, and questions relating solely to royal genealogy after about AD 1600 should be raised there.
The scope of the group reflects the different nature of genealogical research in the medieval period. Vital records and census records are not available for this period, and the researcher must rely instead on records of inheritance of property or tenancy, heraldic visitations, monastic charters, chronicles, onomastic evidence, and even numismatic evidence. The group is intended to address all these various facets.
The group is open to anyone with an interest in genealogy in the time period in question, including, but not limited to:
Inappropriate Topics and Posts:
We highly recommend "lurking"--reading messages without posting anything--for a bit so you can get an idea of how people typically phrase their postings and how to formulate good questions or comments. In other words, "Lurk before you leap."
2. How do I send messages to, subscribe to, unsubscribe from, or search GEN-MEDIEVAL?
3. Basic newsgroup and mailing list "Netiquette"The netiquette for all newgroups in the soc.genealogy hierarchy is essentially the same. We recommend you read the FAQ Basic Newsgroup and Mailing List "Netiquette" for further details. It is posted periodically to various soc.genealogy.* groups. RootsWeb Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). The following two lists are excerpted from RootsWeb.com Community Guidelines, with additional information in black for soc.genealogy.medieval and GEN-MEDIEVAL.
As a community member, please:
While on a philosophical level, it could be said that this group is here to help by providing a forum, in actuality, this group is just a venue where people interested in medieval genealogy come to talk. Nobody is paid or even formally volunteers their time here (except the listowners, whose sole role is to manage the subscriptions). People come and go as they please, answer or not answer as their mood and time and interest sways them.
Responses are most likely to a specific question posed in the context of some background information (e.g., where you have looked for an answer without success); supplying the sources for the information in your message will help show that you are a serious researcher..
One important etiquette issue is how to respond to soc.genealogy.medieval or GEN-MEDIEVAL messages. Before you send off a reply, stop and ask yourself "Who should see this reply?" If the reply is intended for the poster of the original message only, be sure it is sent just to that person and not to the group or list.
If you are replying to a message from GEN-MEDIEVAL:
If you are replying to a message in soc.genealogy.medieval, your newsreader should give you a choice of responding to the author or responding to the group. If you want to respond to the group and the message has been cross-posted to several groups, remove any irrelevant groups from the Newsgroups: list (and the Followup-To: list, if any); if the message has no genealogical content, remove soc.genealogy.medieval. Note that very few messages are appropriate for cross-posting.
Unsolicited commercial (junk) email or postings are a problem for which there is currently no ideal solution. Probably the best strategy at present is to delete and then forget about them; for messages sent to the GEN-MEDIEVAL list, responding to the author(s) and asking to be removed from their list may actually give them a new email address and thus may result in your getting more rather than less junk mail in the future. Some mailing lists deal with junk mail by having a moderated list or accepting messages only from list members. That is not an option for GEN-MEDIEVAL, since it is gated with the newsgroup soc.genealogy.medieval, i.e., all messages posted to the newsgroup are passed on to the list and all messages sent to the list are posted in the newsgroup.
Other suggestions we wish to emphasize:
One last point to remember concerning inappropriate behavior: our newsgroup, in common with other newsgroups, has its share of people who seek to disrupt the group collectively and/or its posters individually. While we may not have an official policy as to how one should deal with such disruptive behavior, we can suggest the following: DNFTEC. This stands for "Do Not Feed The Energy Creature". An energy creature's favorite feeding tactic is to try to hurt people's feelings or get them angry. The Energy Creature can then feed off the pain and anger it has generated. Its second favorite tactic is to hurt one person or the group's feelings while gathering the sympathy of others. That way, when the injured party lashes back, others will jump to the Energy Creature's defense. The Energy Creature feeds off the attention and the negative energy generated by the people fighting. Newsgroups will never be completely rid of such obnoxious, offensive and ill-mannered beings, but much can be done to keep the situation under control by remembering this simple formula: DNFTEC. If the Energy Creature gets a response, it gets stronger. If it is ignored, it will eventually weaken, wither and go away. Remember: do not feed the energy creatures.
You can do further filtering if you wish. One thing you can do is filter by the author (the From field) and have messages from specified email addresses go to a different folder (e.g., Inbox-GEN-MED-low-priority).
Another thing you can do (though apparently not in the mail client Eudora) is send all cross-posts to a folder such as Inbox-Crossposts. (The filter rule is to look for messages whose Newsgroups header contains a comma.)
(Note that the rules for filtering cross-posts or mail from specific addresses must be given higher priority than the rule for sending the bulk of your GEN-MED email to Inbox-GEN-MED.)
Periodically you can quickly scan (if desired) and discard the contents of Inbox-GEN-MED-low-priority and Inbox-Crossposts.
4. Are there on-line sources of information?
If you are using the World Wide Web, you can reach several pages related to medieval lineages. We do not vouch for their contents. URLs which are the same color as this text are no longer shown as links, because the target did not appear to exist in early 2012. If a URL no longer works, you may be able to access an archived version of it via archive.org.
Some general genealogical pages have links to medieval compilations such as the above, including:
5. How do I start tracing medieval ancestors?
To trace genealogical connections, step by step, generation by generation, for a thousand years or more is not a trivial task.
For those of you with ancestors in 17th-century America: a quick look for immigrant ancestors with noble or royal ancestry is often the fastest way to acquire a long pedigree. Three books provide a good starting point:
For those of you with ancestors in Britain (from the medieval period up to the present): a good starting point is the set of three indices to pedigrees in printed works and periodicals:
The books in the first group above and most of the books or articles referenced in the indices in the second group above are *secondary* sources that give the author's opinion of what he found in *primary* sources, which include:
You may want to draw your own conclusions by studying the primary sources first hand, which is recommended because none of these books (nor any other) is error-free.
Primary sources vary in quality, accuracy, and completeness, too. So how can you determine what sources are best/most accurate? By checking recent genealogical publications and discussing it here in soc.genealogy.medieval. The more you learn, the better you'll be able to draw your own conclusions about accuracy and quality of source material.
Prepare for doing the genealogy by reading up on the history, geography, and languages of time and place you intend to research; what you remember (or think you remember) from school is almost certain to be inadequate.
Here are some of the secondary sources which have been cited with some regularity by the participants in soc.genealogy.medieval:
The soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup does not have an official position on any source. Individual participants can and do have strong views on the quality of the information presented in these and other sources.
6. What are the chances that I have royal ancestry?
In The Royal Descents of 500 Immigrants, Roberts includes almost 350 colonial American immigrants with royal ancestry. These immigrants (pp. xiv, ff.):
"left sizable, often huge, progenies...These 350 are a large enough group so that living Americans with 50-100 colonial immigrant ancestors in New England (or Long Island), in Quaker (but not German or Scots-Irish) Pennsylvania, or in the Tidewater South (but often not the Piedmont, Shenandoah Valley, or mountainous 'backcountry') can expect to find a royally descended forebear."
Of these 350 immigrants, 167 left ten or more descendants treated in the Dictionary of American Biography. In the New England Historic Genealogical Society newsletter NEXUS, June-September 1994, Roberts says (p. 104) that 100 million is very likely quite a conservative estimate of the number of American descendants of these 167.
[Similar information is needed for other countries. Volunteers?]
7. Can I be descended from Charlemagne or William the Conqueror?
If you are of European ancestry, yes, it is possible. Both Charlemagne and William left progeny--sometimes illegitimate--who have descendants living today.
In medieval Europe, illegitimacy had a more strictly legalistic significance than today, relating to automatic inheritance under either primogeniture or division of legacy. Many illegitimate lines are well known and traced. William the Conqueror himself was known as William the Bastard, not for his personality but for his birth "on the wrong side of the blanket." Note, however, that the majority of descents from medieval English monarchs are legitimate, not illegitimate.
Remember that "descended from" and "able to document a descent from" do not mean the same thing. In the medieval period, most genealogical connections went unrecorded, and in only a certain percentage of cases do the records survive today. So, it is possible that you may be a descendant but unable to prove it.
8. Who were the parents of X?
The soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup does not have an official position on any lineage. Individual participants can and do have strong views on medieval family lines. Consider this a forum to share and air our views and the conclusions we've each drawn about these ancestries. We want a free flow of information that allows each reader to take responsibility for evaluating the information we share, pursuing the references cited therein if appropriate.
While we all would like definite answers, the fact is that the surviving evidence from the medieval period is sometimes very sketchy, and, in some cases, the evidence is open to a number of incompatible interpretations. The temptation is to consider medieval lineages as verified because they've been around so long. In truth, some authors have made up connections or have made unwarranted assumptions about parentage in an attempt to tie families to royalty or nobility. For this reason, even long-accepted genealogies should not be taken as correct without some investigation.
No genealogy can be "proved," but newsgroup discussion should help you to rate lineages on a scale from very likely to very unlikely.
By all means, if you have anything to add to any discussions, we more than welcome you and your opinions. Don't be intimidated by the on-line experts.
9. What are Ancestor Lists and how do I use them?
Occasionally someone will post an Ancestor List (or Ahnenlist, or Ahnenreihe) for a Medieval person. This will consist of a numbered list of persons without any explanation of how the persons are related to each other. The following explanation of the numbering scheme used in Ancestor Lists is slightly modified from a message posted to the group by Stewart Baldwin on 26 November 1998.
The idea of Ancestor Lists is simple. They provide a numbering system whereby all of the known ancestors of a single individual can be listed in such a way that no two different ancestors receive the same number, and such that the numbers themselves are enough to deduce the claimed relationships. An Ancestor List starts with the individual in question (i.e., the person whose ancestors are to be traced) as number 1, for example:
The parents of that individual are then numbered as follows:
The next generation (the four grandparents of individual number 1) are numbered next:
The next generation (the eight great-grandparents of individual number 1) then receive the next eight numbers (i.e., 8 through 15). So, for example, Mary, Queen of Scots, mother of James VI & I, would receive the number 9. This continues for as far as information is available, with the 16 2nd great-grandparents having the 16 numbers from 16 to 31, the next generation having the 32 numbers from 32 to 63, and so forth.
If an ancestor is unknown, then the number that would have been used for that ancestor remains blank. This results in unused numbers for the earlier generations also. That is normal in ancestor lists, for even the best documented families will eventually reach a point where the information is unknown. If, at some future date, the information becomes known, the relevant numbers are still available, and can be used to fill in the data in its proper order.
As long as no ancestors are duplicated, things work out exactly as above. However, anyone who traces their ancestry far enough back is going to reach a point where they are descended from the same person in two or more different ways. In this case the ancestor in question will have two or more ancestor numbers. The first time that this happens in the ancestor list of Charles II is with his third-great- grandmother Margaret Tudor, who is ancestor number 35 AND 37 for Charles II. (Although both of the ancestor numbers occur in the same generation in this particular duplication, that will not always be the case.) In this case, the standard practice is to introduce a cross-reference, as follows:
Here, 34 and 36 were not duplicated, because Margaret had children by two different marriages, both of whom were ancestors of Charles II. It is the general custom that, whenever such duplications occur, the "main" entry will be under the smallest number, and larger numbers are cross-referenced to the smaller one. It is considered bad form to enter earlier generations under both numbers, so Henry VII (Margaret's father) would be listed only under number 70, and the number 74 (along with all of the corresponding duplicated numbers in the earlier generations) would remain unused. People who ignore this rule might find that they are wasting vast amounts of paper on duplicate information when they print out such a list.
One nice property of this numbering system is that there are simple arithmetic rules which allow you to determine the relationship of the individuals in the list:
To see how this can be used, suppose we take the ancestor number 54321. Dividing by two (27160.5) and then discarding the remainder gives 27160. Repeating this process over and over then gives, 13580, 6790, 3395, 1697, 848, 424, 212, 106, 53, 26, 13, 6, 3, 1. Using the even-odd rule described above, we get:
Thus, the individual numbered 54321 will be the 13th great-grandmother of the person numbered 1, with the above list showing exactly which intervening generations are male, and which are female.
In the opposite direction, if you wanted to determine the ancestor number of Charles II's mother's father's father's mother's mother, you would start with 1, multiply by two and add one to get 3 (mother of 1), multiply by 2 to get 6 (father of 3), and so forth, getting 12, 25, and 51, the number of the ancestor in question (Marguerite de Lorraine in the case of Charles II).
Note: An Ancestor List is sometimes called an Ancestor Table (or Ahnentafel). Strictly speaking, an Ancestor Table is in tabular form:
|----- 4 ------- | |----- 2 -----| | | | |----- 5 ------- | ----- 1 -----| | | |----- 6 ------- | | |----- 3 -----| | |----- 7 -------
But the numbering scheme used in Ancestor Tables is the same as the one used in Ancestor Lists.
10. Can we discuss Biblical lines here?
This is not the proper forum for discussing the Biblical connections of ancient lines. They are off-topic mostly because they're outside the medieval time period (500 AD to 1600 AD). While mention of the Biblical connections is permissable, discussion should focus on the medieval portions of these lines.
11. Why do mythical and semi-mythical people pop up here?
There are several reasons for this. One is that many pedigrees have been created showing the descent of royalty from important people, including mythical gods and goddesses. Another is the tendency over time to amplify the accomplishments of a real historical person, producing a semi-mythical figure. Examples of this are Charlemagne, El Cid, and so on.
Mythical people will inevitably be discussed here--mainly to help us understand where the myth ends and history begins, but also because myths tell us something about the people that believed in them.
12. How to cite your sources
The following is slightly modified from a post made to the group on 12 January 2000 by Paul C. Reed:
I apologize to members of this group if it seems this line of discussion was off-topic, but I think it still proved valuable to all of us in some way, as by the nature of our work we are constantly citing to documents, publications, and the work of others.
For those not certain of how to cite sources properly, here's a few comments (I'm sure others will add more detail or make corrections). Some of it is a matter of 'style' or editing practice, but the point is to give people enough information to find the source discussed and give proper credit to others' work.
When citing a manuscript or original document, give:
Note that when citing to wills or dated records, if the dates are not provided in the text to which your footnote/endnote is attached, it should be given with the reference.
When citing a book or published work,
But note that now there are fifteen volumes (vol. 12 was published in two parts), vol. XIV, Addenda & corrigenda, published in 1998, edited by Peter W. Hammond. Also note that if there is any ambiguity about the place of publication clarify which place in question is meant in [brackets].
Where a book is published as part of a Record Society series, indicate this as well:
For articles, put the title of the article between quotations, and the journal title underlined or italicized, give the page range of the entire article, and then the page number you are referring to:
Note that as there is more than one journal with this title, it is necessary to distinguish between them.
As to fair use, when you are quoting one paragraph out of a book, or a sentence or two out of an article, or transcribing one out of 300 wills on a microfilm, there is no danger of infringement.
That's a start. More suggestions?
13. Glossary & Common Abbreviations
Also see Glossary of Royal/Noble Titles at http://www.heraldica.org/topics/odegard/titlefaq.htm.
One of the most common abbreviations in medieval genealogy is "sp", or "s.p.", which stands for either the Latin "sine prole", or the French "sans posterite". Both mean the same thing, "without issue" (that is, without children). With "s.p." as the base, many more abbreviations can be built:
A number of these "s.p." abbreviations can be strung together to provide a fairly precise description of the person's relationships at his or her death, such as:
Other abbreviations commonly found in Medieval genealogy include:
Of course the standard abbreviations are used here also, such as:
soc.genealogy.medieval FAQ / August 2001 /
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