Saturday, June 18, 2011

Delusions of Grandeur

It's surprising how many people 'dearly love a lord' and go to great lengths to find aristocratic or noble connections among their ancestry. And if such connections aren't found the seekers not infrequently resort to invention. This is rather an old-fashioned approach to family history: today most of us are happy tottering after our ag labs, mariners, chandlers and stonemasons.

Others prefer to trace descent from someone with a title, perhaps with a view to inheriting a dormant or extinct title, though that rarely happens. To be fair, there are some advantages in discovering descent from an aristocratic family, or from landed gentry. Usually there are established pedigrees which have been traced previously and which may have been published. e.g. Burke's Peerage. However, it's a mistake to rely exclusively on any published genealogy: it may contain inherent inaccuracies and omissions. Even if your ancestor merely worked for the gentry who owned the land, manorial records could be helpful in finding out more about him.

Common sense is all the family historian needs to steer a straight course: if your ancestors turn out to be illiterate fork grinders from Mangotsfield it's pointless sticking to it, buckle and thong, that they had a so-called 'family crest' or a title.

On that topic, contrary to all advertisements and similar temptations, there's no such thing as a coat of arms for a surname. Avoid these like the plague.

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