American History and Genealogy Project


Reasons for Genealogical Investigations

This article is from April 1847

Perhaps at no time since the settlement of our country, has the public mind been so deeply interested in genealogical research as it is at the present. There is now perceived among all classes, a growing disposition to make inquiries respecting the past. The National and State archives are compelled to surrender the treasures which for centuries have been locked up in their musty embrace. On every side individuals are to be found, who are ransacking the homesteads of their fathers, to acquire materials for biography and to settle the questions respecting their ancestors which inquisitiveness suggests.

Some of these individuals appear to be urged on by curiosity alone. If, through their inquiries, they ascertain that they have descended from an old and celebrated family, the discovered fact seems to repay them for all the toil at the expense of which that fact may be brought to light. To establish their claim to descent from some noted warrior of the age of chivalry, or from some distinguished statesman of a later date, they are willing, not only to spend laborious days and sleepless nights, but their purses are open, and their gratitude is freely expressed, to anyone who shall furnish them with a link to perfect the chain which may connect them with their supposed ancestors.

Family Pride

A family pride, either innate or acquired, leads other inquirers to their task. It is the height of their ambition to be able to trace their lineage to the first settlers of our country. To have derived their existence from the noble band who left a home rendered insupportable by religious persecution, and crossed the stormy Atlantic in the frail Mayflower, is to them a source of the highest pleasure. In their efforts to establish this derivation, facts of great importance in the local history of our country have been elicited. These efforts have given birth to most of our town histories, whereby materials, invaluable to our future historiographers and biographers are preserved from the ravages of time. These men in consequence of their researches become the nuclei of associations for historical, genealogical, and biographical pursuits, which, here and there, are springing into existence. These associations are awakening the mass of the people to a sense of the importance of the objects for which they were formed. Many young men, naturally enthusiastic in everything they undertake, have caught the spirit of antiquarian research. From them we have much to hope. New modes of investigation may be projected, new plans for arranging and preserving historical and genealogical discoveries may be proposed, and new deductions from these discoveries may be made. Such are some of the advantages which may be confidently predicted as the result of these labors in the genealogical field.

Importance of Genealogical Records

Other inquirers are inclined to the study of genealogy from the argumentum ad pecuniam. The vast amount of property which remains in abeyance in the old world has arrested their attention. Every announcement of estates wanting heirs stimulates anew their investigations; and the presiding genius of the age suggests to them the possibility of finding themselves entitled to this unclaimed property. How important, then, that a genealogical record should exist, where in the heirs of families should have a permanent place! How many bitter controversies respecting heirship would thereby be prevented! How many fraudulent distributions of property would thus be defeated! How many of those who have been rendered destitute by the deceptions of false claimants, would be restored to their legal rights, if such a record had been hitherto properly kept!

Collateral Heirs and Others

The disputes of heirs relative to the distribution of estates have frequently occasioned difficulty in our civil courts. In some cases property has been carried to collateral heirs, because lineal descendants could not sufficiently prove their derivation, and in other cases, those who would have inherited at law as the representatives of a deceased parent, are excluded by the intrigues of living co-heirs. Frauds, as the reports of our courts attest, have been perpetrated by those, who, from a similarity of name, though unrelated, have emboldened themselves to step in and exclude others who were legally entitled to the property, but who were unable to furnish sufficient evidence to establish their claim.

The steamers from England often bring news of the extinguishment of European resident heirs to estates in that country; and much money has been expended in the research of ancestry, by our own citizens, who have imagined themselves to be the true heirs to this property. The families, from which the greater number of these estates descend, are old families; branches of which came to this country prior to the commencement of the eighteenth century, and the transatlantic branch of the stock has run out. When this is the case, it is of high importance that the American descendants of these families should be able, clearly and conclusively, to prove their derivation. In this view, is it not a matter of surprise, that until the present year, the publication of a journal which could furnish information of so important a character as that which now demands so great a share of the public attention, has been delayed?

The Register

A Register which shall contain "Biographical Memoirs, Sketches, and Notices of persons who came to North America, especially to New England, before Anno Domini 1700; showing from what places in Europe they came, their Families there, and their descendants in this country;" which shall give "full and minute Genealogical Memoirs and Tables, showing the lineage and descent of Families, from the earliest dates to which they can be authentically traced down to the present time, with their branches and connections," cannot but be invaluable. If properly conducted, if the severest scrutiny is exercised by the writers over the materials which come under their notice, in the preparation of genealogical articles, the Register will become an authority in our courts, and will save immense amounts of money to the large number of individuals, who are attempting to trace their descent from European families. The policy of the law which invests, first, lineal descendants with intestate estates, and in the absence of lineal descendants, carries the estates to collateral heirs, in preference to an escheat to the State, is generally admitted. Were it not so, one great incentive to industry would be destroyed. The desire of securing their offspring against want is a prevalent characteristic of New England parents. Assiduity and energy in the pursuit of wealth, which have overcome so many obstacles in our inhospitable climate, have their origin in the desire to advance the interests of posterity. How desirable, then, in order to carry out these views, does the Genealogical Register become! Such a publication affords the only permanent depository for such records as will serve to insure the correct distribution of the property of deceased persons; and no parent who wishes the avails of his labors to be transmitted to his remote descendants can fail to perceive the utility of such a work, or can decline to furnish such information for its columns, as will enable those who come after him to prove their descent.

Frauds and Legal Heirs

The frauds continually practiced by those who assume to be heirs to every unclaimed estate, have become a matter of notoriety in English legal practice; and though there are many estates now in abeyance in England for want of discovered legal heirs, the bar and the bench in England are exceedingly distrustful of the evidence forwarded by claimants in this country. No doubt many of these claimants are sincere in the belief that they are true heirs to those estates; but the evidence upon which that belief is founded generally proves to be of too unsatisfactory a character to procure a judgment of the English tribunals in their favor; whereas, had materials been previously collected and given to the world through the columns of an authoritative periodical, the evidence thus furnished would be almost irresistible to any court of law.


We can ask with confidence the attention of all travelers to this journal. Communications relative to the antiquities of the countries they may visit; descriptions of monuments which exist, with the inscriptions thereon; and such information as they may communicate respecting themselves which may be interesting to the families to which they belong: all these will be within the scope of this work. It needs but an announcement of these facts, to obtain from those interested, communications which will not only throw light upon the pedigree of families, but will contain many accounts interesting to genealogists, biographers, and historians, which otherwise would be swept into oblivion; and in this department of the periodical, the public will find amusing, entertaining, and instructive pages. In this view of it, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register should be extensively patronized; and we are happy to learn that thus far it meets with the decided approbation of the community.

Source: The New England Historical & Genealogical Register, Published Quarterly Under The Direction Of The New England Historic, Genealogical Society, Rev. William Cogswell, D. D., Editor. Volume I., Boston, Samuel G. Drake, Publisher, 1847, Coolidge & Wiley, Printers, 12 Water Street, Boston.

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