Adding it up

Adding up the scores for my analysis of The Phelps Family of America:

Author(s): 1

Peer review: 0

Format: 4

Scope: 7

Citations: 1

Completeness: 7

Age and methodology: 5

Restraint: 5

Analysis: 0

Access: 10

Total: 40 out of 100

This is just a number “wandering in the wilderness” without something to compare it to, so although I said we would discuss the value of the experiment this week, I think it best to first give an example of a “good” genealogy. We go to the top of the mountain and start with the “father” of modern genealogy, Donald Lines Jacobus, and his mammoth Bulkeley Genealogy. Rev. Peter Bulkeley, Being an account of his career, his ancestry, the ancestry of his two wives, and his relatives in England and New England, together with a genealogy of his descendants through the seventh American generation.[1]

Author: Donald Lines Jacobus, first person to be elected to the National Genealogy Hall of Fame, Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, founding editor of The American Genealogist. Among his well-known works are the Families of Ancient New Haven and History and Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield, etc., etc. Score: 10

Jacobus’ peers called him “the man who more than any other single individual elevated genealogy to the high degree of scholarship it now occupies.”

Peer review: I was not able to track down a book review for this work, but it is considered a classic today. Jacobus’ peers called him the “Dean of American Genealogists” and “the man who more than any other single individual elevated genealogy to the high degree of scholarship it now occupies.” Score: 10

Format: Arranged in Record format with all descendants numbered; those who are carried forward marked with a “+”. Ancestral lines (Thomas2, Peter1) and generation numbers are given, and the typographical presentation is simple and clear. Score: 10.

Scope: The book attempts to trace all descendants of Rev. Peter Bulkeley, male and female, for seven generations. It also presents eighty pages of documented research on English and Royal ancestry, which has stood the test of time, while being expanded by Jacobus and others after him. Score: 10.

Completeness: The Bulkeley Genealogy contains 1,000 pages in one volume, including biography, history, detailed transcriptions and abstracts of original records, and the English ancestry, all of which takes up space. Jacobus compromised by completely omitting the names of parents of spouses! In his Preface he acknowledges the “defect” but takes the position that the amount of time needed to confirm all of the spouses’ parents would have been too much time and effort on top of everything else, not to mention more pages. My guess is that the client insisted on getting everything into one volume. Score: 9.

Continued here.


[1] New Haven, 1933.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

8 thoughts on “Adding it up

  1. Thanks for this great (and ongoing) review of what to look for in published genealogies. And here’s a bit of serendipity: most of the astronomical almanacs that the Rev. Thomas Cary kept his diary in—which I wrote about on Tuesday—were gifts from Mr. Bulkeley Emerson…undoubtedly a descendant of the Rev. Peter Bulkeley!

    1. Jacobus and Watermans “Hale, House and Related Families” is also a genealogical masterpiece. It is of particular interest to those with Connecticut River Valley Yankee ancestors.

      1. Jeffrey, I was going to do Hale-House, but decided that Bulkeley was closer in format to the Phelps Genealogy and better not to get too confusing!

  2. Thank you for working on this long-needed effort to measure the quality of genealogies from earlier days.

    I think all of us would agree that Mr. Jacobus and his works are admirable. If there was no peer review of this particular work at the time it was written, maybe it would be best to drop that category of points in this case, and work on a possible score of 90. My thinking is that present-day genealogists should actively seek to get peer reviews of each work, regardless of their reputation for high standards, and they would probably? be marked down for having none, on a 100-point scale.

    1. Marian, I actually gave Jacobus a 10 in the peer review section, a bit confusing since the numbers listed at the beginning to the post are for the Phelps Genealogy. A contemporary book review would have been helpful, but the lack thereof is not held against the author if other peer opinions can be found.
      Reader Howard Swain reminded me that Robert Charles Anderson devoted a whole issue of Great Migration Newsletter (Vol. 11, October-December 2002; pp. 349-56 in the combined Volume 1-20 and I presume the same for 1-25), entitled “What Makes a Good Compiled Genealogy.” I had forgotten about it, but obviously was channeling Bob when I made up my categories. Bulkeley and Hale-House are two of the 20 books he reviews — highly recommended and available in the online Great Migration database.

  3. Scrolling slowly down the Phelps numbers, I started thinking what I’d give The Bulkeley Genealogy, and then there you were!

    Jumping ahead, I’d say that the book’s scope, or ambition really, does have a limiting impact on several of the grades to come. What we would consider standard citations are absent (most likely due to that likely all-in-one-volume rule); unlike his own research in FANH, where it is clear he eyeballed a lot of the sources, that ambitious scope meant that DLJ of necessity had to rely on many OTHERS who were reporting to him on what they had seen–or what they thought they had seen!– (Mrs. Holman and Mr. Torrey came readily to mind as DLJ specifically thanked them for material brought to his attention); analysis also had to be severely trimmed given the scope (Rev. Edward Bulkeley acting as “Hollywood” agent on behalf of his son-in-law Rev. Edward Emerson is IIRC not mentioned, cf Ispwich Emersons); the citation issue itself affects grading the methodology-the book’s age is irrelevant given usage of documentary evidence in the text itself. If anything, DFLJ’s well-practiced restraint is enhanced by the one volume rule and that restraint, and his then developed judiciousness, has kept errors low, especially in the later generations.

    Still, errors there must be.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.