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Tracing Your Ancestry to Adam
(by Val D. Greenwood)

Question: In my family records I found an interesting genealogy that ties us into one line of European royalty going through Charlemagne back to Antenor, King of the Cimmerians, then to Judah, and thence to Abraham and Noah to Adam. Can you tell me how reliable lineages such as these are?

Answer: How reliable are such pedigrees? The truth is, we just do not know. If we are to accept them, we must take someone's else's word for them because there is no proof. There are six significant reasons, however, why we might choose to take them with the proverbial "grain of salt."

a. Modern genealogy in the Western world had its beginnings in the 1400s and 1500s with the aristocracy of Europe, directly traceable to the influence of feudalism and hereditary privileges. It was more important in the social climate to have the "right" ancestors than to have the "correct" ancestors. The truth was sometimes bent to suit political and economic ends.

b. Authentic documents by which such genealogies can be proven do not exist. The written documentation of the events in people's lives by which we trace and prove their genealogies does not exist. Most such records were never made in earlier centuries. Even in the Christian era pedigrees were preserved with the assistance of various mnemonic devices and passed orally from one generation to the next. They were later recorded by scribes, primarily monks. Most of these are just name lists but are considered by the authorities to be quite early. For example, the list of Scottish kings is acclaimed to be reliable as early as the third century AD. Proof, however, is another matter.

c. There was a total absence of family names until the middle of the eleventh century AD and a significant absence even much later than that. This caused excessive repetition of names in the society in general, as evidence in the few available records. This factor alone makes positive identification difficult, if not impossible, in most situations.

d. The rules of evidence were imperfectly understood by the early genealogists. This imperfect understanding provided these early genealogists with adequate pretext for using conjecture and imagination in compiling pedigrees as if they were reliable evidence.

e. Even the most undisputed biblical genealogies, upon which these pedigrees must of necessity rely, are not altogether reliable. In the first place, the ancient Hebrew phrases implying son-ship are not to be interpreted as strictly as we interpret them today. Secondly, the ancient Jews were prone to use symmetrical numbers to manipulate long lists. This was accomplished by adding, and even by dropping, names at will.

f. Some genealogies trace back to pagan deities. Julius Caesar was supposed to have sprung from Venus through Aeneas, and the Saxon rulers of England claimed decent from the god Woden.

Before leaving the question, perhaps [another] observation as [it] relates to these pedigrees is appropriate. [This] suggested by the numbers cited earlier to represent the numbers of ancestral lines in various generations. Even if we could say that these pedigrees are reliable and can be accepted at face value (which we obviously cannot do) having one line traced back to father Adam does not absolve one of further genealogical responsibility. There are still thousands of other lines that require attention, each of which we are told we have responsibility for. How many [of us], for example, can say that all of our genealogy is traced back ten generations and [is complete and accurate]? (And keep in mind that these are the generations in the time period when our most reliable records for such research are available.) Even this is very difficult.