Episode 114: Karin Wulf, The History of Genealogy


History has a history and genealogy has a history. And the histories of both affect how and why we study the past and how we understand and view it.

Today, we explore why it’s important for us to understand that the practices and processes of history and genealogy have histories by exploring what the history of genealogy reveals about the early American past.

Our guide for this exploration is Karin Wulf, a Professor of History at the College of William & Mary and the Director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

About the Series

Doing History episodes will introduce you to historians who will tell you what they know about the past and reveal how they came to their knowledge.

Each episode will air on the last Tuesday of each month in 2016.

This series is part of a partnership between Ben Franklin’s World and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

wulf_kIn this episode, Karin Wulf, a Professor of History at the College of William & Mary and the Director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, guides us through the history of genealogy and what knowing that history reveals about our early American past.

During our exploration, Karin reveals why early Americans were interested in genealogy and how they practiced it; Early American and European institutions that encouraged early Americans’ interest in family history; And, why it’s important for both historians and genealogists to understand the history of genealogy.

What You’ll Discover

  • Why early Americans were interested in genealogy
  • The role Protestant religion played in early Americans’ interest in genealogy
  • Why early American ministers kept track of families in their parish
  • Early American genealogical and parish records
  • The role the British monarchy played in British Americans’ interest in genealogy
  • Interest in genealogy around the British Atlantic World
  • American fascination with European noble blood
  • The ways English common law as practiced in the British American colonies encouraged early American genealogical literacy
  • How the institution of slavery used genealogy and genealogical information
  • Interest in genealogy enslaved and free Africans, African Americans, and Native Americans
  • How early British Americans “did” genealogical research
  • Early Americans’ use of oral, family histories
  • How early Americans kept and wrote up their genealogical research
  • How early Americans kept and passed on their genealogy in material objects


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Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if Great Britain had been a democracy or republic in the seventeenth century? How would the lack of a monarch, who used genealogy to justify their right to power and authority, have affected the adoption and performance of genealogy in British North America?

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