On Genealogy and Scholarship

Image: Corinne H. Smith

You know how sometimes you’ll be going along, thinking you know what you’re doing, and then you’ll read something that just brings you up short to say, Wait a minute–why am I doing this?  I had such a moment recently when I read the following post sharing from Jon Casbon’s blog, “Our Casbon Journey”: https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/jane-william-and-edith-part-1/.

Probably the most revelatory day of my graduate program in English came in an American literature seminar taught by Hugh Potter at the University of New Hampshire, when he casually responded to a question with one of those but-of-course-you-already-know-this answers. And what was I supposed to have known that I didn’t? Simply this: just because an article appears in a peer-reviewed journal doesn’t mean it needs to have been written. If the article offers nothing new to the interpretive or theoretical conversation, the writer probably should have refrained from writing it–or if she simply had to to write it, at least refrain from publishing it.

So what does the scholarship of literature have to do with genealogy? Well, the “Casbon Journey” post I’m sharing made me take a step back and ask myself what I’m doing with this family history of the Browns. With so much genealogical research into this particular family lineage (direct descendants of JOHN BROWN (~1595-1686) of Hampton, New Hampshire having already been done by others, what do I have to add to the genealogical conversation?

For the five generations following our John Brown progenitor, not much, really. On the other hand, for the sixth, seventh, and eighth generations who migrated to Candia, New Hampshire and then to eastern Massachusetts, I can provide additional insights from the information I have in The Family Archives that others don’t have.

Image: Digital Collections, University of New Hampshire Library

Jon’s post got me to thinking: I really am much more interested in family history and stories than DNA and bloodlines. The 19th century New Hampshire historians I’ve been reading provide a number of colorful details about members of the Brown family of southern New Hampshire that I think are worth calling to their descendants’ attention. However, because the family was so prolific and the same names were used for so many different generations and branches of the family tree, it’s nearly impossible to know which John, Jonathan, Sarah, Aaron, Nathan, or Caleb the historian is talking about.

That being the case, I think my contribution to the history of these earlier generations of the Hampton Browns can be to identify and evaluate all of the contextual clues needed to match the colorful detail of an individual life to the Brown to whom it rightfully belongs. I’ve recently found transcribed probate records from this time period in the University of New Hampshire’s digitized collections, which look to be a good resource for sorting clues as to which Brown was which.

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