Some new methods available to
medieval genealogical research


Inclusiveness and measured contribution. In order to achieve useful results it is imperative that methods be inclusive. Inferences must be allowed to contributed progressively to results. Through inclusiveness, results otherwise out of reach can be generated and included in further investigations, leading eventually to a much more penetrating understanding. Individual sources and considerations may support a conclusion with greater or lesser force, and they must be allowed to contribute what they can according to their worth and applicability. Of course, some resources are more problematical than others, a noteworthy example being early heraldry.

Systematic extension of relationship terminology. There are several applicable methods that traditional twentieth-century scholarship did not employ, whether out of disparagement or outright ignorance. A new outlook on Latin terms of family relationship is the most notable. It has become clear that medieval authors often employed a system of terminological extension. The creative aspect of this system should be emphasized, in that a medieval author was sometimes impelled to find novel applications for the systematic extension of relationship terminology.

Personal onomastics. The inheritance of personal names is an instance where an extraordinarily valuable resource has often been disparaged and just as often misused. It has become clear that all names utilized in the aristocracy were in principle inherited, either from an ascendant or a sibling of an ascendant. This observation permits personal names to assist in the construction of arguments for affiliation. Much depends on particular circumstances. A name may make no contribution despite favorable appearances, or it may achieve an incontrovertible result almost without assistance. The first two imperial dynasties of Germany show many of the typical paths along which onomastics developed.

Heritability. The notion of heritability in succession to public office may also make a significant contribution, but it must not be allowed to dominate an argument. Obviously, if someone succeeds another as count in a particular region, there is some possibility that they are father and son. If they both have the same name, the chances increase. But further information is needed before a precise picture can be said to emerge. Some definitions of juristic concepts may be helpful.

Best evidence. We adhere to the principle that reconstruction of family relationships should be associated directly with research questions. Results of a purely genealogical form of analysis are often used as though they were the final word on the subject, yet that process is exclusionary and tends to magnify the importance of substandard findings. To the contrary, we wish to allow the relative strengths and weaknesses of findings to play their proper role in the construction of argument, just as we desire that all relevant sources and considerations contribute to the extent of their worth.


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