Why was there such a boom in genealogical research at the end of the 19th century in the USA?

+3 votes
I am amazed at the breadth of all the county history / genealogies and published surname histories that popped up from around 1880 until WWI. Was it a reaction to the centennial and people wanting to claim colonial roots or the grail of Mayflower ancestors?
in The Tree House by Ron Moore G2G6 Mach 2 (21.4k points)
No best answer because I like all three of em. Free votes all around just like Box 13 in Alice, Texas!

The difference between the way Europeans and Americans view things was very interesting. I think I lean more towards the family and community histories especially pioneers of all stripes.
In England, it was very different.The last quarter of the 19th C is the period when the opposite happened. Antiquarianism became a perjorative word .The amateur antiquarians who wrote the County and parish histories had focused on genealogy .They drew up pedigrees of local landowners, described  the descent of the manor, the advowson of the church and the 'important' monuments within it. Most of the population of the parish was omited except as recipients of the alms house founded by so and so in 1465.
The new breed of academic historians (first history journal, published 1886 )disparaged this approach. They  focused on the history of the Nation, local history was sidelined.
It wasn't until the mid 20th C that local history started to become 'respectable' in academia again but with a very different approach. (more holistic, not just about a tiny minority of the population. More concerned with the process of change.) Antiquarianism was (and is)  still disparaged as ' the dead hand of the 17th century country squire'.  To spare you  the rest of a long essay on the hows and whys, I believe  this has had a knockon effect on amateur 'genealogy'  in the UK ie a greater emphasis on family and community history than sometimes appears to me to be the case in the US.

3 Answers

+6 votes

Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!


Don't worry it's interesting.


by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (668k points)
+6 votes

I think there were two main factors:

1 - As you suggest, I think the US centennial in 1876 probably sparked a lot of interest in the colonial period and led many towns to create books about their history and families to create histories about their past.

2 - Darwin's work led to the popular acceptance of genetic determinism and eugenics, which obviously created a lot of interest in one's "blood lines". These beliefs peaked during 1880-1930 and not surprisingly fell out of favor with WWII and the Nazis.

by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (256k points)
+4 votes
It was only for the rich.  Genealogy books didn't sell at pulp-fiction prices.  They might cost more than a weekly wage.

At that price, they could produce books in very small print runs.  Then sell books about old county families to the plantation owners and mill-owners who represented the old county families (and had supplied the material in the books).  Those people were very conscious of their own local importance, or aspired to be, and wouldn't want to be left out.  And they needed to know the official histories of their social networks.
by Living Horace G2G6 Pilot (573k points)

Related questions

+2 votes
1 answer
117 views asked Jul 19, 2020 in Genealogy Help by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (254k points)
+27 votes
3 answers
+12 votes
3 answers
+5 votes
1 answer
+22 votes
2 answers
+19 votes
5 answers

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright