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Hallo again to all.

The Genealogy of ChristIn addition to our paid day-jobs and our volunteer work for AO, most of our staff are also the unofficial official genealogists for our extended families. Judging by the large amount of correspondence on genealogical matters we receive through this website, many of you, too, are interested in matters of family history. (Some cultured despisers of genealogical endeavour deride it as a peculiarly American pursuit—the search for roots by people in one way or another deracinated—but the inquiries we see from Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and outside the Anglosphere do not support this notion.)

Our research into our forebears began before the internet was a useful tool for it, and before purpose-made software was available to organise the data we gathered. We still have in a box somewhere a sheaf of ahnentafel charts on large index cards, long since converted to records in a relational database on our laptop. We remember and do not miss long afternoons of eye-strain with microfilmed lists of ships' passengers, baptismal records, quitclaim deeds, marriage registers and the like. We also remember protracted correspondence and phone calls (in the days before email) to distant relations about obscure questions of identity: why did the same parents in colonial Connecticut appear to have a daughter named Sarah with three birth dates? Because there were three of them; each Sarah was born after her elder sister Sarah had died as an infant, and her parents re-used the given name not just twice but thrice.

Today, we are avid users of advanced genealogical software like Reunion and Family Tree Maker, and we have at our fingertips the vast digital resources of many countries' census records. With a few keystrokes, we can tell you the names of our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, where they were born, and where they are buried. Our software will tell us how many days they lived, how their lifespans fit in the average longevity for our wider family, and whether they and their descendants married within prohibited degrees of consanguinity. Computing has changed permanently the ways in which we can learn about and map the families through which God has welcomed us into the world. And, perhaps thankfully, none of our known relations seem to have fallen off the page of the Table of Kindred and Affinity.

ReunionUntil all the paper in the world has been digitised, however, the ultimate destination of very many English-speaking genealogists will be an altar, a font, or a churchyard in a green and pleasant land—and the sacramental registers on deposit in Public Record Offices or parish churches in which the sacred moments of countless lives are recorded. It is only thanks to the faithful diligence of generations of clergy and parish clerks that we know the precise dates on which so many of our cousins and ancestors were baptised, with whom they entered matrimony, and from what churches they were buried. Had the Reverend Obadiah Anypriest failed in his duty to record a 15th-century baptism at St Mary the Virgin, Marsh Gibbon, our family's first traces would be lost in early Tudor fog. Had a more recent clergyman at the Little Church around the Corner (once the rushed-wedding capital of Manhattan) failed to do his own careful record-keeping, we would have no tangible information about our grandparents' wedding.

We suspect that this important role—the careful keeping of sacramental registers—is not one in which clerics-to-be receive instruction during their theological training. But it is a good and joyful thing to feel across the pages and centuries the pastoral solicitude of those who ministered to those from whom we come. In thin moments, our genealogical inquiries become more than the discovery and assembly of dates and names, a simple recital of begats. They become times when we see a stable liturgical context for birth and death and everything in between, and chances to dwell on the earthly ratification of heavenly grace through prayer and sacrament.

To all of you who continue this good work of sacramental record-keeping: thank you. Those who follow us will thank you, too.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 21 August 2011

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