In 1977, a book editor suggested that I write up the history of my family, and I accepted the proposition not only eagerly but with a sense of urgency. My two grandmothers were both nearly ninety. I had heard some of their stories, in bits and pieces -of how they had got out of Russia because of the Revolution and started life over again in the United States, and of what their life had been before-but I had never heard the whole story. One afternoon, as I was studying some genealogical material they had given me, I noticed a possible connection between two Ukrainian families, the Adamoviches and the Vitovts, which would have meant that my mother’s and father’s forebears had been related to each other in the seventeenth century. I had heard that the Genealogical Society of Utah-a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-had the most voluminous genealogical archives in the world, and I wrote to ask if the society could be of help in confirming this connection, and if anything had been written about the overlapping of pedigrees in general. A few weeks later, an amazing paper by Robert C. Gunderson, called “Connecting Your Pedigree Into Royal, Noble, and Medieval Families,” came in the mail. Gunderson, who heads the Genealogical Society’s Royalty Identification Unit, has calculated that if you kept multiplying by two the progenitors of a person born today-doubling his parents, their parents, etc.-the person would have (based on an average generation length of twenty-five years) something like two hundred and eighty-one trillion forebears alive at the time of Charlemagne. Each person’s pedigree, in other words, experiences a sort of retrogressive population explosion.
Obviously, there were nowhere near that many people around in 800 A.D., or at any other time. What prevents the theoretical population explosion from taking place is another phenomenon, which Gunderson delightfully calls “pedigree collapse.” Pedigree collapse is caused by cousins marrying cousins-:-both intentional mating between close cousins and random mating between distant ones who don’t know that they are related. Close-cousin marriage has happened much more often than is generally supposed. In tribal societies, the exogamic restriction is usually applied not to all one’s blood relatives but only to those in one’s kinship group. In a patrilineal society, for instance, there is nothing to stop one from marrying a matrilineal cousin or uncle; in fact, such a match is often esteemed. The ideal is to marry out, but not too far out. In Japan, which has one of the world’s highest consanguinity rates, arranged marriages between first cousins have been going on for centuries; and surveys made in the nineteen-six ties in southern India found that up to a third of the marriages among the Sudras . of Andhra Pradesh were between first cousins and that the proportion of uncle-niece matings might have been as high as twelve per cent.
“If we could only get into God’s memory, we would find that eighty per cent of the world’s marriages have been with at least second cousins,” the British social theorist Robin Fox told me recently. “In a population of between three and five hundred people, after six generations or so there are only third cousins or closer to marry. During most of human history, people have lived in small, isolated communities of about that size, and have in fact probably been closer to the genetic equivalent of first cousins, because of their multiple consanguinity. In nineteenth-century rural England, for instance, the radius of the average isolate, or pool of potential spouses, was about five miles, which was the distance a man could comfortably walk twice on his day off, when he went courting- his roaming area by daylight. Parish registers bear this out. Then the bicycle extended the radius to twentyfive miles. This was a big shakeup.” Even in today’s much more mobile English society-according to an estimate in Fox’s book “Kinship and Marriage”-the average isolate for any given individual, which is “to some extent determined by the previous marriage choices of his ancestral consanguines,” varies from about nine hundred people to just over two thousand.
Elevated consanguinity has not been a feature only of rural populations. Jewish people have tended to maintain themselves, throughout history, as an endogamous religious isolate. Marriage between close kin of various types is permitted in Jewish law, and such alliances are still common in groups like the Haddanites, of Israel, whose first-cousin marriage rate was recently determined to be fifty-six per cent. In most of the world’s upper classes, cousin intermarriage has been frequent, in order to keep wealth and power in the family, or because of a dearth of other acceptable mates. Consanguineous marriage has been particularly common in royal houses, the extreme cases being the Egyptian Pharaohs and the Incan kings, who had to marry their own sisters. In spite of the Catholic Church’s ban on marriage within the fourth degree of relationship (third cousins), which lasted from 1550 to 1917, most of the people sitting on the thrones of Europe have been cousins of one sort or another, with their pedigrees in varying stages of collapse. The pedigree of Alfonso XIII of Spain (1886-1941), for instance, collapsed almost immediately: because of cousin intermarriage, he had only eight great-great-grandparents instead of the usual sixteen.
Each time cousins marry, a duplication will occur in the pedigrees of their descendants because as cousins they already occupy a slot in them. The farther back one traces any person’s genealogy, the greater the rate of duplication, until finally, when cousin intermarriage begins to predominate, the shape of the pedigree, in theory, stops expanding, and begins to narrow. Each person’s complete family tree, in other words, is shaped more or less like a diamond. In the beginning, it expands upward from the person in an inverted triangle. At some point, hundreds of years back, the rate of expansion reaches its maximum and the pedigree starts to narrow, eventually coming to a point at a theoretical first couple. Whether one such couple existed, and, if so, where and when, cannot be known, of course; the answers to these questions require, among other things, a subjective judgment about when we became human, and the notion that a primordial couple are the mother and father of us all begins to seem like a romantic oversimplification when one considers that most of our complement of genes had evolved before we separated from the apes and that we share ninety-nine and a half per cent of our evolutionary history with chimpanzees.
“Beginning about 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, forms of humans appear that might be called Homo sapiens, with a skull size comparable to that of modern man,” the geneticists Walter F. Bodmer and Luigi Cavalli-Sforza write in their book “Genetics, Evolution, and Man.” One “reasonable hypothesis,” based on a comparative study of skull metrics in widely distributed ancient and aboriginal populations and on present geographic variations in the frequency of certain genes, holds that “the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens may have expanded from a nuclear area (perhaps in Western Asia) to all of the world during a period perhaps 30 to 40 thousand years ago,” replacing or mixing with earlier human populations, and initiating the rapid cultural change of the late Paleolithic. That is about as specific as anybody can be about our ultimate ancestors with out taking a religious leap of faith.
The demographer Kenneth W. Wachter has created a simple probability model for the progenitors of an English child born in 1947. The child would have more than sixty thousand progenitors in the generation born at the time America was discovered, and ninety-five per cent of the slots on that tier of his pedigree would still be filled by different people. At the twentieth generation-around the time of John Wycliffe and the Peasants’ Revolthe would have roughly six hundred thousand progenitors, with a third of the slots filled by duplicates. Just before the Black Death, thirty per cent of England’s estimated population of three million six hundred and fifty thousand would be his progenitors. Around the time of King John, the widest point of his pedigree, with about two million different progenitors along a horizontal line, would be reached. Then the pedigree would start to narrow. At that point, each progenitor would be filling an average of sixteen slots, and the child would be descended from eighty per cent of the people in England.
The mathematics of descent has fascinated many people. “If we could go back and live again in all of our two hundred and fifty million arithmetical ancestors of the eleventh century,” Henry Adams wrote in 1904 of those with Norman-English blood, “we should find ourselves doing many surprising things, but among the rest we should certainly be ploughing most of the fields of the Contentin and Calvados; going to mass in every parish church in Normand y; rendering military service to every lord, spiritual or temporal, in all this region; and helping to build the Abbey Church at MontSaint- Michel.” And, more recently, the sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson has written, “The gene pool from which one modern Briton has emerged spreads over Europe, to North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. The individual is an evanescent combination of genes drawn from this pool, one whose hereditary material will soon be dissolved back into it.”
The genetic consequences of distant-cousin marriage are negligible. Only “relatively recent consanguinity . . . is pertinent,” Cavalli-Sforza and Bodmer explain in “The Genetics of Human Populations.” “In some human societies more distant consanguinities may have social significance, but from a genetic point of view the connection between two individuals who have one great great great grandparent in common (fourth half cousins) is . . . very tenuous indeed.” The children of couples more closely related than fourth half cousins, however, are at higher risk of inheriting a recessive genetic disorder. The more common genetic consequences of inbreeding include defects of the ear and eye, structural malformations, and various forms of mental deficiency. There is also a greater chance of miscarriage; inbreeding can reduce reproductive fitness, in other words.
Inbreeding greatly increases the possibility that a deleterious recessive will meet up with itself-that two genes that have passed down through different lines from a common ancestor will double up and produce the trait. The more recent the couple’s consanguinity is, the greater are the odds of their offspring’s being affected. The risk is determined by computing the average proportion of genes the consanguineous couple share from the common ancestor or ancestors; this proportion is the same as the probability that both will have anyone of these genes in common-a value that is known as the coefficient of kinship. A child shares half his genes with one of his parents, and thus their coefficient of kinship is one-half; full siblings share a quarter of their genes through each parent, and thus their coefficient is also one-half. For uncles and nieces, the value is one-eighth; for first cousins, one-sixteenth; for first cousins once removed, one-thirty-second; for second cousins, one-sixty-fourth; and so on. (It often happens that couples who are related in one way have other connections to each other as well. As Cavalli-Sforza and Bodmer explain, “the effect of multiple consanguinity is additive;” that is, such a couple may have a higher coefficient of kinship than the one they know about.) If both consanguineous parents are carriers of the recessive gene, the odds that their child will inherit it from both of them proceed according to the laws of Mendelian inheritance: the child has a onein-two chance of inheriting one copy, and thus being only a carrier; a one-infour chance of inheriting both copies, and thus expressing the trait; and a one in-four chance of inheriting neither.
Arthur Bloom, the director of the genetics division at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, in New York City, has studied the genetic consequences of inbreeding on Grand Cayman, a Caribbean island, northwest of Jamaica, that was colonized by the English in the eighteenth century and has about fifteen thousand inhabitants of mixed slave-and-English ancestry, who lived for many generations in five isolated population centers. Bloom told me not long ago that genetic problems have emerged in the last several generations. “It takes a number of generations before the gene frequency goes up enough for disorders to occur in significant numbers,” he explained. “Each population center has its own spectrum. A lot of children in West Bay have San Fillipo ‘A’ syndrome, a mucopolysaccharide-storage disease, usually lethal by adolescence, which is not seen on the East End. One per cent of the West Bay population is afflicted with a recessively inherited syndrome that we call Cayman disease-it includes retardation, ataxia, and disturbance of gait-and eighteen per cent are carriers, so it is a risky situation in terms of mating. Six in every thousand people in the East End are born deaf, which is the highest incidence known in humans-the normal incidence is one per thousand,” On Grand Cayman, as elsewhere, the deaf tend to marry each other, so that all their children are born deaf. Bloom collected several eight-generation pedigrees there that show a steady rise in the frequency of congenital deafness.
The Old Order Amish are the beststudied religious isolate. More than eighty thousand Amish live in the United States and Canada, seventy-five per cent of them in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Most are descended from the followers of a Mennonite bishop named Jacob Amman, who in the sixteen-nineties broke with the mother church and started his own sect. The main immigration-to Pennsylvania from Bern and AlsaceLorraine-began no later than 1727 and lasted until about 1790. The genealogical records of the Amish are extraordinarily good; most members of the sect can trace their complete ancestry, on every line, to the first immigrants. Eighty per cent of the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, have only eight surnames among them. The Amish do not proselytize, and they forbid marriage with outsiders. Some leave the fold, but very few enter it. “A strong system of sanctions, including. excommunication and shunning (M eidung), helps maintain the group,” the geneticist Victor McKusick and the sociologists John Hostetler and Janice Egeland write at the beginning of a book entitled “Medical Genetic Studies of the Amish.” The average consanguinity among the Amish may be at the level of third or fourth cousins; of a total of six hundred and twenty-seven marriages involving descendants of Johannes Schwartz and his wife, Anna Ramseyer, who were from Berne, Indiana, for instance, twenty-one and a half per cent were between second cousins or closer consanguines. The price of the Amish people’s endogamy has been a greater than normal occurrence of such afflictions as albinism, two recessive types of dwarfism, agoitrous cretinism, limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, lateral sclerosis, and neurofibromatosis. Not surprisingly, they take a great interest in hereditary illness. The Budget, an Amish weekly, runs long, detailed accounts of genetic ailments, which are sent in by members of Amish families from all over the country.
The noble houses of Europe have repeatedly intermarried, forming a political, as opposed to a geographic or a religious, isolate. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, for instance, were second cousins, but the houses of Aragon and Castile, to which they respectively belonged, had previously intermarried so often that the royal couple’s cumulative coefficient of kinship was much higher than one-sixty-fourth. One of their daughters-Joan the Mad-was insane. Contrary to widely held belief, however, inbreeding has had nothing to do with the “royal hemophilia” that has so far afflicted nine male descendants of Queen Victoria, including the Czarevitch Alexis Romanoff and an uncle of the present King of Spain, the Prince of the Asturias, who hemorrhaged to death after a car accident in 1938. The disorder sprang from a genetic mutation that is believed to have occurred in the X chromosome of Queen Victoria’s father, Edward, the Duke of Kent; it was inherited by one of her four sons and by two of her four daughters. Prince Edward was fifty-one when Victoria was conceived, and the germ cells of older men are more prone to some types of mutation. The execution of Czar Nicholas and his family and the untimely death of two afflicted Prussian princes have terminated Victoria’s Hesse line, but the mutant gene may still be carried by some of her English and Spanish female descendants.
Defective children of the European royalty and nobility were no doubt rarely seen in public. The British anthropologist Francis Galton wrote in the last century that “a large number” of victims of what he called “hereditary silliness” were kept out of sight by their families, although their existence was “well known to relatives and friends.” One striking-though possibly apocryphal-case of sequestration is related in a book called “Royal Scotland,” by the genealogist Sir lain Moncreiffe of that Ilk and the writer Jean Goodman. The first son of Lord Glamis is said to have been born, early in the last century, “in a hideous form with a massive body covered with matted black hair, tiny arms and legs, and a head sunk deep into his barrel chest.” The authors continue, “Obviously such a creature could not inherit the title [the Earl of Strathmore] and he was kept in a secret room [in Glamis Castle, the setting of “Macbeth”] and exercised on the roofs at night. He was believed to have lived to be well over a hundred and died in the early part of this century. To keep the dreadful secret only four men at any one time were allowed to know of the Monster’s existence. They were the Earl, the family lawyer, the agent to the estate, and the eldest son, who was shown the Monster, the rightful Earl, on the day that he came of age.”
Inbreeding levels are sensitive to political and technological change. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, for instance, after the Napoleonic code had abolished primogeniture in Continental Europe, first-cousin marriage increased in Italy as a means of keeping property in the family. But on the whole inbreeding has not been a problem in Catholic countries, because of the Church’s promulgation of “forbidden degrees” of consanguinity. Since the end of the nineteenth century, with the diffusion of local populations brought about by the Industrial Revolution, there has been a decrease in consanguineous marriage.
The world is becoming increasingly panmictic-a healthy development both medically and sociopolitically.
“The human species is young, perhaps not more than 10,000 generations old, and the major geographical races diverged from each other about 1,500 generations ago, at most,” the population geneticist Richard Lewontin writes in his book “Human Diversity.” “If anything is clear about the direction of human evolution, it is that the early differentiation of people into local groups, while still very much a part of our biological diversity, is on the decline. The unifying forces of migration and of common selection through common environment and common culture are stronger than they have ever been.” Most geneticists are in agreement that, as the science writer Guy Murchie has put it, “no human. . . can be less closely related to any other human than approximately fiftieth cousin, and most of us . .. are a lot closer.
The family trees of all of us, of whatever origin or trait, must meet and merge into one genetic tree of all humanity by the time they have spread into our ancestors for about fifty generations.” The “family of man,” which has been posited by many religions and philosophies (it was a central concept of the Enlightenment, for instance), actually exists.
All it takes for widely divergent populations to merge genealogically is migration by one person. “A single indirect genetic contact between Africa and Asia in a thousand years can make every African closer than fiftieth cousin to every Chinese,” Murchie has observed. “Surprisingly, this may happen without any natives of either continent doing any particular traveling at all, but simply in consequence of the wanderings of nomads in intermediate territory.” History can be seen, in other words, as a mosaic of billions of overlapping pedigrees. The kinship group to which we all belong extends indefinitely in every direction. Some genealogists have started to play with this notion. The new vogue in genealogy is horizontal genealogy. By charting the overlap in the pedigrees of recent American political figures, for instance, the genealogist William Addams Reitwiesner has discovered that the former White House aide Hamilton Jordan and former Florida Governor Reubin Askew are eighth cousins once removed; that former President Jimmy Carter and former President Richard Nixon are sixth cousins (both are descended from aNew Jersey Quaker named Richard Morris, who lived before the American Revolution); that Nixon and Vice-President George Bush are tenth cousins once removed; that Bush is a seventh cousin of Elliot Richardson, Attorney General in the Nixon Administration, and is also a kinsman of Ernest Hemingway and of the nineteenth -century plutocrat Jay Gould; and that California Senator Alan Cranston has in his constellation of known kin-through descent from a man named Robert Bullard, who lived in Watertown, Massachusetts, in the early seventeenth century-Queen Geraldine of Albania, Richard Henry Dana, Emily Dickinson, George Plimpton, the Dows of Dow Chemical, Julie Harris, and Margaret Mead.
The extent of our kinship is brought home even more dramatically, however, by traditional, vertical genealogy. “It is virtually certain. . . that you are a direct descendant of Muhammad and every fertile predecessor of his, including Krishna, Confucius, Abraham, Buddha, Caesar, Ishmael and Judas Iscariot,” Murchie writes. “Of course, you also must be descended from millions who have lived since Muhammad, inevitably including kings and criminals, but the earlier they lived the more surely you are their descendant.” The political implications of this great kindred are quite exciting. If all of us could be made aware of our multiple interrelatedness, if the same sort of altruism that usually exists among close kin could prevail through the entire human population, if this vision of ourselves could somehow catch on, then many of the differences that have polarized various subpopulations from the beginning of human history-differences that are for the most part the result of adaptation to disparate climate, of genetic drift, and of cultural vagary would seem secondary. The problems we have with each other would. become, as it were, internal.
HOW big is the human family?
We know that close to five billion people are alive today, but how many have there been in the past? According to the most carefully reasoned estimates, between sixty-nine billion and a hundred and ten billion people have lived since the appearance of human beings. The figures are based on an exponential growth curve interpolated between “benchmark estimates,” or key points at which there are data related to the size of the world’s population; the disparity is the result of differences in estimated birth rates and life spans and in the date of origin for “humans.” Although the
ascent of the curve is at first-and for many millennia-so gradual that it is largely lost in the thickness of the draftsman’s pen, the final tally is significantly affected by when one decides to begin the curve. Creationists, who start the human race with the placing of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden six thousand years ago, and who believe that in about 2400 B.C. a worldwide flood killed off everybody then alive except Noah and his family, come up with a considerably lower figure for the total number of people ever-fifty-one billion. Most historical demographers, however, begin their
curves a million years ago. Erect hominids-the australopithecinesare thought to have lived as long as four million years ago; the genus Homo is perhaps two million years old; archaic Homo sapiens lived around three hundred thousand years ago; and our race, Homo sapiens sapiens, begins to appear in the fossil record only about a hundred thousand years ago. So the choice of a million years ago is something of a compromise. The biologist Edward S. Deevey, Jr., has estimated that between a million years ago and twentyfive thousand years ago a total of thirty-six billion Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived, in generations averaging twenty-five years in length. Ten thousand years ago-the consensus date for the beginning of settled agriculture-the world’s population was a little over five million. The figure is based on a study of the territorial requirements of contemporary huntergatherers and on an estimate of the amount of land available for human exploitation-an estimate based, in turn, on geological evidence of the extent of the ice caps and on a reconstruction of the prevailing climate and rainfall patterns. By the beginning of the Christian era, when most people had become village farmers or city dwellers, the population had risen to between two hundred million and four hundred million. This slightly more informed guess, the demographer Ansley J. Coale explains, is based on surviving information about censuses within the Roman Empire, on imperial Chinese records, on a “tenuous estimate” by historians of the population of India around then, and on a “crude allowance for the number of people in other regions.”
The growth rate of a population is the difference between its birth rate and its death rate, and, beginning about 1750, the start of the “modern era” (which represents only twotenths of one per cent of human history), a number of developments combined to reduce mortality in the West, thus causing comparatively unrestrained growth. By 1750, of course, there were much more extensive written records, and the world’s population at that time can be estimated with twenty per cent accuracy to have been around eight hundred million. The curve, which for thousands of years has shown little more upward mobility than a straight horizontal line, now begins to rise steeply. “To begin with,” Coale recently told me, “there was a more abundant and more regular supply of food, because of an extension of cultivation, particularly in America; because foods from the New World-potatoes and maizehelped to cause an agricultural revolution in Europe; and because transport improved. Water supplies were cleared up, and sanitary habits changed-people, including doctors, started to bathe and to wash their hands more regularly. By 1825, medical innovations, such as smallpox vaccine, had begun to have an effect. Doctors stopped healing their patients by bleeding and purging, and in the latter part of the nineteenth century germs were discovered and anesthetics were invented. Real curative medicine did not begin until after 1930, with chemotherapy and antibiotics. The reduction in mortality affected growth in two ways: by prolonging life, it led to a larger population from a given stream of births, and by allowing more women to survive to procreative age it enlarged the stream of births.”
By the late nineteenth century, between seventy-five and eighty-five per cent of the women in the industrialized countries were surviving to the mean childbearing age of twentyeight. (This is about the current proportion in many parts of the Third World.) Coale estimates that until 1750 the average woman, over the span of her childbearing years, had six offspring, with the male-female ratio of the children about even, but that only one of the three daughters survived to become a parent herself. The early deaths not only depress the annual growth curve but figure, more significantly, in the computation of the total number of people born. Since 1750, the growth rate of the world’s population has risen from .56 per thousand to more than seventeen per thousand (with almost forty per thousand in prodigiously fertile Kenya), and the world’s population now stands at about four billion seven hundred million people. Nearly a billion of these people were born after 1970, and between four and seven per cent 43 of all the people who have ever lived are alive today.
Roughly ninety per cent of all the people who ever existed slipped into complete oblivion, without leaving even their names behind. The loss of their identities, like the extinction of a species, is irreparable. There is no “catalogue of catalogues” in which we might hope to find the name of everybody who has ever lived. Such records as were kept of human populations in the past have been ravaged by various agents of destruction. For instance, in the middle of the fourteenth century not only did the Black Death kill a third of the people in London but fires set to fumigate the victims’ quarters destroyed many of the documents by which they and their ancestors could have been identified. The earthquake of 1906 destroyed most of the birth and marriage records in San Francisco. During the bombing of Exeter in the Second World War, all the wills from southwestern England, which had been taken there for safekeeping, were destroyed. Professor Hsianglin Lo, of Canton, who had built up a priceless collection of Chinese clan genealogies, and had been forced to leave them behind when he fled to Hong Kong during the Communist takeover, later heard from a friend that his documents had appeared in a bookstore, which, unable to find another market, had sold them to grocers for wrapping paper. But loss of records is not the real problem. Most of the historical human population was never recorded. It has been estimated by the Genealogical Society of Utah that existing records of the dead name on the order of only six or seven billion people, almost all of whom lived after 1500.
The practice of conducting a regular, comprehensive census is a recent development in most of the world, although the Babylonians appear to have been doing it as early as 3800 B.C., and the Romans were inveterate census takers. The periodic assessment of adult male Roman citizens and their property was instituted by the sixth king, Servius Tullius, around 550 B.C. and continued until the Empire fell. In 158 B.C., three hundred and twenty-eight thousand citizens capable of bearing arms were enumerated. At the time of Caesar Augustus, the census was expanded to take in the whole Roman Empire. (One recalls how, in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem to be counted among the descendants of David.) Fragments of Chinese censuses in the fourth and fifth centuries of the present era have been found in the Tunhuang caves, in Kansu province; the demographer John Durand has discovered records of or references to hundreds of censuses taken between 2 A.D., when the golden age of the Earlier Han Dynasty was drawing to a close, and 1911, when the last Ching emperor was deposed. The Japanese were keeping track of themselves, with land registers that contained additional household information, by the seventh century, but the practice stopped in the eighth century, when the society became feudal. The inquisition records of the repressive Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), however, are as nearly comprehensive as most modern censuses; in fact, they represent the earliest instance of the gathering of vital statistics for almost a whole population.
The first post-Roman censuses in the West were Scandinavian: Sweden in 1539 (but just the taxable part of the population), Iceland in 1703 (a very thorough one, listing entire households). The first federal census in the United States was taken in 1790, and there has been one every ten years since. But until 1850 only heads of households were listed; the rest of the family appeared as numbers in age and sex columns, and Indians-unless they had been assimilated into white society -were not counted until 1860. Recent American censuses have probably undercounted by between one and three per cent. Russia did not conduct a fullscale census until 1897, and there have been only five censuses since. The 1897 census seems to have been conducted rather like one of the Christmas bird counts by the Audubon Society. It was all done in one day, January 28th (the reasoning was that people were most likely to be at home in the dead of winter), by a hundred and fifty thousand census takers, who filled more than thirty million sheets with data. Even visiting foreigners were counted. The 1897 census was a notable improvement, however, over the “revisions” of taxable “souls” (all males not in the nobility), started by Peter the Great. The first of these began in 1719 and dragged on until 1727. The twenty-three million souls counted in the tenth revision, which was completed in 1859, are estimated to have been only thirty-five per cent of the Czar’s subjects.
Most of the people in sub-Saharan Africa were not counted until after the Second World War. The first modern census in China was taken in 1953. The first census ever in the Sudan, also taken that year, is of questionable accuracy. Nigeria’s 1963 census was apparently a gross overcounting. Some people have never been counted. In 1981, at the request of some anthropologists, I took photographs and wrote down the names, ages, and clans of several dozen BaLese tribespeople who live in small villages in the Ituri Forest of northeastern Zaire, several days from the nearest road. It was the first time their existence had been documented.
The age of modern vital-record keeping is widely considered to have begun in 1538, when Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s vicar-general, ordered the parish clergy to record every christening, wedding, and burial (although the Japanese, whose Buddhist necrologies go back to the thirteenth century, and the Italians, whose baptismal records begin in the early fifteenth century, might not agree). Most of the other European countries were also keeping parish registers by the end of the sixteenth century. The usefulness of these records varies from country to country (one scholar recently ranked the German registers as the “most meticulous,” the French ones as “a hodgepodge,” and the Spanish ones as even more difficult than the French ones to evaluate), but in general parish registers are the meat and potatoes of European genealogists. Because they are restricted to local congregations, however, they are far from comprehensive; by the end of the seventeenth century they covered, at most, only half the European population. The first civil records were begun in France in 1792, and they are between ninety-five and a hundred percent complete. In the United States, most states did not begin to keep birth and death records until after 1900; American genealogists have had to rely on probate and land records, which have been kept since the beginning of Colonial history.
The names of people who lived before there were such things as parish or civil records are in short supply. Great Britain, because it has a relatively stable history (no one, after all, has invaded the island since 1066) and a remarkable capacity for accommodating social change, has accumulated the greatest volume and diversity of records from the Middle Ages. It has records of peasant land transactions back through the twelfth century; wills from as early as 1316; family histories of London merchants in the aldermanic class back to 1300; rosters of yeomen in fifteenth-century Leicestershire. But most of its records before 1538 are of the aristocracy. Throughout the world, where names from before 1500 have survived they are almost always of the tiny minority that belonged to a country’s hereditary elite.
Of the six billion to seven billion names of the dead which various societies are thought to have recorded for various reasons, about a billion and a half have been collected and stored in a climate-controlled, nuclear-bombproof repository twenty-two miles south of Salt Lake City. The rest are still at large, scattered around the world in a multitude of forms. The names in Utah are contained on about a million three hundred thousand rolls of microfilm. Each roll has an average of twelve hundred exposures; each exposure reproduces an average of two pages of written record; and each year, in forty countries, thirty-five to forty million more exposures are taken, by a hundred and fifteen cameras specially designed for filming records. Two of the cameras, for instance, are in Haridwar, India, the site of a popular Hindu shrine, where they are being used to film pilgrim registers kept by a caste of spiritual entrepreneurs called pandas; some families have been coming to Haridwar for centuries, and their records go back more than twenty generations. From time to time, oral pedigrees-such as those from the Tonga Islands, which were taped and transcribed by a local genealogist named Tevita Mapa-are shipped to the Granite Mountain Records Vault, as the repository is called. The vault was built for the Genealogical Society of Utah -another name for the Genealogical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the name that it uses for doing business with various governments and other entities that might be reluctant to deal with the Mormons. No genealogical archive is remotely comparable. The Mormon collection is the closest there is, and the closest there will ever be, to a catalogue of catalogues for the human race. The reason for its existence has to do with the Mormons’ religion -with their belief that the family is eternal and all-inclusive, and that each church member, in conformity with the teaching of Joseph Smith, Jr., the prophet and founder of the church, must “seek out” his ancestors and perform certain ceremonies for them, so that he and his entire family can all be united in the Celestial Kingdom. The multimillion-dollar, computerized operation is, in effect, an arm of the church’s missionary program.
THE first half of the nineteenth century was a religiously fecund period in the United States, as Fawn M. Brodie, a former Mormon, has shown in a remarkable biography of Joseph Smith, titled “No Man Knows My History.” Between 1814 and 1830, the Methodist Church split four ways, and there was even greater schism among the Baptists, who broke up into Reformed Baptists, Hard-Shell Baptists, Free-Will Baptists, Seventh-Day Baptists, Footwashers, and other groups. In Vermont, “half a dozen hills away” from where Smith spent part of his childhood, Isaac Bullard and his followers practiced free love and communism, regarded washing as a sin, and wore nothing but bearskin girdles. In New Y or k State, Ann Lee called herself the reincarnated Christ and founded a sect known as the Shakers, who whirled dervishlike, spoke in tongues, and were reputed to indulge in debauchery and to practice infanticide; Jemima Wilkinson proclaimed herself “the Christ” and “the U niversal Friend,” and appointed as her chief aide the prophet Elijah; William Miller, the founder of the Adventist Church, predicted that Jesus would revisit the earth and usher in the millennium in March of 1843, with the result that thousands auctioned off their property and bought ascension robes; and John Humphrey Noyes, the head of the Oneida Community, preached that the millennium had already begun. Faith healers and evangelists went from town to town, “preaching in great open-air camp meetings where silent, lonely frontiersmen gathered to sing and shout,” Brodie writes. “Revivalists knew their hell intimately-geography, climate, vital statistics-and painted the sinner’s fate so hideously that shuddering crowds surged forward to the bushel-box altars to be born again.” Some were seized with “the jerks;” others were seized with “the barks” and went crawling on all fours, vocalizing like dogs. Many frontier families belonged to no church, and a crusade was mounted by ministers of various Protestant denominations to convert them. In 1820, the crusade descended on western New York. Hundreds of people in the little settlements of Palmyra, Macedon, Manchester, Lyons, and Ontario were persuaded that the end was at hand, “confessed that the Lord is good,” and became “hopeful subjects of divine grace” at revival meetings, according to an account in a Rochester newspaper.
But the Smith family of Palmyra did not join any church. Both parents were antinomian. Joseph senior looked to his own dreams for guidance. His father-in-law had fallen into “a kind of senile mysticism, with lights and voices haunting his sickbed,” Brodie relates. A brother-in-law, Jason Mack, became a “Seeker” and set up in the province of New Brunswick “a quasicommunistic society of thirty indigent families whose economic and spiritual welfare he sought to direct.” Joseph junior wanted to join one of the newly formed congregations, but he didn’t know which one. When he was fourteen years old, he was visited by two personages “whose brightness and glory defy all description,” as he later reported. These identified themselves as God the Father and God the Son, and told him that there was no true church of Christ upon the earth and that he should join none of them. Three years later, on the evening of September 21, 1823, Smith had the first of a series of encounters with an angel named Moroni, who was barefoot and bareheaded, wore “a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness,” and had a “countenance truly like lightning.” In 1827, Moroni presented Smith with two golden tablets containing, in what Smith later described as “reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphs, the story of a lost tribe of Israel, which, led by the prophet Lehi, fled its homeland about 600 B.C. to avoid being conquered by the Babylonians, travelled by barge to somewhere in what is now Latin America, and there divided into two groups-the Nephites, a “fair and delightsome people,” who were farmers and templebuilders, and the Lamanites, “wild, and ferocious, and a bloodthirsty people.” In 420 A.D., having gradually moved north, these two groups fought each other in the Valley of Cumorah, near what became Palmyra. The Lamanites won. the battle, but their descendants, the Indians, were blighted with dark skin for having turned away from the Lord. This great battle eXplained the burial mounds in the vicinity, which had already fascinated Smith; he had spread the rumor that treasure was buried in them, and had persuaded friends to accompany him on digging expeditions. (The mounds are thought by archeologists to have been built by Indians, well before the arrival of white men, to hold the bones of their ancestors. The theory that the Indians were remnants of the “ten lost tribes of Israel” was widely held in the United States and Europe at the time of Smith’s meeting with the angel; William Penn, Roger Williams, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards had all espoused it.)
Smith translated the story on the tablets into English with the aid of magic spectaclelike instruments, also received from Moroni, and it became known as the Book of Mormon; Mormon was a N ephite prophet who had condensed the history of his people into the form in which it appeared on the tablets. Moroni, who was the last Nephite prophet, and a series of other heavenly messengers empowered Smith to restore the Gospel of Christ, to reestablish the authority of the priesthood, which had been removed from the earth after the death of the twelve original apostles, and to found the true Church of Jesus Christ. This he did on April 6, 1830. (Four years later, the phrase “of Latter-day Saints” was added.) Brodie describes Mormonism as “a real religious creation, one intended to be to Christianity what Christianity had been to Judaism: that is, a reform and a consummation.”
Smith was persecuted for his religious ideas, and he had to keep moving. In Hiram, Ohio, on February 16, 1832, the structure of the hereafter was revealed to him in a vision. It consisted of three levels: the Telestial, the Terrestrial, and the Celestial (a coincidence that, later in the century, would facilitate the conversion to Mormonism of the Catawba Indians, in the Carolinas, whose hereafter also happened to be three-tiered). As his church was getting started, Smith began to wonder about all the people who had lived before him: How were they going to receive the true Gospel and be savedl Searching in the Bible for direction, he found in I Corinthians 15 a verse that seemed to imply that baptism for the dead had taken place in the early church, and in I Peter 3: 18-20 he noted that Jesus, on returning from the dead, told the apostles that he had been preaching the Gospel to “spirits in prison.” On April 3, 1836, now in Kirtland, Illinois, Smith reported that the prophet Elijah had visited him, fulfilling a prediction of the prophet Malachi that Elijah would come to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” He began to expound to his followers what he called the “new and strange” doctrine of baptism for the dead, which Elijah had given him: the dead could enter the Celestial Kingdom only if this sacrament, or “ordinance,” was performed on their behalf, and the living could not be saved without their departed kin. Later, he divided the Celestial Kingdom into three tiers and created two more ordinances, which’ he made prerequisites for admission to the highest tier, which is called Exaltation. He extended the idea of the family to include not only all one’s living relatives but all one’s ancestors. “It is doubtful whether Joseph sensed the truly staggering implications of his endowment system,” Brodie writes. “Upon his church. . . rested the burden of freeing the billions of spirits who had never heard the law of the Lord.”
Having brought in everybody from the past, Smith considered it necessary to build up the living church membership-which continued to be heavily persecuted-as quickly as possible. After a revelation from the Lord on July 12, 1843, at his latest headquarters, in N auvoo, Illinois, he advocated “the plurality of wives” and told his followers that it was their religious obligation to procreate. The righteous, he said, would be blessed like Abraham with “seed as numerous as the sand upon the seashore.” A man’s posterity would constitute his kingdom and his glory in eternity, and the more children he had and the more of his dead he saved, the larger his kingdom would be. Not only that, but if a man had been righteous he would go on reproducing after death: the Lord would empower him to have “spiritual children.” On April 7, 1844, at the funeral of his friend King Follett, Smith said that “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid on us is to seek after our dead.” Two months later, Smith’s “earthly dispensation” came to an end when an angry mob broke into the Hancock County jail and killed him and his brother Hyrum. They were being held on charges of destroying the printing press of the N auvoo Expositor, which had published an editorial claiming that Smith had seduced women by promising to make them his “spirit wives.”
Bt then, Smith’s followers—there were now about twenty-six thousand of them-were already practicing polygamy and had begun to trace members of their families and to perform the ordinances for them. This “temple work” is still a central part of the religion, and each Mormon has spent hours, months, or years (depending on the depth of his commitment) tracking down his ancestors and taking their names to one of forty-one Mormon temples around the world. Gradually, the work has expanded; since 1939, w hen microfilming of American records began, the ordinances have been performed for all the dead, not just traceable relatives of living church members. Last year, ten million six hundred thousand names of the dead were “extracted” from microfilms by volunteers at eight hundred and seventeen “stakes,” as the Mormon parishes are called. In addition, there were about one and a half million “patron submissions,” the results of genealogical research that church members had done on their own. All these names were sent to the Genealogical Society’s headquarters, in Salt Lake City, and fed into an LB.M. 3081, one of the most powerful computers on the market, to make sure that temple work had not already been done for any of them. Twelve per cent of the extracted names and twenty-two to twenty-four per cent of the patron submissions “duped out.” The rest were “cleared” for temple work.
There are about five and a half million Mormons, and those who are deemed ready and worthy are encouraged to go to a temple as often as they can and perform the proxy ordinances. The temples are where the needs of the dead are taken care of, and where private covenants with the Lord are made and renewed; the regular Sunday worship takes place in a meetinghouse in each stake. Only Mormons in good standing, who have obtained a “temple recommend” from their bishop, can enter a temple, and nobody is supposed to talk about what goes on inside. Near the door, if they have not brought along the name of an ancestor, they receive the name of somebody of their own sex who has been cleared by the computer- J ose phina Maria Ximenes, let us say, whose name was recently extracted from a parish register filmed in Coixtlahuaca, Mexico, which had recorded her marriage on August 25, 1748, to a man named Juan Garcia. Then they strip down to their “temple garment,” which Brodie describes as “an un lovely and utilitarian long suit of underwear,” with holes at the nipples and Masonic symbols cut into the breast. (The pious wear their garment all the time, under their street clothes. ) After donning white ceremonial robes, they proceed into the temple, whose rooms are typically decorated with murals representing the Creation, the Garden of Eden, the modern world, and the Celestial Kingdom, and perform one of the three ordinances for Josephina.
The first to be performed is Baptism. Nobody is eligible to enter the Celestial Kingdom who has not been “born of the water and of the spirit.” A living person can be baptized wherever there is water deep enough for complete immersion-in a river, even in a swimming pool-but baptism for the dead can take place only in the temple. Children who died before the age of eight do not have to be baptized; they go automatically to the Celestial Kingdom. Baptism is for the remission of sins, and children are not considered to have reached “the age of accountability” -to know right from wrong-until their eighth birthday. (The Mormons do not believe in original sin.) The second ordinance, called the Endowment, is a series of covenants that one makes with God on behalf of the dead person one is sponsoring. The rite includes the purificatory washing and anointing of one’s entire body, including the “vitals,” by a member of the same sex. Smith, who became a Mason of the Sublime Degree in 1842, was fascinated, according to Brodie, by Masonic ritual-its costumes, its grips, its passwords, its keys, its oaths, its “veiled phallicism.” The Endowment used to run about two and a half hours, a regular templegoer told me, but “a very pleasurable movie about the Creation, with professional actors,” is now shown at most temples and has cut the ceremony to about an hour and a half.
The last ordinance is the Sealing, in which members of families are bound together “for time and all eternity”wife to husband, child to parent, generation to generation. The templegoer may seal his own ancestors or the dead provided by the computer. The work on one’s family is done in bits and pieces over one’s lifetime. Where there are breaks in a chain, one does research. Living couples may also be sealed in the temple. Such “celestial” marriages, which are also “for time and all eternity,” are very hard to undo; the parties must petition the president of the church-the incumbent is Spencer Woolley Kimballand satisfy him that they were wrong for each other and should never have been sealed in the first place. Cancellation of a sealing is a drawn-out process. Sometimes a sealed couple may not be able to get along but neither party wants to jeopardize the status of his immortality, so they separate or get a civil divorce without cancelling the Sealing.
Partly because what goes on in the temples is secret, a good deal of controversy surrounds the proxy ordinances, as it surrounded the church’s early practice of plural marriage. Some people, angered to learn that the Mormons were meddling with their ancestors, have accused the church of “spiritual kidnapping;” but the church is careful to explain that the dead have “free agency” to accept or reject the ordinances, just as the living have the right to choose whether or not to join the church. The church is also scrupulous about observing the “rights of privacy” of next of kin. No birth records are sent out for extraction until they are a hundred and ten years old -a rule that more than complies with every country’s statute of limitations regarding the privacy of such records. Records less than a hundred and ten years old may be submitted only by the person’s next of kin, and nobody who has died less than a year earlier will be considered, for two reasons: to give the next of kin, who may still be in mourning, a chance to “settle into the idea of whether they want to do this,” as a spokesman for the Genealogical Society recently eXplained to me; and to give the dead themselves a chance to be exposed to the Gospel in the spirit world. Mormons believe that if you were not receptive to the Gospel in life you may not be, initially, in the here after.
Most of the names that have been cleared are listed in the International Genealogical Index, an enormous file, which is periodically updated and which currently contains about eighty eight million names, broken down by locality, alphabetized, and carded on microfiche. Entries after an individual’s name, in addition to including information such as his date and place of birth, monitor the progress of his soul: when he was baptized, endowed, or sealed, and where. The Index is
available to the public in the society’s Genealogical Library, along with other genealogical materials the society has collected. It is also distributed to the church’s five hundred and fifty branch libraries worldwide and is sold to a number of non-Mormon libraries. As a tool for genealogical research it is unrivalled. But the religious motivation has occasionally caused problems. “Once in a while, a few people get indignant when they find their ancestors in the I.G.I. and see that temple work has been done for them,” Henry E. Christiansen, a longtime troubleshooter for the society, remarked in a recent conversation. “There are two kinds of objections-from people who have different religious opinions, and from people who are sensitive about the vital statistics of their immediate family being made known.” In a few cases, the names of people who were born out of wedlock have been removed from the Index at the request of a descendant, although legally, as Val Greenwood, an attorney who advises the society, explained, “the dead have no rights-in a court of law the next of kin would be hard pressed to make a case. “
THE Genealogical Society, which was incorporated in 1894, takes up one of the wings and the first five floors of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Office Building, in Salt Lake City. The twenty-eightstory building, a quartz-aggregate tower whose whiteness is scored by vertical slits of dark glass, is right off Temple Square, in the center of the city. It is part of the administrative complex of the Mormon Church and is the tallest building in Utah. At the foot of the tower are two windowless four-story wings, whose faPatronage of the society’s Genealogical Library, which is located in the west wing, has grown steadily over the years. After the 1977 broadcast of a television mini-series based on Alex Haley’s “Roots,” the number of visitors to the library doubled, to about three thousand a day. “There are all kinds of people in there,” a society official complained recently, “and we have no idea what they’re up to.” The library’s security guards keep a lookout for anything unusual, and an electric eye at the exits protects the books from being walked off with.
One cloudless morning not long ago, I presented myself at the office of Thomas E. Daniels, the society’s public-relations manager, on the second floor of the tower. A clean-cut, younglooking man of fifty-three, Daniels has fourteen grandchildren and one more on the way, and he projected a patriarchal gentleness not often found in public relations. “This is where the real action is,” he told me. “The Granite Mountain Records Vault is just the storage and developing arm of our Micrographics Division.” Daniels had arranged a tour for me that would put the society in the larger, Mormon context. My guide was a tall elderly man named C. Laird Snelgrove, who had spent fifty-three years in his family’s ice-cream business, which had been started by his father during the Depression. Recently, he told me, he had relinquished the day-to-day management of the company, to “give my sons their turn at the tiller,” and he was now serving as a volunteer host in the society’s public-communications department. Together we rode in a high-speed elevator to the twentysixth floor of the tower, which is flanked by two observation decks. The view, unobstructed in every direction, was awesome. To the east was a massive wall of mountains with conifers clinging to their sides, patches of snow lingering beneath their jagged summits, and ridges of wavy strata tilted almost to the vertical. This was the Wasatch Range, part of the western front of the Rockies. To the west, the arid gap between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada known as the Great Basin fell away, and on the western horizon stood a vast gray sheet of water-the Great Salt Lake. The purity of the air, which visitors a century ago had remarked upon (“The balmy air is instinct with immortal life,” John Muir said, and Sir Richard Burton declared, “It is indeed no wonder that the ignorant should fondly believe that ‘the spirit of God pervades the very atmosphere’ “), is a product of low humidity and high elevation (forty four hundred feet), and was still impressive, even though the tower rises in the middle of the seventy-eight-mile strip between Orem and Provo in which about a million people, or twothirds of Utah’s population, live. Salt Lake City was the cleanest city I had ever seen. As we took in the view, Snelgrove told me that the peopling of Utah had begun just below us, in the summer of 1847, when a hundred and seventy-two persecuted “saints,” most of whom had crossed the Mississippi a year and a half earlier in search of a place where they could practice their religion in peace, dammed what is now called City Creek in order to irrigate the crops, planted hastily in torched sagebrush, that would get them through the winter. A hundred yards from the tower were the Lion House and the Beehive House-adjoining gabled residences where Brigham Young and his twenty-seven wives lived when Young was governing the State of Deseret, which later became the Territory and, finally, the State of Utah. (“Deseret” is said by the Mormons to be the “reformed Egyptian” name for the honeybee, the embodiment of industriousness, which is an important Mormon virtue.) In the next block, behind fifteen-foot-high plastered brick walls forming a ten-acre square, were the church’s most sacred monuments: the Tabernacle, a domed, oval wooden structure, completed in 1867, where the church’s General Conference Session is held every six months and where the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings on Sunday mornings for a nationwide television audience; and the Salt Lake Temple, which is made of thick blocks of gray granite and looks indestructible. The Salt Lake Temple is the visual symbol of Mormonism, and is where the church’s two governing bodies-the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles-meet, once a week. Brigham Young wanted it built strong enough to withstand the great conflagration that Mormons expect before the arrival of the millennium, Snelgrove explained. The lines of the temple-six principal spires, each surrounded by three tiers of lesser spires, with a gilded Angel Moroni standing on the tallest of the principal spires and blowing a long trumpet to proclaim the restoration of the Gospelwere “given” to Young in a vision in 1853. The vision took forty years to execute.
Later in the morning, Snelgrove took me into Temple Square. Outside its south gate, a young woman who had apparently lost her faith thrust some literature on me. Snelgrove looked pained but said nothing. I put
the flyer in my pocket and read it later; it attacked the “barbarian” temple rituals. A sign inside the gate said, “Literature received outside gates is not part of Temple Square.” Snelgrove pointed out a bronze sculpture of a family group, with the husband yoked to a cart, and said that it was a monument to the “hand-cart companies,” made up of people proselytized in Europe in the eighteen-fiftiestradesmen, mostly, who had immigrated with their families, travelling up the Mississippi and the Missouri by steamboat as far as Council Bluffs, then setting out on foot for the State of Deseret, pulling carts containing their possessions. Between 1846 and 1869, when the transcontinental railroad was completed, roughly six thousand Mormons died en route to Zion; they lie buried in the Great Plains. It has been suggested that the robustness of present-day Mormons may be due partly to this winnowing process. But Mormons may be healthy simply because they lead wholesome, productive lives. Chase Peterson, the president of the University of Utah, who is himself a church member, showed me a study comparing the citizens of Utah, who are among the healthiest people in the country, with the citizens of Nevada, whose death rate in middle age is forty to fifty per cent higher than that of their peers in Utah, and whose fatalities from cirrhosis of the liver and from lung cancer are up to six times more numerous. Since neither the desert environment nor the average income nor the medical care in the two states is appreciably different, the dramatic contrast in the health of the two populations is probably due to differences in their way of life. “Utah is inhabited primarily by Mormons, whose influence is strong throughout the state,” the study, which was carried out by the economist Victor R. Fuchs, of Stanford University, explains. “Devout Mormons do not use tobacco or alcohol and in general lead stable, quiet lives. Nevada, on the other hand, is a state with high rates of cigarette and alcohol consumption and very high indexes of marital and geographical instability. The contrast with Utah in these respects is extraordinary.” Tom Daniels feels that the religion itself promotes good healthand not only by proscribing alcohol and tobacco. “When you have a culture that feels that it has the truth, it can result in a very sanguine feeling,” he told me. “The people are not encumbered with a lot of problems, because they have a mechanism for solving them. When loved ones die, there’s grief, but it’s not total loss, because we know that we’ll be with them again. The family orientation causes less parent-child strife, less stress in that department. We live by Exodus 20: ‘Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.’ Contention is a definite source of unsettled health.”
In the days that followed, I was allowed to learn about every aspect of the Genealogical Society’s operation except its budget. Concerning this I was told only that it is “in the millions” and is funded by the tithingeach Mormon’s contribution to the church of ten per cent of his earnings. I learned, however, that the data on one roll of microfilm costs between a hundred and a hundred and twentyfive dollars to acquire. Since each roll has an average of twelve hundred exposures, and about thirty-five to forty million exposures are taken a year, somewhere between three and four million dollars must be spent annually just to gather the raw genealogical material.
Over the years, the society has grown into a full-blown institution with a salaried staff of about five hundred, supplemented by about four hundred volunteers. Productivity is closely monitored; as has been noted, industry is an important Mormon virtue. The working environment is unusually salubrious. Nobody smokes, of course, and there are no coffee wagons (caffeine is also forbidden to Mormons); there are candy machines, though, on several of the floors. Occasionally, one catches an employee stifling a yawn at his desk. The society is always developing new ways to keep up with the material. Chairs are shuffled; new sections and divisions are created; old ones are merged or phased out. The society is not immune to the intrigues and power plays that seem to go on in every institution, and its bureaucracy sometimes gets carried away with itself, but in three weeks I spent as its guest I was unable to find any employee for whom the processing of dead people’s names was just a job. It seemed, on the contrary, a joyous communal effort.
The society’s Acquisitions Division has divided the world into four areas: the United States and Canada, Latin America, Western and Central Europe, and a catchall category known as “International,” which includes Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Each area has a “manager of acquisitions,” who is responsible for negotiating for permission to film records that qualify. Rarely is material more recent than 1900 gathered. Priority is given to the records of England, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries-since these have historically produced the most Mormons-and to records in imminent danger of destruction, like the colonial records in Sri Lanka, whose acquisition was described to me, by Monte McLaws, an Asian-records specialist, as “a race against time and worms.” He explained, “Some of the Dutch tambos, or registers of school enrollment and landowners, in what was then Ceylon go back to the seventeenth century. After the British took over, in 1796, they cranked up civil registration-births, marriages, deaths. All the names were entered in Sinhalese, Tamil, and English, but the Sri Lankans can’t afford to protect the registers, and they are just falling apart. Some of the pages crumbled to dust as we turned them, and on others the ink had eaten through, so we were filming holes-what would have shown through if we had held the pages to the light.”
When an acquisitions manager is negotiating with a government, a library, or ecclesiastical authorities for permission to film material, he offers a number of incentives: technology (the first microfilm laboratories in Poland, for example, were built by the society, in 1967); hard cash; a free print of everything that is filmed; and a guarantee tha’t the original films will be preserved in the Granite Mountain Records Vault as permanently as is humanly possible. The specialist plays down his theological motives and usually identifies himself as an employee of the Genealogical Society of Utah rather than of the church’s Genealogical Department. Many archivists are more than willing to cooperate. Most of the religious and civil records in Scandinavia have been filmed, for instance, and Hungary was finished in the nineteenfifties. The Soviet Union, however, is “a hard nut to crack,” Dennis N euenschwander, the acquisitions manager for the International section, said. “It is safe to assume that most of the material is in government archives: all the religious material-Armenian, Orthodox, Muslim, Lutheran, Jewish, Baptist, Old Believer-and whatever nobility records have survived. From the time of Catherine the Great, an official called the marshal of nobility kept track of the noble births, deaths, and marriages in each district, but many of those records were destroyed during the Revolution. We still don’t know what there is, or whether it is being kept at the central, state, or city level, because there are very few lists or indexes; the archivists simply don’t publish. As for being able to get into the country to film, that is still under discussion. The archivists are friendly but noncommittal.”
The prospects for filming in the People’s Republic of China are apparently better. In 1980, a delegation of mainland Chinese came to the society’s second World Conference on Records, obviously with the aim of sniffing out the operation. Its report was favorable, and the Chinese government later agreed to film the First Historical Archives, in Peking, for the society; the archives contain the records of the Ching dynasty from its inception, in 1644, to its end, in 1911. “The administration of the imperial household was like a city within a city, and its records are voluminous,” I was told by John Orton, another Asian-records specialist, who had just returned from China. Orton had also been able to see some of the rest of the country. “There appeared to be more records than we have given the Chinese credit for,” he said. “During the Cultural Revolution, in the late sixties, many records were burned, but some people were able to fortify their archives and to stave off the Red Guards. And many of the clan genealogies were saved because multiple wood-block prints of them had been made. I even saw a mud-block print.”
In Switzerland, where the society has been filming off and on since 1950, parish registers in twelve cantons have been acquired; the other fourteen cantons have not yet let the cameras in. In South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church of the Afrikaners has microfilmed its own parish registers, which go back to 1652, and is about to be approached by the society. (The records are already available to individual researchers, even though they show frequent instances of miscegenation.) Haiti and Uruguay have turned the society down. Negotiations with the Coptic Church, in Cairo, are in progress. The society has been proceeding circumspectly in Western Europe, because the Council of Europe is sensitive about the confidentiality of old parish registers and about records’ being used for purposes other than those for which they were originally kept. During the nineteen thirties, the Nazis started collecting civil, parish, and synagogue records in Germany to find out who was of “the pure blood” and who was not. After the extermination of Jews had begun, the same records were used to identify clandestine matrilineal Jews who might otherwise have escaped notice. Jews were defined by the Third Reich as people with at least two practicing Jewish grandparents, and non-Jews who were married to Jews as of September 15, 1935, were considered to be Jewish by association. As country after country fell, its genealogical records were microfilmed and sent to Germany. Understandably, the Council of Europe is now wary about “trans-border data flow.” But just before my visit a French Commission on Data Privacy had come and inspected the operation, and its report was favorable.
In England, there is a different problem-one of decentralization. Most of the parish registers are still in situ, so the acquisitions manager for Western and Central Europe has to go from parish to parish and negotiate with each one individually. Although the society has been filming in England since the Second World War, the job there is only about two-thirds done. The United States presents yet another problem-one of duplication; each American name is gathered an average of eleven times. Even so, many records are still at large. Because of this country’s seventy-two-year statute of limitations on the release of census records, the society has only recently got into the data sheets from the 1910 census; and although in Connecticut, for example, it started work in the forties, it is still filming, in town halls, land and probate records and early naturalization records (for which the federal government did not assume responsibility until 1906). “Once you get out of New England, you don’t find vital records earlier than 1900, except for marriage records, which generally began to be kept in the mid-nineteenth century,” Wayne Morris, the acquisitions manager for the United States and Canada, told me. “A lot of people-like my ancestors, who were illiterate salt of the earth from the swamps of North Carolina-lived in virtual anonymity.”
After permission to film material has been obtained, “listers” go in and itemize each record. The listers are followed by the cameras. (In remote parts of the world, the listing and the filming can overlap.) The camera, unlike industrial microfilm cameras, is portable, and it was specially developed by technicians at the society. The whole apparatus, including floodlights and a collapsible mount with a tray for displaying the material, fits into two suitcases. The film is delivered through regular mail and by the United Parcel Service to the Granite Mountain Records Vault and is developed there. Copies are sent to the donors of the material and to the stakes, for extraction by volunteers, each of whom has been trained to decipher the antique scripts of a particular language.
The most perishable (and anthropologically important) records are, of course, the ones that have never been written down: the genealogical chants of tribal people-Bedouins, Indonesian and South Pacific islanders, Senegambians-whose oral traditions are still alive. One of the deepest oral pedigrees on record-some seventy generations-was chanted for an Asian-records specialist named Lynn Carson by an old man on the island of Nias, off Sumatra, in 1980. Carson’s family was among the original “saints”: every branch of it had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley by 1851. Two Carson brothers were killed by Ute Indians in 1856; Lynn Carson wrote a monograph about them which was published by an organization of their descendants. (Family organizations are common among the Mormons.) Carson, a boyish man of fortytwo, told me that after years of taping oral genealogies in various parts of the world he has come to feel “very much at home in strange places.” Recently, he reminisced about his trip to Nias: “I had been hiking with a guide for hours through muddy jungle. Finally, after dark, we reached a hut on posts, with a high-peaked thatched roof. Inside, seated on a straw mat, was a man in a turtleneck shirt that said ‘His’ on it in Gothic lettering. He must have been in his late seventies. His teeth were red from chewing betel nuts, and he kept spitting the juice through a gap in one of the plank walls. He invited us to sit with him. I handed him the traditional gift.” It was with considerable embarrassment that Carson confessed what the “traditional gift” was-a bottle of some kind of liquor he had picked up locally. “The old man seemed grateful that we were interested in his people, and he began to chant the names of his forefathers on a straight-line basis. Some of his grandsons and greatgrandsons were there, and he made them sit through the recital, which went on for over an hour. He was concerned that they learn the pedigree. We taped the whole thing and played it back for him, and he listened intently, nodding and smiling from time to time.”
The old man was a chief in a circumscribed society, whose modes of inheritance and succession had been determined perhaps thousands of years earlier and had been strictly adhered to ever since. The oral genealogical traditions of island societies in the South Pacific are equally venerable, but the practice of chanting pedigrees is dying out in many of them. The younger generation has discovered new, more exciting forms of entertainment, and wherever the European system of land tenure has been adopted the need for traditional genealogical title defenses has disappeared. Sadly, the Genealogical Society’s oral-genealogy program, which began in 1968 and has since spread into thirty-eight countries, where it has amassed five hundred hours of tape and twelve hundred separate pedigrees, is being phased out. “The time it took to win people’s trust and get them to start reciting-a lot of the chants are sacred-wasn’t justified by the number of names we were acquiring,” George Fudge, the society’s director at the time of my visit (he has since retired), explained. Fudge, a rather dour man in his middle sixties, has a faint residual English accent, which contrasts markedly with the Utah twang of most of his associates; he emigrated from northern England as a young man. “Sometimes we had trouble finding people to transcribe the tapes who knew the dialect,” he continued. “It’s one thing to have somebody mumbling into a tape recorder and another thing to try writing it down. And frequently there was a problem with how accurate the information was in the first place.”
One society official who is familiar with the oral-genealogy program told me that it was being dropped because of internal politics. “Management is too English -parish -register-oriented,” he said. He added that there had been pressure from what he called the “Maoists” in the society-the more
dogmatic, ideologically pure Mormons, who were interested only in
saving as many souls as possible. The decision to discontinue the oral-genealogy program means that many of the ancestors of the world’s tribal people -whatever the five hundred thousand natives of the Amazon Basin can remember of their ancestry, for instance -will not be recorded. Their dead will be “lost souls” as far as the Mormons are concerned.
ONE afternoon, Tom Daniels took me into a darkened room on the third floor of the Office Building, where a part of the operation known as the extraction audit was being carried out. Half the room was piled high with parcels that had come in from the stakes. The parcels contained hundred-foot rolls of microfilm, each in a round steel can the size of a small tin of pipe tobacco, and yellow “extraction” cards, the size of computer punch cards, on which the names of the dead on the films had been entered. In the other half of the room, thirteen women were sitting at microfilm readers checking the extraction cards against the microfilm. Each name had already passed through three “extractors” at the stakes; now the quality of their work was being checked. Because it was impracticable to review each entry, the women spot-checked names randomly selected by computer from every batch.
The room was completely silent. One woman was going over a christening performed in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1865; another had a Catholic parish register from Westphalia open to the year 1691 on her screen. Another was checking the record of a marriage that had taken place in Rougemont, Switzerland, in 1778. There were people in the room who could read Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Greek, and Mexican Indian dialects. A woman named Lynnette Stroud, who was expert in English, Scandinavian, German, French, and American paleography, showed me a chart of all the “hands,” or scripts, she had to know to read English parish registers before 1754: bastard hand,! secretary hand, printed secretary hand, I engrossing secretary hand, Chancery hand, King’s hand, remembrancer’s hand, pipe-office hand, legal handall of which were illegible to me. “After 1754,” she said, “it gets normal.” Occasionally, mistakes slip through, because an extractor in, say, Barry County, Missouri, is not familiar with the local surnames in Hertfordshire, England, or because an entry is only half legible, so that the surname is misconstrued. This happened to the Bickleys of the parish of St. Leonard, in Shoreditch, a borough of London, who went into the computer as Buckley. Rolls that fail the audit are sent back for reextraction.
In a windowless brick building across the street, the church’s LB.M. 3081 stores the names of the cleared dead-along with each name’s associated event (birth, christening, marriage, death), the event’s place and date, and any names of known relatives-in a system code-named GIANT, for Genealogical Information and Names Tabulation. GIANT catches duplicates. The input for the system is I entered on 4-Phase Model 470 and; Datamark 1600 minicomputers by employees and volunteers in the society’s Data Entry Section. There are also thirty centers around the country where locally audited names, generated by extraction or patron submission, are entered. Reynolds Cahoon, the director of Projects Planning and a member of one of the oldest Mormon families, talked about the clearing process with me one afternoon. “We went to GIANT in 1969,” he said. “Before that, the work was done manually. Church members submitted ‘family group sheets’ containing three generations of their ancestors or, less often, of other people whose pedigrees they had traced, and our staff had to do all the cross-checking. By 1970, when we were fully computerized and the file was declared static, we had five million family-group sheets, with about thirty million names.” These names, typed on file cards and alphabetized by surname and by country of birth, are kept in a basement room in the Office Building, which resembles the card catalogue of a large li1uary and is called the Temple Index Bureau. Eventually, Cahoon said, everybody in the Temple Index Bureau would be transferred to a “son of GIANT.”
Each newly received dead person’s name and its accompanying data are run through hundreds of GIANT’s “program modules” -proprietary software designed by the society’s own resident programmers-to make sure that he has not already been cleared for temple work in another guise: Ann Brown of New York City, for instance, may have already been processed as Hannah Braun of Nieuw Amsterdam. Names, dates, and places have different “uniqueness factors,” Cahoon told me. “Reynolds Cahoon is a high-uniqueness-factor name; John Smith is not. Each name is assigned a statistical uniqueness factor, which has been determined by studying demographic records and learning the frequency of the name’s occurrence. Obviously, if you know the names of a person’s parents or children, that is even more uniquely identifying.” Apparently unconcerned with the conceptual difficulties raised by degrees of uniqueness, he continued, “The uniqueness factor of a place depends on its size and population. Dates become increasingly unique the more complete they are, with the year, month, and day being the most unique. The earlier the date, the less unique it is, because the probability increases that somebody else has already found that he was descended from the same person and has submitted the person’s records.” Uniqueness decreases with time, in other words, because the probability of being related to any given individual increases, and because the number of records available for genealogical research decreases. “The uniqueness factor of the year 1500, for instance, is .003. The uniqueness factor of 1980 is 2.68.”
Once the uniqueness factors for the dead person’s name, event place, and event date have been determined, GIANT computes his over-all uniqueness factor. If this is below a certain threshold, his entry is rejected. If it is high enough, his entry is matched against the other names from his locality who have already made it into GIANT’s data bank, which is called the Genealogical Mass File. If the person is from a “high submission” area, a request is generated to check the Temple Index Bureau as well. If the person is found in either place, he “dupes out.” If not, he has “cleared.” He joins the Genealogical Mass File, and his name is included in a packet that is sent to one of the temples, and it is also entered in the International Genealogical Index, the public part of the File. (There are exceptions to entry in the Index-for instance, those whose next of kin have petitioned to have their name remain confidential.)
Putting refined computer technology in the service of nineteenth-century millennialism might strike some as peculiar, but Tom Daniels has no trouble explaining it. “People don’t understand why they invent things,” he said. “All things that are conceived are conceived in the preexistence.” The preexistence is another Mormon doctrine: the mortal body is a “probationary state” between the preexistence -in which we existed for aeons as God’s “unembodied” spiritual children-and eternity. “Maybe this is parochial,” he says, “but I see modern technology as coming on primarily for the Kingdom of God and secondarily for secular purposes.” Nobody is more forward-looking than Reynolds Cahoon. “This system is too old,” he complained of GIANT. “It needs to be replaced. It was written before highlevel languages and data-base management systems came on. They have evolved greatly, and our whole theory of names processing is going to change. People aren’t like airplane parts. The matches aren’t perfect. They don’t always have the same name all their lives, for instance. I think we should move toward making human beings more efficient in doing the job.”
The society is worried that it is falling hopelessly behind. Each year, about fifty-five million people around the world die, but only between five and six million of the dead have proxy ordinances performed for them in Mormon temples. Each year, many more names are filmed than are extracted, slightly more are extracted than are cleared (ten and a half million to eight million in 1984) and many more are cleared for temple work than have work done for them. Even if the society lost access tomorrow to all the remaining un filmed records in the world, it would still be busy for perhaps two hundred years. In 1974, while dedicating a new temple in Washington, D.C., President Kimball spoke about the pressing need to catch up: “The day is coming not too far ahead of us when all temples on this earth will be going day and night. There will be shifts and people will be coming in the morning hours and in the night hours and in the day hours. . . because of the great number of people who lie asleep in eternity and who are craving, needing, the blessings we can bring them.”
IN 1972, the society created the Royalty Identification Unit and put Robert Gunderson, who has been tracing royal pedigrees since he was a teen-ager, in charge. If a person who is “medieval” (pre-1500) or “royalty” (a category that includes the various hereditary nobilities) is submitted, his case is referred for special handling to the unit. Most of the royal and the more prominent noble pedigrees are well-travelled avenues of descent, and the rates of duplication-and of fabrication, among people endeavoring to make a connection to them-are particularly high. In 1984, Gunderson and his two assistants, Rachel Kirk and Tina Plaizier, personally cleared almost eighteen thousand names for temple work and rejected as duplicates many others. Gunderson is probably one of the world’s most productive genealogists, but his work is not widely known; he seldom publishes, and he confesses to being a poor correspondent. “I’d rather spend my time on the charts,” he told me when I called on him one morning. I asked why connecting the names of the dead was important for temple work. “The church is responsible for all the dead,” he explained, “but the individual church member is primarily responsible for his own ancestry. If he comes upon a line of his progenitors that we have already traced-which happens with most of the cases we deal withthis frees him to start working on another one.”
Gunderson was sitting at a long table piled high with pedigree charts, each of which contained five “lineagelinked” generations, together with numbers referring to the previous and the following charts of descent. He estimated that he had four or five thousand charts out on the table and a couple of thousand more filed away. Most of them traced the kings and queens of England and their kin-his specialty. From time to time during our talk, his telephone rang, and Gunderson picked it up and answered, affably, “Royalty.”
“I probably would not be in the least bit interested in genealogy if it wasn’t for my religious beliefs,” he told me. “Mormons believe that to be resurrected and to inherit a degree of glory you have to do nothing. You will receive immortality, and we know that it will be a marvellous inheritance, because the Bible says that ‘a day with the Lord is as a thousand years with man.’ Even on the bottom rung-the Telestial-you will be an angel. Joseph Smith said that if a man could just glance into the Telestial he would commit suicide to get there. But angels can’t have posterity increase, whereas if you enter the upper thirdthe Celestial Kingdom-you can create spiritual children, besides those born to you in life. Man is that he might have joy, and joy is expanding and having children, providing for others, and helping them to reach their capabilities. The joy of parenthood is teaching your children to cope with life. The joy of temple work is enabling people to go to the Celestial Kingdom, and helping them go prepared. Without receiving through endowment the gift of knowledge, which is an essential part of the progression, and without entering into the everlasting category of marriage, you wouldn’t be happy there; you’d be like a drunk in a swank place, or somebody who was out of his social element. If I didn’t have these beliefs, I probably wouldn’t be in the least interested in genealogy. I’d probably be out making money.
“I landed my first job here in 1964, as a researcher, and as soon as the Royalty Identification Unit came into existence I started collecting the descendants of Edward IV. This in itself was an impossible task-after four or five generations, there are more than you can count-so I took a bigger bite and went four generations farther back, to Edward III. All Americans with British ancestry are probably descended from Edward III, although many of the connections we’ve looked at haven’t held up. At the same time, I started working backward, from Prince Charles. A lot of his maternal ancestry is lost, because the wives weren’t named, but after twelve years I’ve got him descended from Edward III almost two thousand different ways. If you just kept plugging away at these two pedigrees, you would eventually run into everybody in history. Imagine what it would be like if there was a structure-a computerized ancestral file-that everybody could tie into. That’s the day we’re all working toward.”
I asked if anything was being done about early historical figures, like Moses, Socrates, and Cleopatra.
“At this point, we aren’t involved with Biblical people, or with historical people before 200 A.D.,” Gunderson said. “We consider that Moses and the prophets have done all their own work, and other Biblical figures will be done in the millennium, under the direction of the Lord.”
I was hoping that Gunderson could confirm a story from my father’s side of the family. Among the few possessions that my paternal grandparents took with them when they left Russia, in 1917, was a copy of a miniature by the portraitist Peter Sokoloff, who painted many of the notables during the reign of Nicholas 1. The miniature, in a red velvet frame, shows an ethereally beautiful young woman-a blue-eyed brunette whose hair is in an enormous chignon interwoven with strands of pearls, and whose bare shoulders are draped with a filmy stole. The woman’s name is Sophie Phillipeus. My paternal grandfather was her grandson, and the miniature had been in his parents’ house in Moscow. According to family legend, Sophie was a granddaughter o( a Frenchwoman named Josephine Emilie-Louise de La Valette, who-as every French schoolchild knows-saved her husband’s life by changing clothes with him in prison. Her husband, Comte Antoine-Marie de La Valette, had been Napoleon’s Postmaster General, and in the Bourbon Restoration he was sentenced to the guillotine. The ruse enabled him to escape to Luxembourg. Mme. de La Valette went mad in prison, and after the Bourbon government released her she spent the rest of her life in a sanitarium. The story of her self-sacrifice was recounted widely, and may have given Charles Dickens a good part of the inspiration for “A Tale of Two Cities.” Having heard this much of the story, Miss Kirk excused herself, and after twenty minutes she returned with Volume C of a British publication entitled The Gentleman’s Magazine & Historical Chronicle for January to June, 1830. In it she had found the following obituary: “Feb. 15. At Paris, M. de Lavalette, formerly Director-General of the Post-Office, who was condemned to death in 1815, but was saved by the heroic conduct of his lady.”
M. de La Valette’s maiden name was Beauharnais. She was a niece of Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais, the first husband of Empress Josephine, and served as lady-in-waiting in charge of the Empress’s wardrobe. Around that time, she became involved with Napoleon’s younger brother, Louis Bonaparte. Napoleon was not in favor of the match, and he forced her to marry de La Valette, a man seventeen years her senior. After their marriage, de La Valette went off on the Egyptian campaign, and she stayed with an uncle at Fontainebleau, where she contracted smallpox. (This may explain why her husband had so many mistresses after he came back from Egypt.) At the time that she sprang her husband from prison, Mme. de La Valette was four months pregnant with a child who, if the family story is correct, would marry a man named Phillipeus. My grandmother had told me that Phillipeus was Swedish and was a “governor of Warsaw;” she had no idea what his first name was. Sophie, she said, was their daughter.
Gunderson went into his files, and in less than a minute he had come up with thirteen pedigree charts linking Josephine Emilie-Louise de Beauharnais in an unbroken patrilineage to Guillaume de Beauharnais, born in Orleans in about 1365. Unfortunately, there were no charts going in the other direction. J’here was nothing about Josephine Emilie-Louise’s children-nothing that would have enabled me to claim her as anything more than a putative ancestor. Gunderson and I looked through the A nnuaire de la Noblesse de France and the Repertoire de Genealogies Franqaises lmprimees and discovered all sorts of de La Valettes; twenty-seven other families had used the name, which is a nobiliary epithet rather than a surname. One family, the Pari sot de La Valettes, produced a grand master of Malta, for whom the capital, Valletta, is named. According to some versions of our family history, which I got from other relatives, the wife of the “governor of Warsaw” was Julie or Marie Parisot de La Valette. That would mean, of course, that she was not a daughter of Josephine Emilie-Louise at all. Gunderson apologized for not being able to settle the matter. “We’re barely scratching the surface,” he explained. “A great deal of the European nobility isn’t getting into the machine. We don’t even know how much material is available. In Poland, for instance, where I suggest you try for Phillipeus next, there are castle archives we haven’t got to at all. And a lot more people are involved than have been recorded. Many records give only the male lines, or only the lines of first sons. “
All the BeauJ1arnais family members in Josephine Emilie- Louise’s line, I noticed on their pedigree charts, had been baptized, endowed, and sealed between 1937 and 1949 by a woman named Amy Hagman Young. “She was an ardent genealogist who married one of Brigham Young’s grandsons,” Gunderson said, “and she discovered an illegitimate descent through a Swedish prince on her father’s side which would have made her the second great-great-grandniece of Josephine.”
“Does that mean I could be related to Brigham Youngl” I asked.
“Well, you could be-but I doubt if you are through Amy Hagman Young,” Gunderson replied. “I’m pretty sure the Hagman-Beauharnais connection is spurious. There are four basic types of illegitimacy: recognized, circumstantial, traditional, and fraudulent. This seems to be a case of the last. I’ve looked into it, and I’ve found out that the Swedish prince who was supposed to have fathered Amy Hagman Young’s ancestor was clear at the other end of the country when the mother conceived. A lot of these family traditions are romancy. There are two very common myths in AmeriI can families. One has a woman being made pregnant by a duke or a prince and then migrating to America-a Royal father makes the illegitimacy more acceptable. The other myth has three brothers coming to America together. One settles in New England, the other in the Middle Atlantic states, the third in the South. I’ve heard that for a hundred families. It might be true for one of them.”
That afternoon, in the society’s Genealogical Library, I tried Poland. Nothing on Phillipeus turned up in the Polish Encyclopedia or in the other basic references-which was puzzling, considering that he had been the governor of Warsaw. Rather than spend weeks going through the society’s Polish microfilms with no guarantee of success, I decided to try the Swedish angle. I went to the Scandinavian reference section and eXplained the situation to one of its reference consultants. She concluded from the Latin ending on my third greatgrandfather’s name that he was probably Lutheran. Lutheran priests Latinized their surnames; Linnaeus and Sibelius, for instance, came from Lutheran priestly families. In a genealogy of the Swedish nobility, she picked up a marriage in 1782 between a woman named Maria Caroli Strahlman and a councillor in the Finnish city of Sortavala named Carl Phillipeus. Sortavala was in Viipuri County, which was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and is now known as Karelia. She pulled the microfiche for Viipuri from the International Genealogical Index and found dozens of Phillipeuses, spelled five different ways-a whole Finnish line of my family which none of us had known about.
I have since learned a little more about Phillipeus. As I had begun to suspect when nothing about him turned up in the Polish records, he was not a governor of Warsaw; rather, he was a high-ranking officer in the Russian administration of Poland that began in 1815. His first name, depending on the nationality of the document in hand, was Friedrich or Fyodor. The mysterious de La Valette woman gave him four children. One of them, named Alexander, was a merchant in the Far East and had an estate in Karelia called Kamchatka, after the peninsula between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea, where he did a lot of his trading. (From a greataunt who had summered at the estate I later inherited three photographs of some marvellous-looking people seated on a porch drinking tea from a samovar.) Alexander’s brother, Constantin, was an intellectual, who translated “Boris Godunov” into German verse. Their maiden sister, Natalia, became headmistress of a school for girls in Warsaw. The fourth child, Sophie, married a man named Constantin von W ullfert and was my great-greatgrandmother. Sometime before 1840, Friedrich, or Fyodor, Phillipeus and the de La Valette woman were divorced. She married a banker in Warsaw named Halpert. He married a Karelian woman named Natalia Lindstrom, who gave him two more daughters, and on November 13, 1871, he died. I have since looked for his first wife in various archives in New York and Paris. Perhaps some day the mystery of which of the de La Valettes she was will be cleared up, but at the moment the woman is still a phantom.
While I was tracing Mme. Phillipeus in the Genealogical Library, hundreds of other people were engaged in similar quests. Occasionally, the silence that filled the library’s public stacks and reading rooms would be broken by a mumed gasp from somebody who had made a breakthrough, but I witnessed no greater outbursts, although shortly before my arrival a woman hot on the trail of her antecedents had reportedly kicked the shin ofa reference consultant who wouldn’t surrender a restricted record she needed. In an aisle of the French section, I struck up a conversation with a man named Raymond Lapointe, who worked as a medical technician for the California Department of Corrections in Vacaville, and who was trying to trace his ancestry from Quebec back to France. Three families named Audet had immigrated to Quebec in the seventeenth century, he told me, and their three homesteads had formed a triangle. His ancestors had lived at the apex of the triangle, and to distinguish them from the others they had become known as the Audets de la Pointe; in 1670, the name Audet had been dropped by his branch of the family.
A little later, I sat down at a reading table next to another Californian, who was ecstatic. In one day, he, his wife, and their two children, working as a team, had gone back a hundred and forty years. He had emigrated from Hungary eight years earlier and was still struggling with English. “We have come from Santa Monica,” he told me. “We heard that there is a big library in Utah where you can find everything about Hungary. We would like to find our old family-where from and what kind of class.” He was pressing to his breast a military book titled “Magyaroroszag Tiszti Cim es Nevtara,” in which he had discovered that one of his grandfathers had attained the rank of general. “In Hungary,” he said, “we never can touch this kind of book, because of cen’Zura.” The way he was hugging the book reminded me of something the Indian historian B. N. Goswamy had written: “There is a peculiar tug at the heart when you come face to face with the record of your family, signatures and names of well-loved persons no longer alive. . . the records remain intensely human, possessed of a warmth which is denied to many sources of history. “
Besides the gratification and the sense of continuity to be derived from making contact with long-forgotten ancestors, genealogy has two practical uses. Lawyers working on inheritance cases and professional genealogists retained by lawyers and probate courts use the society’s library regularly. This type of research is known as forensic genealogy. When a person dies intestate, his estate passes to his next of kin. In the standard Western inheritance pattern, the first in line is the spouse, who usually gets half the estate.
Next are the descendants: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Then come the ascendants: parents, grandparents, and so on. Then come siblings, and their descendants; then aunts and uncles, and their descendants, who are first cousins to the decedent, first cousins once removed, and so on; then on up to great-aunts and great-uncles, if they are stillliving; then out to the next parentela, or line of blood relations-the second cousins, who share a set of greatgrandparents with the decedent; and so it goes. Except in the case of the spouse, who unless he or she is a consanguine of the decedent shares no genes with the decedent, the order of heirship is similar to the coefficient of kinship.
The second practical use of genealogy is to further the understanding of hereditary disease, and no group has been more valuable for this than the Utah Mormons, for a variety of reasons besides the excellence of their records. The size of the populationabout a million descendants of about twenty thousand pioneers now live in Utah-is ideal for genetic research, since it is “large enough. . . to insure that genes of interest are represented with samples large enough to give significant results,” as the population geneticist Mark Skolnick writes in a 1980 paper published by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “Most of the gene pool comes from an initial population of New England and Midwestern origin, augmented by three waves of migration from the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Germany,” he explains. Because the pioneers who founded the population were largely unrelated and their collective coefficient of kinship was very low, dominant and recessive modes of inheritance are easier to distinguish among their descendants than they are in highly inbred religious isolates, like the Amish. The historical desire of Mormons to have large families is also a major asset in a study of their genetics, because large numbers of offspring make for greater statistical power. For much of the last century, the Mormons produced more than eight children per couple, and their present fertility rate (28.6 live births per thousand people in 1980) is very close to double the national rate. Before 1890, when the church’s president, Wilford W oodruff, under heavy pressure from the, federal government, published a manifesto advising church members to abstain from plural marriage, polygamy was practiced by probably between five and ten per cent of the Mormon men, some of whom had dozens of children by multiple wives. The presence of plural marriage in many Mormon pedigrees gives the geneticist who is seeking to identify male or female input an unusual control: when children of the same father but of different mothers exhibit the same trait, it is obvious which parent contributed the gene or genes; one variable is ruled out.
Still another advantage that the Utah Mormon population offers geneticists is that it has not had a great deal of new genetic input since 1880, when the last wave of European migration arrived. “In-migration is the bugbear of demographic studies,” a demographer at Brigham Young University told me. Most of the descendants of the pioneers are still in Utah.
In their comparative immobility and clannishness, they resemble another valuable population for medicalgenetic research-the French Canadians, whose population has doubled nine times with limited admixture since it arrived in North America, around 1700. On the other hand, there is enough social and environmental heterogeneity within the Utah Mormon population-some of its members live in urban centers along the Wasatch front, others in rural communities in the mountains or the desert-to enable geneticists to “study the variability of gene expression against the natural background which occurs,” Skolnick writes. “The variety of occupation, social status, and variable adherence to proscriptions against coffee, tobacco, and alcohol insure that many potential gene-environment interactions are represented,” he adds.
In 1974, the Genealogical Society allowed Skolnick to photocopy about a hundred and seventy thousand of its family-group sheets. He chose only those in which at least one individual was listed as having been born or having died in Utah or along the “pioneer trail”-the path followed by the nineteenth-century immigrants. The data were fed into a computer, which lineage-linked about a million and a quarter individuals on overlapping pedigrees with an average depth of six or seven generations. Certain medical patterns, such as an excess of early deaths clustering in a particular family, were apparent from the genealogical information; other patterns emerged when supplementary medical information was obtained from a variety of sources, such as records of the Utah Cancer Registry, and death certificates and other vital records going back to 1900. Skolnick and some colleagues also interviewed and collected blood samples from members of many of the families. “At one visit to an isolated town we drew blood on 118 members of one pedigree in a single day,” he reports. The families were, on the whole, very cooperative, out of respect for research and out of a sense of obligation to their kin; some of them volunteered medical information that had not been picked up by the other sources. When the medical information was fed into the computer and linked with the genealogical data, the scientists were able to construct a medical-genetic profile of a large population which was more detailed than any that had ever been assembled before. The study has led to further understanding of the heritability of several disorders-particularly breast cancer, early heart disease, and hemochromatosis, a rare, recessive metabolic disorder in which the body retains too much of the iron it absorbs from food.
CONSIDERING that the Mormon Church doesn’t accept the theory of evolution, I thought it magnanimous of the Genealogical Society to have released its family-group sheets to a geneticist. Some Mormons, however, a church member told me, are “kind of torn” about the church’s strict adherence to creationism. With all the Precambrian rock that is exposed in Utah, and all the dinosaur bones that have been found there, it requires a special fervor to believe that the earth is only six thousand years old and not the consequence of a succession of ancient and protracted geological and biological processes. The creationist argument is based partly on a rejection of carbon dating as a valid method of determining the age of organic material. “Carbon dating is theoretically correct only if the atmospheric bombardment has been constant over the ages; also, if radioactivity of the elements is constant,” Thomas Milton Tinney, a Mormon who has traced his ancestry over a hundred and fifty-two generations, right back to Adam, explains in his privately printed genealogy, a copy of which I came across at the New York Public Library. “Prior to Eve and Adam partaking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, there was no death, or radioactive decay. The atmosphere at the time of the pre-flood patriarchs was different from what it is today. There was no rainbow prior to the world-wide flood; also, the process of decay and degeneration was slower as can be noted by the age or longevity of the early patriarchs,” Tinney writes. Tom Daniels suggested to me that the Biblical creation of the world in six days may mean six stages of considerably longer duration than six twenty-four-hour time periods. He repeated the same scriptural verse that Gunderson had cited as an indication of the delightfulness of the Telestial Kingdom: “A day with the Lord is as a thousand years with man.”
“Darwin and all that stuff, we don’t buy it,” he said to me one afternoon as we drove south from Salt Lake City toward the Granite Mountain Records Vault. “It’s a godless theory.” He also had misgivings about genetic engi
neering-about the day when a defective sequence of DNA could be replaced by a remodelled sequence that would instruct a cell to function correctly. Perhaps, I suggested, the time might come when people could identify and delete specific ancestral contributions-breaking away from their families at least in a purely physical sense-and those who wanted to be free-floating individualists could ad-lib themselves into the sort of people they had always wanted to be. “I don’t think the Lord will let them get that far,” Daniels said.
As we drove below the western flank of Traverse Mountain, Daniels pointed out a shelf that marked the shoreline of Lake Bonneville. The present Great Salt Lake is a remnant of Bonneville, which flooded Salt Lake Valley under a thousand feet of water at its high point, eighteen thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age. I wasn’t eager to get into a discussion about the theological implications of its age with Daniels. He was, after all, taking me to the vault, which very few Mormons and hardly anybody outside the faith have been allowed to visit in recent years. Until 1967, there were tours of the vault, but then the society became worried about vandalism and about breath damage to the microfilm, and, like the Lascaux cave, it was closed to the public. A special meeting of the society’s management had reviewed my request to make a visit, and Daniels had evidently spoken in my favor.
After we had been driving for about half an hour, we turned east, up Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is one of seven sheer-walled cavities cut through the Wasatch front by torrents that rush down into Salt Lake Valley. As we climbed the steeply rising floor of the canyon, the walls of rock narrowed. Vegetation reached up from wherever it had found a footing: fir, spruce, and lodgepole pine had colonized the angled strata of the shadier right-hand wall, and scrub oak, box elder, and sagebrush filled the cracks in the left-hand one, which was bathed in strong light. After about a mile, we turned north on an unobtrusive dirt road that led to the foot of a seven-hundred-foot cliff. This was Granite Mountain, part of a blister of hot fluid that had seeped up through the eig ht- hundred-million-year-old slate, quartzite, and sandstone of the lower canyon during the uplift of the Wasatch, and had cooled, crystallized, and been stripped by erosion and exposed. Much later, the cliff had been scraped by a succession of glaciers, so that it overhung in places. The rock was quartz monzonite, a variety of granite-white and very hard, sprinkled with black slivers of hornblende and sheets of biotite mica. At the base of the cliff were four large portals that looked somewhat like tunnel entrances and were protected by plate glass and steel grilles. Daniels told me that a few years earlier a young mountain climber had fallen to his death from the face of the cliff; that mountain goats were sometimes spotted on the ledges across the canyon; and that one morning somebody who was driving up to the vault had come upon a cougar in the parking lot. The only creature in evidence now was an orange butterfly arrayed with silvergreen spots and black chevrons which was taking nectar from a nearby flowering sagebrush. It was some sort of fritillary-very possibly Speyeria mormonia, the so-called Mormon fritillary.
We parked, got out, walked over to a bunkerlike building to the right of the cliff-the personnel entrance to the vault-and went through a door. The air inside was a cool sixty degrees. Daniels faced a closed-circuit television camera and said, “Tom Daniels and party.” A voice from a suspended loudspeaker answered, “O.K., sir, you’re expected,” and we were buzzed through a second door. We turned left, down a corridor lined
with corrugated sheets of heavy-gauge steel which led into the mountain. At the end of the corridor, a man in a booth gave us identification tags, asked us to sign a register, and buzzed us through a third door, into a room where two women in orange smocks were opening cartons full of steel cans.
A large man who looked to be in his early thirties entered the room and greeted us warmly; this was Herbert White II, the manager of the vault. He told us that the vault was built between 1958 and 1963, at a cost of two million dollars; that it was high enough above the canyon floor-the altitude at the portals was six thousand feet-to be out of danger from spring floods; that it was probably nuclear-bomb-proof, although he hoped that that would never have to be demonstrated; and that it might even survive the tribulations at the start of the millennium, which the Mormons believe is not only imminent but overdue. “The Book of Revelation says that the earth will be leveled, valleys will be raised, and there will be a follow up of the Flood, except that fire will be the main agent of destruction,” White said. “We don’t know what the Lord has in mind. Maybe He won’t even need these records-He must know who has lived and when-but the purpose of this facility is to give the records the best protection we can for as long as we have control of them. That is the commitment we make to our donors. Think of what has already been lost-the Dutch records when the dikes burst in the fifties, for instance; the Nicaraguan records when Managua was hit by that earthquake a few years ago; the Buddhist necrologies that are destroyed whenever Japan is struck by a typhoon; all the European records that went up in smoke or were blown to smithereens in the Second World War.”
We were in the shipping-andreceiving section, White said. The microfilm that was being unpacked had just been received from Frankfurt, Germany. The first thing the women in the orange smocks did after opening the cartons was to “marry” the number on each can to its computer punchcard, which had already been sent over from headquarters; the status of each roll is monitored by computer throughout the processing. Then the cans are taken to a laboratory, where technicians open them, in darkness, remove the film, and wind it on an Allen M-70 processor, which looks something like a miniature car wash and can develop ninety feet of film per minute. The developed film goes to the “negative-evaluation area,” where visual checks are made on randomly selected frames to determine whether their density and their resolution are within certain standards. If the image is light or blurry, if there is poor contrast, or if a certain number of lines per millimetre are not registered by the evaluators’ microscope, second- or thirdgeneration prints of the film won’t “read.” Some cosmetic problems can be corrected by settings on the duplicators, but if the frames are not within the standards there is no alternative but to send the cameraman back to film the records again. If the film passes muster, working prints of it are made. A copy, as has been noted, goes to the donor; another, if the records are considered to be in the “heavily used” category, is put in circulation at the Genealogical Library; another eventually goes to one of the stakes for extraction. On an average day at the vault, sixty-five thousand rolls of microfilm are moving through the system-being developed, copied, put in storage, or sent to the society’s headquarters for cataloguing.
White led us through a lobby, past a piano with a Mormon hymnal open on its music stand, past a row of framed likenesses of the church’s presidentstwelve, from Joseph Smith to Spencer Kimball-to show us the air-intake portal, where large particles in the incoming air are trapped in filter bags and smaller dust particles are extracted by carbon filters. On most days, automatic atmospheric adjustments are made by a Kathabar humidifier; the humidity in the canyon that day, for instance, was only nine per cent, and at least thirty-per-centhumidity has to be maintained for optimal microfilm storage. Elsewhere in the facility, iondetection and smoke-detection alarms were ready to sound at the outbreak of fire. From a hallway parallel to the lobby, three corridors, each three hundred and fifty feet long, run straight into the mountain. They give access to six storage chambers, each two hundred feet by twenty-five. The entrance to each corridor is protected by a steel door made by the Mosler Safe Company. The left-hand and right-hand doors weigh nine tons each, and the center door weighs fourteen. The two side corridors generally remain closed. The door to the central corridor is opened at eight in the morning and shut at twenty minutes to five in the afternoon. Two combination locks must be dialled to open it. White wouldn’t tell me how many people knew the combinations. Above each of the doors is an air vent, whose cover, mounted on spring-loaded blast locks, will automatically seal shut if there is an explosion outside. White reckoned that once the doors and the vents were shut-in the event of, say, a nuclear holocaust-the master films, which are kept in two of the chambers and are sealed off by other doors, would last “almost for eternity.” The storage chambers themselves, which are lined with corrugated steel, are under five hundred feet of solid rock, with scarcely a fracture in it. The natural temperature in them hovers between fifty-nine and sixty-two degrees, and their relative humidity stays at around thirty per cent-perfect for indefinite storage. He opened the door to one of the two chambers that held the film (three others were stacked with processing equipment and computer tapes, and one was still empty ). We peered down a narrow aisle,£lanked by gray walls of metal cabinets, toward the vanishing point. Each wall was eighteen drawers high and eighty- i eight cabinets long, and there was an other aisle of cabinets on either side. Each drawer held seventy-five rolls of microfilm. Each roll was a hundred feet long and contained from thirteen hundred to two thousand pages of records-the equivalent of between three and six large volumes. A hundred years of the London Times would have taken up less than two drawers. Each chamber has room for eight hundred and eighty-five thousand four hundred rolls of film, and at that moment there were (according to a bulletin board in the chamber) a million two hundred and sixty-seven thousand five hundred and eighteen rolls in storage, some of them dating back to 1939, when the filming had begun, and containing in all about a billion and a half names of the dead a figure that White warned was a sheer estimate, because most of the rolls had not yet been extracted.
Although the view down the storage chamber’s aisle was unremarkable in itself, I began to realize that I was in the presence of a modern Wonder of the W orId. When I imagined myself as an extraterrestrial, or as one of the next species to inherit the earth, coming upon this room after the human race had destroyed itself, the view was breathtaking. I sensed that Daniels, too, was moved, although he must have seen the walls of drawers many times before. He said quietly, with a straightforwardness that I had come to admire, “In this mountain are the names of a billion and a half people who have walked the earth since the beginning of the sixteenth century.” A few minutes later, we were outside again, in the bright land of the living.