Who was Donald Lines Jacobus, and why should you know about him?
The Connecticut genealogist, Donald Lines Jacobus (pronounced ja cob’ us), was the founder of the modern school of scientific genealogy and the greatest American genealogist of the 20th century. Jacobus and his protégés taught us how to research and write family histories, how to solve genealogical problems, what sources should be used, how to interpret them, and why we must abandon unsupported findings which, in many instances, were built upon flights of imagination as much as on facts.
Jacobus has a long list of achievements, for instance, in 1922, he founded the esteemed periodical, “The American Genealogist” (TAG). We are more concerned with explaining why this sage’s teachings and writings are of importance to 21st-century sleuths. Jacobus’ book publications may date from 1922, but each one still stands as a model of genealogical scholarship. For example, Families of Ancient New Haven is the definitive statement on the ancestry and relationships of 35,000 residents of 18th-century New Haven, Connecticut, and it is the only publication that succeeds in treating every family of an entire New England region. In other works related to Connecticut, Mr. Jacobus, who built on Mr. Edgar Francis Waterman’s files in Hale, House and Related Families, Mainly of the Connecticut River Valley, succeeded in presenting exhaustive data from original sources, in providing new interpretations as well as additions and corrections to existing literature, and in making the family accounts definitive. The index alone bears reference to some 16,500 persons.
Jacobus’s Families of Old Fairfield is the ultimate authority on the ancestry and relationships of approximately 50,000 residents of Fairfield County, Connecticut. It is a vast compendium of family history, meticulously developed from original sources, and in every way an accurate reflection of the investigative genius of its celebrated author.
Jacobus left us scores of genealogy articles that appeared in the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly,” “The New England Historical and Genealogical Register,” and his beloved TAG. In 1968, the Genealogical Publishing Company assembled a number of those highly respected essays and published them as Genealogy as Pastime and Profession.
Genealogy as Pastime and Profession encapsulates Jacobus’ thinking. It describes the principles of genealogical research, the evaluation of evidence, and the relationship of genealogy to eugenics and the law; it discusses early nomenclature, royal ancestry, the use of source material, and the methods of compiling a family history. Jacobus was a wonderful writer, and he brought all of his wit and erudition to bear in this timeless volume. Beginners and experienced family historians will especially love the case study chapter in which the author the sets out to solve the mysterious ancestries of Ebenezer Couch, Nathaniel Brewster, and John Gill. Whether you do your genealogy over the Internet, by cranking the microfilm reader, or strictly by pouring over old documents, you’ll find that Genealogy as Pastime and Profession is as useful today as when it was first published 35 years ago. Jacobus’ advice, by and large, is as reliable as a wise old grandfather’s.
Image credit: Christ Church, Stratford, Connecticut, USA, second church, built in 1743. By/edited by Lucy Jarvis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.