Genealogies assumed particular importance in connection with the principle of inheritance--of power, rank, and property. Lists of hereditary kings were compiled by the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Indians, and Chinese. In medieval Europe feudal landholders kept records for the transference of rank and land. Concern with descent, and thus rank, was also reflected in heraldic developments (see HERALDRY); a single coat of arms can incorporate an enormous amount of genealogical information.
In modern times, social status has depended less on pedigree, but genealogy remains of interest to many people other than scholars. The United States, for example, has numerous genealogical societies that trace people's descent. Many patriotic organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, limit membership to descendants of a particular historical group.
The Mormon church has collected an enormous bank of genealogical data (official registers of births, marriages, and deaths and related documents), probably the greatest such collection in existence. Church members use these records in order to bring their ancestors posthumously into the church (see MORMONISM). Popular interest in genealogy was stimulated by the television dramatization of Alex HALEY's ROOTS (1976); in researching this book Haley had traced his ancestry back to his African forebears. A major appeal of genealogy is that it provides people with a sense of continuity and of belonging.
Bibliography: Andereck, Paul, and Pence, Richard, Computer Genealogy (1985); Besterman, Theodore, Family History (1971); Delson, Eric, Ancestors (1985); Doane, Gilbert H., Searching for Your Ancestors, 5th ed. (1980); Greenwood, V. D., The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (1973); Hareven, T., and Plakans, A., eds., Family History at the Crossroads (1987); Hibberts, Joyce W., and Saffell, Kathleen K., Digging up Your Roots: A Guide to Basic Geneological Sources (1989); McNaughton, Arnold, The Book of Kings: A Royal Genealogy, 3 vols. (1974); Pine, Leslie G., American Origins: Sources for Genealogical Research and Records Abroad (1960; repr. 1980) and Heraldry and Genealogy (1974); Unett, John, Making a Pedigree (1961; repr. 1971).