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Rated: 13+ · Preface · Genealogy · #2275427
Preface to Wharton Family History
No, there are no families named "Knight" nor any named "Bishop" in this genealogical research.

Knight, here, refers to the classic definition as stated in Merriam and Webster, namely: a mounted man-at-arms serving a feudal superior or a man honored by a sovereign for merit. That's because my father's side of the family, the Wharton side, began with a bunch of actual knights fighting for king and England. There were some Vikings in there too, who while not called knights, certainly fought like them.

Bishop refers to my mother's side of the family, which was filled with religious martyrs. There were even those who were called bishops, though not in the classical Roman Catholic sense. They were bishops of the anabaptist movement that faced considerable persecution from both Catholics and Protestants— persecution that even included death.

While we are no longer serve a king nor are martyrs for our faith (yet), it seemed appropriate to pick two chess pieces to identify our family history, that of the knight and the bishop.

As with any family history research, lines of descent keep multiplying the further back you go. Some of those lines of descent are just normal folks who had lived normal lives. But every so often you come across a line that holds considerable interest. It's not because it leads through several generations of royalty, though it may. It's because it holds something of indelible interest peculiar to our family.

Maybe an ancestor had a brother who was a member of Parliament and an Earl that was drawn and quartered by the King for treason. Maybe someone lost his head because he refused to denounce his religion. Maybe the King ordered the grandchildren of a brother and sister to wed for political reasons and unite two lines for a mistake he made. Or maybe there was someone who had a son that was born on the Oregon Trail ... on the way back!

The interesting thing about our family's history is that it included all of the above—and much more. On my father's side, the Wharton side, it was filled with those who fought wars for England's king and country. On my mother's side, the Kendig side, it was filled with Swiss Anabaptist ministers and bishops who became martyrs for worshipping as they chose. That's why I've titled our family history, Of Knights and Bishops, because the blood of this odd mixture runs in our veins. So if you feel like you want to both fight with and pray for someone at the same time, now you know why.

Some Cautions to Consider When Tracing Family Histories

1. It's important to separate myth from reality when tracing family origins.

There are many oral history stories that can circulate within a family that may or may not be true. Usually, though, they can hold a measure of truth if you can just dig deep enough and find it.

There were two stories in our family that led me into genealogy research to begin with. The first was one told by my father, E. Raymond Sr. He told the tale of seven Wharton brothers who lived in England. Since the oldest received the inheritance, the others left England and set sale for America, spreading out once they got there. The first question I wanted answered was whether this was true or not.

Then there was the story told by my brother, E. Raymond Jr. This was a factual story because it happened to him, but it left an an open-ended question. He was talking to a gentleman one time who told him he had some Maryland accent affectations to his speech. He asked if he was from Maryland. My brother answered that he didn't think so, which left a lingering question. Somewhere further back that any of our family could remember, had we settled in Maryland before migrating to southeastern Pennsylvania?

Believe it or not, I've been able to answer both those questions. However, you'll have to read further to find the answer.

2. The older the ancestor, the more likely the error

As we trace our family lineage, keep one thing in mind: errors creep in and are propagated over time. In the distant past, someone researching a particular family's history may have mis-translated an archaic document, or mis-read it, and the wrong ancestor is assigned to that lineage. Over time, as others conduct genealogical research, the error is passed along, until it seems virtually carved in stone in dozens if not hundreds of genealogies. Then one day, someone discovers the original error, but has a hard time proving their point, because there are so many family histories that say otherwise—all of which were wrong.

So take some of these ancient lines of descent I've presented with a healthy dose of skepticism, caution, and suspicion. It's fun to think we are descended from Charlemagne (which our history seems to indicate), but so many errors at every generation could have crept in to make this statement dubious at best. I've presented them until something shows them to be untrue.

3. Beware of making assumptions

Its so easy for those conducting genealogical research to jump to a conclusion about the way we would like our family trees to look. So often, assumptions about connections or individuals are made that are simply based on conjecture, flimsy evidence, or just plain wishful thinking. Anytime a name or connection is presented, it must be corroborated by another source. While not all sources have been identified in this document, all individual connections, as well as personal date, are detailed and documented in Ancestry.com under our family tree I've called Threads of the Wharton Sleeve  

A perfect example of making an assumption can be found in our family tree. We know that the lands from which the Whartons took their name devolved by inheritance to an individual named Gilbert (last name unknown). We also know that the first Wharton we know of who took his name from those lands is named Gilbert as well. That's all the information of which we have evidence. The question then becomes: is this the same Gilbert? The timing seems to be correct and there is some deductions we can draw based on a court battle over the lands in question. But however much we would like to make that connection, we simply have no direct evidence. So all we can say is it's a possibility. Don't make those leaps unless there is evidence.

Final Thoughts on Conducting Family History Research

Anyone who spends anytime studying their family history comes up with one incontrovertible fact. That being, individual family histories do not exist in a vacuum. Our ancestors were a product of their times and on rare but wonderful occasions, affected the course of those times. Since we are not only formed by, but form the times we live in, as you read through our family history you'll find histories of the world in which our ancestors lived. Hopefully, I haven't gone off the rails too badly and given more than is needed, but I think it's imperative to understand the times in which our ancestors lived.

I hope you enjoy discovering your roots as much as I have.
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