Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Value of Scientific Genealogy

Exactly a century ago, on 5 March 1915, the journal Science published an article by Chas B. Davenport The Value of Scientific Genealogy. Davenport was Director of the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, earned a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University where he later became professor of zoology.
Davenport was a leading advocate for eugenics, "the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)."
The article argued the merits of eugenics and suggested that in addition to "the usual statements about birth and marriage and also biographical and social data, records should be kept of  ... physical and mental data including build, proportions, pigmentation, quality of sense organs and other important physical traits, also the mental equipment, tastes for particular occupations, temperament and social reactions ... liability to disease, of grave illnesses and of surgical operations ... and precise cause or causes of death."
Repulsive as such racial and class based ideas are today we always have to remember not to judge the past by today's standards. Many of us have been uncomfortable when faced with evidence of our ancestors beliefs and actions.
Davenport recommended compilation of a detailed analysis of the personality based on work of Francis Galton using forms in Record of Family Faculties (pdf). He claimed to have distributed about 20,000 such forms to individuals and to hold a collection of such completed forms in a confidential repository at his office at Cold Spring Harbour. Do any such completed forms exist? If so they would be an interesting source for the family historian.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

just watch Law & Order sex crimes
or Judge Judy to see who never would be missed,