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What is genealogy? Historical origins

Primitive societies memorised the names of their ancestors over thousands of years and transmitted this knowledge to successive generations. In South Africa this oral tradition for the ancestors of certain rulers dates back to almost 1500 AD.
The Old Testament contains many examples of family registers.
Descent among European nobility was of great importance for the inheritance of titles and the use of a coat-of-arms. Great emphasis was placed on the ancestry and bloodlines of a couple wishing to marry.

The Memory Code

Facebook Genealogy group posting by Charline Wentzel [2019] translated: I would like to share my son Arnold's letter. Why? Genealogy the old-fashioned way and it's just very interesting.
storytelling 1Hi Mom, it's quiet now so I have time to write about genealogy.
I read a book "The Memory Code" by Lynne Kelly last week. It is about how non-literate cultures processed, preserved and transmitted knowledge without writing. The method was memory, of course - but it's how they did it that's fascinating. Unlike writing - which is merely linear and relies solely on the visual sense, the memory methods of non-literate cultures were much more advanced. Memory is embedded in the landscape, in stories, dance, bodies, sounds and pictures - similar to the memory methods my father taught me - but it goes much further. The advantage of these methods is that it is integrated so that a landmark is the trigger for a story and the story is the trigger for a dance that is a trigger for ... etc.
Consequently, their knowledge was transferred non-linearly - but transferred as true knowledge is - as a complex-linked system of ideas. Furthermore, it was also not transmitted only by the visual sense and words - but multi-sensory by sound, movement, emotion, etc. And 95% of the knowledge is practical knowledge - plant species, animal habits, routes, laws, genealogy (to prevent intermarriage), times to plant, places to hunt, etc. One 'elder's’ knowledge was one day written down - and the knowledge he had took up more than 500 written pages - and it was only the knowledge that could be transferred in writing! What to us seems like superstitions and mythology were often methods of creative association used to remember knowledge.
So what does this have to do with genealogy? First, these cultures attached much more value to genealogy, because it had practical value both as a method of preventing intermarriage and as a very powerful method of memory. In some of these cultures, people can give you their genealogy of up to 30 generations back - and not only that - but also the complex lines of intermarriage. Compare this to many people who barely know the names of their grandparents or, like me, do not even know who my nieces / nephews are. And they can do it 30 generations deep and 3-4 lines removed per generation!
But what struck me more was how genealogy in many of these cultures is the core around which they organize all their practical knowledge. Like the memory methods that dad taught me and that I developed further - memory works best when it can be associated in a creative way with things we already know. And that's what genealogy does in many of these cultures. Every node and connection in the genealogy is associated with a story / picture / dance (which itself encodes deeper knowledge) and what is the trigger for a ritual (a ritual is a repeated action that was mostly a way of repeat knowledge so that it is not forgotten). In other words - for these cultures, genealogy is critical to survival. Look at the surface and you only see names of ancestors, look deeper and these names and their connections contain dramas (in the form of stories, pictures, dances, songs) look even deeper and you will find each of these 'drama units' translates at various levels into practical knowledge about plants, animals, seasons, laws, routes, etc.  It's quite amazing. And then people think these cultures are backward because they cannot write!  Compared to these methods, writing is terribly poor and primitive.