Genealogy has been defined as the science of proving step by step into the past a person’s ancestry which may then be represented in narrative or tabular form.
To some, genealogy is regarded as elitist under the misconception that the only people with ancestry are royalty and the nobility. It is true that as one’s searches reach back beyond the 15th century, the records of the famous or notorious tend to survive those of the solid citizen but, in reality, there is only one family tree – the tree of man – and each and every one of us is but one link in that tree. Considering that each one of us has 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents and so on at an ever accelerating and expanding rate, it is indeed not at all unlikely that a common ancestor was shared by a sovereign and his subject at some stage in the past, quite apart from Adam or, depending on your persuasion, the ape.
A positive function of genealogy could thus serve to demonstrate the brotherhood of man, as some new research reveals an unexpected relationship hitherto obscured in the mists of time. For instance, much feuding went on during the 15th and 16th centuries between the de Nava and Inguanez families in Mdina. They were mortal enemies in their day but their desendants’ relationship mellowed over the centuries even to marriage and today many individuals can claim descent from both warring factions. The genes of the original de Nava and Inguanez families now coexist in perfect harmony within their common descendants. ea
Genealogy could also be regarded as a lateral approach to the study of history. Genealogical research entails digging up historical documents and the discovery that an ancestor existed at the time of a particular historical event will invest that event with a new and exciting meaning almost to the point of personal involvement. It is not even necessary to find some notable personage in one’s family tree to experience this involvement. The fact that your great great great grandfather lived in Valletta in 1798 could well conjure the events leading to the expulsion of the Order of St John from Malta and the imposition by Napoleon of the French regime. Your venerable ancestor may even have taken part later on in the blockade of Valletta. Trace even further back, say to 1565 and your forefather may have been one of the defenders of Birgu during the Great Siege. You will see then that history ceases to be a dry chronicle of events enacted by paper characters but becomes instead a vibrant tale involving identifiable human beings whose blood still courses through your veins.
There are a number of ways ancestry can be traced in Malta. The easiest, of course, is to engage the services of a genealogist who, for a fee, will produce a family tree of varying antiquity within a relatively short period of time. However the joy of genealogy is to conduct your own research and make your own discoveries. Be your own Sherlock Holmes and I will warrant that each breakthrough will more than reward the hours of laborious investigation. If I may draw a parallel with archaeology, it is all the difference between looking at a Greek vase in a museum and unearthing one yourself in your garden.
Most of the information you will need can be found in parish records which, in most cases will enable you to delve as far back as the mid-Sixteenth century. Beyond that date, research becomes a little more complicated since any information would have to be gleaned from notarial deeds and ancient documents. Fortunately, a wealth of information is still readily available in the archives of the National Library of Malta, including copies of most of the parish records. A gem is the Adami Collection which lists numerous legal documents of particular interest to genealogists.