David H. Kelley

A Tribute to David H. Kelley,
Genealogist, 1 April 1924 – 19 May 2011,
by Don C. Stone 
David Humiston Kelley became interested in genealogy at an early age. He was a teenager when Mr. A. V. Phillips gave him a copy of Turton's Plantagenet Ancestry in exchange for a report on the Magna Carta descents of their mutual ancestor Olive Welby. Dave communicated with various prominent genealogists, and G. A. Moriarty encouraged him to write up some research on the probable Gallo-Roman ancestry of Charlemagne and submit it to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. The result was published in April 1947 as “A New Consideration of the Carolingians,” while Dave was an undergraduate at Harvard. In his introduction to the article, Moriarty said that Dave was “an authority upon Roman pedigrees in both the Western and Eastern Empires” who possessed “the largest collection of such pedigrees known to the writer.” Dave was the primary author of “Among the Royal Servants: Welby, Browne, Quarles and Related Families,” which appeared (63 years after his first genealogical publication) in the July 2010 issue of Foundations, the journal of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy.

He was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists in 1970.

He helped to point Sir Anthony Wagner to much of the material on ancient descents that appears in Wagner's “Bridges to Antiquity” chapter and charts in Pedigree and Progress: Essays in the Genealogical Interpretation of History (1975).

When asked in 1987 if he could undertake some research as part of a fund-raising effort for the New England Historic Genealogical Society (the payment for the research would go to the Society rather than to him), Dave provided the following assessment of his strengths and limitations: “I'm not quite sure what I could legitimately claim as areas of expertise. Certainly, my knowledge of pre-Columbian genealogy in ancient Mexico and Guatemala fits in that category, and I have a substantial knowledge of ancient Polynesian genealogy in which I can claim some degree of professional expertise. My knowledge of pre-Christian Irish material is probably as good as anybody's (it's not a popular subject), but I can not read ancient Gaelic (except for a few simple phrases, particularly genealogical terms), which I would regard as prerequisite to claiming expertise. I think I can legitimately claim knowledge of a broad range of mediaeval problems in genealogy, but again this is not at the level of familiarity with unpublished primary sources. I think I probably have a broader knowledge of ancient and mediaeval genealogy than anyone else I know except Christian Settipani, and I certainly know more about the Jewish Exilarchs than anyone has put together, the 'standard' sources having some absolutely amazing errors, but a number of major sources are available only in Hebrew, which I don't speak. In short, I am knowledgeable and critical at a level just below that of professional expertise in a great many areas of genealogy, and that makes me 'expert' in terms of kinds of problems and classes of solutions, but those with more limited knowledge of genealogy will usually be more expert in local areas.”

Dave could read very rapidly, enabling him to absorb large amounts of information about many different areas. He was thus able to make connections and see correlations that others would not be able to. He was eager to share information with others who were working on the same problems he was. He was even glad to share his speculations, though with the requirement that these speculations not be cited in print until they had appeared in print; he didn't want an article to report that "Dave Kelley says X" about some topic unless there was a way for the reader to see what Dave Kelley's reasoning was.

Dave especially enjoyed proving surprising hypotheses. He once described a research strategy he employed as being similar to that of an investor. Where an investor looks for undervalued stocks, he looked for undervalued ideas, i.e., ideas which he evaluated as being somewhat more likely than others thought they were. He would spend some time exploring such an undervalued idea, and after a while if he couldn't make much progress in proving or disproving it, he would drop it (or “put it on the back burner”). But sometimes he would be able to show that the idea was correct or probably correct, and this result could be like the one investment in 10 or 20 that pays off so well that it covers the losses of all the unsuccessful investments and still leaves a surplus (the surplus in this case being genealogical knowledge rather than financial wealth).

Dave supplied a needed corrective to the common opinion that royal ancestry must be relatively rare: “Royalty had a tremendous breeding advantage and a substantial survival advantage over the nobility, who had similar advantages relative to those below them. What this means is that we all probably descend from Charlemagne tens of thousands of times for every time we descend from one of his peasants, even if most of our own immediate ancestry consists of peasants.” — The American Genealogist 69 (1994): 110.
David Kelley developed a strong interest in archaeology and Mesoamerica as a teenager. After serving in the U. S. Army Air Forces during World War II, he studied anthropology and archaeology at Harvard University. His 1957 dissertation was titled “Our Elder Brother Coyote: Evidence for a Mexican Element in the Formation of Polynesian Culture.” He was a pioneer in the phonetic decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing. He was coauthor with Eugene Milone of an archaeoastronomy book, Exploring Ancient Skies, a second edition of which was recently issued by Springer.

For information and reflections about Dave's career as an archaeologist, see In Memoriam: David Humiston Kelley.

Here is Dave's academic pedigree.

Genealogical Publications of David H. Kelley

“A New Consideration of the Carolingians,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 101 (1947): 109-112.

“Early Irish Genealogy,” The American Genealogist 41 (1965): 65-76.

“The Lovel Descent from Edgar, the Atheling,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 121 (1967): 231-232.

“The Claimed Irish Origin of Clan Munro,” The American Genealogist 45 (1969): 65-78.

“Edwin of Tegeingl,” The American Genealogist 46 (1970): 75-80.

“A Royal Line from Edward I to Dorothy May Bradford of Plymouth, Massachusetts,” The American Genealogist 46 (1970): 117-118. [Mistakenly attributed to Charles F. H. Evans: see The American Genealogist 47 (1971): 87 for correction and additional information.]

“A Descent from the Kings of Strathclyde,” The American Genealogist 47 (1971): 79-86.

“A Note on the Robertins,” The American Genealogist 49 (1973): 85-88.

“Descents from the High Kings of Ireland,” The American Genealogist 54 (1978): 1-5.

“Who Descends from King David?” Toledot: The Journal of Jewish Genealogy 1 (1978): 3-5.

“The Ancestry of Eve of Leinster,” The Genealogist 1 (1980): 4-26.

“A Study in Early Celtic Genealogies: Dyfed,” The Journal of Ancient and Medieval Studies 1 (1982): 49-58.

Holy Blood, Holy Grail: Two Reviews” [the second review was by Robert Charles Anderson], The Genealogist 3 (1982): 249-258.

“Augustus' Relatives,” Journal of Ancient and Medieval Studies 2 (1983): 1-6. [Includes 3 charts, separately paginated.]

“The House of Aethelred.” In Studies in Genealogy and Family History in Tribute to Charles Evans on the Occasion of his Eightieth Birthday, edited by Lindsay L. Brook, pp. 63-93. Occasional Publications 2. Salt Lake City: Association for the Promotion of Scholarship in Genealogy, 1989.

“The Anicii of Gaul and Rome” [with T. Stanford Mommaerts]. In Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity?, edited by John Drinkwater and Hugh Elton, pp. 111-121. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“A Mediaeval Miscellany: Commentaries on Roderick W. Stuart's Royalty for Commoners” [2nd ed., 1992], The American Genealogist 69 (1994): 110-118.

“A Priestly Family of Memphis,” Journal of Ancient and Medieval Studies 12 (1995): 25-39.

“Was Solomon, Count of Roussillon, a Jewish King of Narbonne?” Foundations 1 (2003):75-80.

“The Nibelungs,” Foundations 1 (2005): 425-440.

“The Political Role of Solomon, the Exilarch, c. 715-759 CE,” Foundations 2 (2006): 29-46, 140-157.

“Among the Royal Servants: Welby, Browne, Quarles and Related Families” [with Don C. Stone & David C. Dearborn], Foundations 3 (2010): 303-324.


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