Beyond Family Ties: From Genealogy to Social Network Analysis by Rosemary Hall

Definition of GENEALOGY

plural genealogies

1:  an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or from older forms

2:  regular descent of a person, family, or group of organisms from a progenitor (see progenitor 1) or older form :  pedigree

3:  the study of family ancestral lines

4:  an account of the origin and historical development of something

Genealogy represents a multi-billion dollar industry, engaging everyone from amateur family history enthusiasts to national organizations to massive for-profit companies (who hasn’t heard of The first thing one generally thinks of when they hear “genealogy” (and what most of these groups focus on) reflects the first definition of the term in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary: “an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or from older forms.” However, when we move down to the fourth definition, we find that genealogy can also encompass “an account of the origin and historical development of something.” This vague “something” opens up a wide array of possibilities when it comes to the area of genealogical research.

As we have discovered, records kept by the Bureau of Pensions and the War, State, and Treasury Departments contain numerous personal letters, statistical reports, financial records, and health records relating to the Pensioners. Keeping in mind this expansive fourth definition of genealogy, and the information available in the Pension records, we are able to discern large and interconnected social networks that go beyond strictly family ties.

Using Henry Muller as a case study, our team has transcribed the records found in his St Elisabeth’s Hospital Patient File. Muller was a patient at St Elisabeth’s hospital in ? from ? to ?. While there, he engagletterhernyed in multiple correspondences

Using these documents, we created a database of every name mentioned in the documents, including, when available, their first and last name, position and/or relationship to Muller, document number (s), and any connections to other entries in the database.

For example, below we have a letter written by Henry Muller to the Honorable William Sulzer, Member of Congress (Figure 1). Muller writes to Sulzer, who has “[shown himself] a real friend,” and details the deplorable manner in which he is being treated at St Elisabeth’s, and how Dr. A.B. Richardson, the Superintendent of the Hospital, will not let him leave, despite him having entered the hospital voluntarily. How, he asks, can American officials “treat a poor man, like me in such a heartless way, especially a man, who sacrificed his health and ruined his whole life in the defense of the U.S.” (6128_046). Muller entreats upon Sulzer to write to Dr. Richardson and ask for Muller’s better treatment.


**Now as a side note, Muller has been diagnosed with, among other terms, epilepsy and paranoia. Therefore, his pleads and accounts are not exactly verifiable. Nevertheless, we see a response to his letters.**

Muller concludes this pleading letter by passing his “kind regards” to “Col. Ruppert,” who has been very kind. In a following record, we find Colonel Jacob Ruppert, a member of the House of Representatives, writing to Dr. A.B. Richardson (Figure 2), and then to Muller himself, informing him that Dr. Richardson “is willing to let [him] go at any time” (Figure 3).


lette 3

letter 2







This exchange of letters reveals a network of connections between Muller, medical professionals, and political persons. With the other records reunified by our team, we are able to create a “Contact Tree” as a visual representation of Muller’s social network (Figure 4)

social network

As our database grows, the social network analysis possibilities will exponentially expand, as will the potential disciplines to whom this information could be of value. defines social network analysis as “the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers, URLs, and other connected information/knowledge entities.” While computers of course are not a part of the social network of Henry Muller, or any Pensioners in the records we are working with, innovative digital curation techniques are crucial to the creation of new knowledge from these records. Through the transcription and amalgamation of the data in our Pension records, genealogical (and other) researchers will be able to trace the “origin and historical development” of political bodies, hospitals, military units, social circles, and so much more.