“Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions.” – 1 Timothy 1:4
Can you trace your genealogy back to Adam and Eve? This question comes up all the time when people talk to me about genealogy. As a professional researcher, when newbies to genealogy ask that, I generally just roll my eyes and say, “no, you can’t.” But I wanted to take some time to really answer the question through a genealogical research perspective. Genealogists ask two questions in all of their research: “what is the evidence?” and “what does the evidence tell us?” I won’t pretend I am an expert on the many ways people claim to have traced their genealogy back to Adam, as I do not wish to spend my entire life researching such a tedious subject, but I have done some digging and have found the evidence most people of European descent are referring to when tracing their genealogy back to Adam and Eve.
Getting to the source
As far as I can tell, these genealogies always start by tracing one’s ancestors back to royalty. Then they proceed to trace the line back to either the family of King David or some other Israelite lineage, thereby “proving” that the royals have a religious right to rule, as King David was set on the throne by God.
Although there are other genealogies tracing royal lines back to Adam, one of the main ones is the Tea Tephi line, as outlined here. The story is that one of the daughters of King Zedekiah survived the destruction of Jerusalem and eventually met and married Heremon, one of the first Milesian Kings of Ireland. Evidence cited for this story include early works on Irish history such as the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Tigernach, as well as the writings of F. R. A. Glover.
I have not read through the Annals myself, but I have not been able to find in any of the works that reference them any direct quotes or references to specific passages stating directly that a daughter of a King of Judah married the first King of Ireland. F. R. A. Glover, on the other hand, has a lot to say on the subject in his 1881 book, England, The Remnant of Judah and the Israel of Ephraim. He quotes a lot of old Irish poetry and uses the Bible and his own understanding of Hebrew and Irish linguistics to interpret the poems and make the case for this story.
How reliable is the evidence?
Here is my evidence analysis: Tea Tephi, if she existed, would have lived during the 500’s BC. (The siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was about 587 BC.) The earliest writings on the history of Ireland were recorded around the 500’s AD. That is one thousand years after Tea Tephi would have been alive. Before Christianity was introduced to Ireland in the 5th century AD, there were no books written in Ireland. That means that any historical knowledge was passed down orally, through song and story. Anything written in those early Irish Annals is heavily laced with mythology. What does that mean? Factually speaking, they are inaccurate. Even if they did say anything about Tea Tephi, they are not a reliable source for factual genealogical information.
Glover is even worse. His work was made more than 2000 years after the fact. Even if his analysis made logical sense (which it doesn’t), and even if the Annals actually told this story word for word (and it doesn’t come anywhere close), both works would still be suspect because of the sheer weight of time. A good genealogist knows that even the birth date recorded on a death certificate can be inaccurate, because the date was recorded so many years after the event actually occurred. One thousand years of nothing but oral history before an event was recorded? It’s basically impossible to tell what is accurate and what is not.
Other lineages have been written up making similar claims, using similarly problematic sources. I found one reference online that quoted from Historia Regum Britanniae, or, History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Despite the misleading title, History of the Kings of Britain is not an accurate and authoritative reference on the history of the kings of Britain. This 10th century work is actually a mixture of fact, mythology, and pure fiction, and is also hundreds of years delayed from its subject matter.
What does this mean for my family tree?
Now get this right: I don’t want anyone reading this to get offended and think that I am trying to disrepute their religious beliefs. I myself am a Christian and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I do believe that we all are descended from Adam and Eve. This belief is based on faith, not on genealogical “evidence.” From a genealogical standpoint, there is no evidence that really proves that anyone of European descent actually goes back to Adam. I can still have my faith without having scientific evidence to back it up. I don’t need to fabricate evidence or re-publish genealogies that I know to be false to satisfy my ego, either.
It’s like when your grandmother tells an exciting story about your ancestors, one that she heard from her relatives and didn’t witness firsthand. It sounds a little off the wall, but you have no way of proving if it is true or isn’t. You can’t take your grandmother’s word as solid evidence. However, you can make note of the story in your family history while pointing out that you have no way of proving it as fact. That is the only way this lineage should be approached: as a legend, but not fact. In your personal genealogical database or online family tree, you could include it as an interesting side note, but do not record the lineage as official when it cannot be proven.