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Benjamin Franklin, Genealogist.

It’s a good day to note that Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, the famous progenitor of the self-made man, the independent, meritorious American (okay we know that’s all a caricature but still) begins with his quest for more family history.  

To be clear, Franklin wasn’t new to genealogy.  Born January 17, 1706, Franklin was a fiend for all the birth, marriage, and death dates that made up his lineage. He came from a family that was family-history minded –both his mother’s and his father’s families kept and shared genealogy.  But in his famous book, he first recounts his trip to England, with his son, William, who would be the Loyalist Governor of New Jersey opposed to the patriot politics of his father, in search of family lore, artifacts, and haunts. You can be sure I write a lot more about this side of Franklin in my book.

This first English edition, transcribed from the French and published in London, is in the collections of the John Carter Brown Library.  The JCB also has copies of the first, French edition and of the 1818 publication.

Franklin’s  Autobiography itself has a great history.  Though Franklin died in 1790, it wasn’t published as the Autobiography wasn’t published until 1848.  A French edition of his “memoirs” was published in 1791, and the first English editions were translations from the French.  His grandson William Temple Franklin published an edition “from the original manuscripts” in 1818.  The Library Company of Philadelphia has a handy guide to the early publication history.

The original manuscript of Franklin’s Memoirs are at the Huntington Library, and can be seen via their digital library.

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