South Korea Compiled Genealogies
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The family is the most important part of Korean life. In Confusian tradition, the father is the head of the family and it is his responsibility to provide food, shelter, clothing, etc., and also arrange marriages of family members. The eldest son has special duties: first to his parents, then to his brothers from older to younger, then to his sons, then to his daughters. Members of the family are tied to each other because the actions of one family member reflect on the rest of the family.
Ancestors are based on the male family line. Children are raised to believe they can never repay their debt to their parents, hence the popularity of ancestor worship. They hold ancestral ceremonies for the previous three generations (parents, grandparents, and great grandparents) several times a year, particularly on Chusok and New Year's Day.
Family Census Register
This register records every birth and marriage in the family, with the father's and mother's parents' name and giving the "Family Origin" of each.
Clan Lineage Genealogies (Jokbo)
Research Use: Lineage genealogies are the single most important lineage linked genealogical source for Korea, and a primary research source. Since most genealogies continue into the early or mid twentieth century, a researcher who can connect into a lineage genealogy can often determine their pedigree quickly and accurately back to the 1600s and, typically, much further.
Record Type: Records compiled periodically by families, clans or lineage organizations. These include mainly published (and a few handwritten) clan genealogical history genealogical books [jokbo], as well as various types of genealogical tables and charts [variously called sebo, kasung, and pabo].
Background: As a people that practice ancestor veneration, the Koreans have traditionally kept genealogies to show lineage structure and to record members' achievements, a custom they adopted from the Chinese. Traditional pedigree books were written in Chinese making them difficult for common Koreans to use. The keeping of genealogies became a widespread practice during the Yi Dynasty (1392 to 1910). In accordance with Confucian philosophy, the clan generally prospered according to the position and prestige of its members and it was considered important to record family accomplishments. These records are updated or recompiled about every 30 years to record new family members and their achievements. Those that are printed (usually in only small quantities) cover the broader family; manuscripts cover more narrow lineage and more immediate generations. There are efforts in Korea to digitize the existing clan genealogies and put them on the Internet.
Time Period: From the late 1300s to present.
Content: These records show lineage structure and cite achievements of family members. They show male descendants in linked patrilineal sequence from founding ancestors, indicate generation order and the creation of branches. Typical entries include generation order, surnames and usually multiple given names of males, death date or burial date and place. Usually there is little information about wives and daughters, though some entries give the name of the wife's father. More recent genealogies provide the given names of women and sometimes marriage dates. Entries may include titles and honors for the more noteworthy individuals.
Location: Genealogies are scattered in libraries, archives, clan offices, and clan members' homes throughout Korea.
Percentage in Family History Library: We have about 95% of all genealogies compiled before the 1990s.
Population Coverage: Existing published and manuscript genealogies may cover as much as 30% of the historical population since the 1600s. This figure would be closer to 50% or even 60% of the post-1800 population if the preservation ratio was higher. Coverage is very high for the upper classes of society (yangban). Published genealogies include those families with resources to organize, edit and produce genealogies. Manuscript genealogies were likely created for nearly all extended families in the dominant Han ethnic group and to a lesser extent for many national minorities, especially those who practice ancestor veneration. Individuals who brought shame to the family by criminal or other disreputable behavior, female children and children who died young may be omitted from the genealogical record. Wealth and prosperity may indeed be critical in regard to the ability of lineage members to print and distribute genealogies. However, recent studies have shown that the keeping of genealogical records was widespread among the less well-to-do lineages and families in towns and villages away from rich urban centers. Among such populations most genealogies are handwritten documents, not published.
Reliability: Very reliable in recent generations. Royal family genealogies are considered reliable from the fourteenth century to present; clan genealogies are considered generally reliable from the sixteenth century to present.
Accessibility: Some published genealogies are available in many public and university libraries worldwide. Families needing information from manuscript genealogies must expend considerable effort, travel, and expense to determine whether records have been preserved and to get access to the information they contain.
Preservation of Record/Vulnerability: Although individual family records were apparently quite numerous in the 1400s, only a few original records survive from this era because of the great destruction during Japanese invasions (1592 through 1598) and the ravages of time. Many genealogies of North Korea have been destroyed in extreme leftist political campaigns since 1950. The rapid demise of traditions of ancestor veneration has adversely affected the preservation of these records. Genealogies in private possession very likely suffer deterioration and neglect. Even those in libraries and archives are subject to loss by fire or natural disasters.
Other Genealogical Resources
- Korea GenForum
- YouTube video: Mark Peterson on the Structure of Korean Genealogy
- Korean Genelaogy Guide
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Korea,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1986-2001.