Beginning at the dawn of the modern era about 500 years ago, large numbers of stemma diagrams containing family histories were compiled and survive. While written genealogy remained principally a private interest among propertied and enobled families in continental Europe[*]Tscherpel, Gudrun. Importance of Being Noble (The): Genealogie im Alltag des englischen Hochadels in Spätmittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Husum: Matthiesen, 2004. Print. page 226, it became a function of the state in England,.[*]The College of Arms was incorporated in 1483. Compulsory inspections of pedigrees by royal commission, began about 1530. and an official herald appears to have begun collecting pedigrees in Yorkshire before 1490.[*]This lost collection is mainly known from a diagrammatic copy drawn by Robert Glover (1544-88), which is in the Ashmole MSS (Stemmata vetusta prosapiarum regiarum Angliae et Galliae nobiliumque multarum Anglicarum a Roberto Glovero collecta atque transcripta). It has been edited and published: Blair, C.H. Hunter, ed. A Visitation of the North of England circa 1480-1500. Durham: Andrews, 1930. Print. The Publications of the Surtees Society, 144, xii. <http://www.uiowa.edu/~c030149a/northern/surtees144text.pdf>. See also Tscherpel, 43.
The early English pedigrees vary in form. Some were mere lists or narratives, others stemmata. The lost, pre-1490 Yorkshire visitation.[*]That by Glover supra as well as a version in the Bodleian Library by Roger Dodsworth (1585-1654) (MS 81) are diagrammatic. It is of course conceivable that Glover and Dodsworth might have drawn their own diagrams from a text source. I do not know the form of partial extracts in the British Library by Thomas Writh (1504-34) at Add. MS 5530 and by Robert Aske ( -1537) at Add MS 38133. They are described at Blair xii. was highly detailed and may have been originally recorded in stemma form, since that was the style of copies made from it.
Most of the family histories recorded by the heralds over the next 80 years were however cursory and almost entirely in narrative form. As late as 1563 in Yorkshire, the herald William Flower continued to compile text-only pedigrees. By 1566, there are a "few long, if skeletal, pedigrees" among his records of a visitation of Staffordshire.[*]Verasanso, Janet. "The Staffordshire Heraldic Visitations: Their Nature and Function." Midland History Vol. XXVI 2001: 128-43. Print. By 1567, Flower was in Yorkshire again, and now compiling all his tabulations in stemma form.[*]The 1563 and 1567 Yorkshire visitations can be compared in: Dendy, Frederick Walter, ed. Visitations of the North, Part II. Andrews: Durham, 1921. The Publications of the Surtees Society, Vol. 133. Print. <http://www.uiowa.edu/~c030149a/northern/surtees133text.pdf>. Discussing the 1566 stemma-style Staffordshire pedigrees, Verasanso describes them as still being of "tabular curvilinear form ... [which] starts with a small roundel (or two placed side by side to represent husband and wife) from which curved lines radiate downwards to the next generation which is also shown in roundels. These lines multiply according to the generations and issue of the family." She says these stemma give "an impression of haste".[*]Verasanso 131: She was able to examine the original Visitation Book H 19 in the College of Arms library, rather than the British Library, Bodleian and private copies which form the basis of most published versions. and have an "untidy appearance".
The curvilinear form precedes a transition in the stemma design to what Verasanso calls the "tabular rectilinear form in which short perpendicular drop lines are suspended from a horizontal line." This seems to have been introduced in England by Robert Glover,.[*]Verasanso 142: see also the note above. who became a herald in 1567 and rose to a senior position in the college in the 1580s.[*]Verasanso 131.
There were experiments with other forms. A workbook, prepared by a scribe in 1591, using data collected in a visitation of 1573, arranges the roundels in neat vertical columns (pictured).[*]This work-book was used by the herald Ralph Brooke for a visitation in 1591 and is now preserved in the library of Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. The book contains updates to the 1573 data and edits, but is not Brooke's subsequent fair copy. That is in the College of Arms library in London. Photo in: "True or False Gentility? Talk on Visitations to the Somerset Heraldry Society - Alex Findlater." Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Newsletter 69 (Spring 2004): n. pag. Web. <http://www.sanhs.org/Newsletter69.htm>.
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