'Jokbo' exhibition reveals diverse family trees
Jul 8, 2017
Family Tree Painting of Naju Oh Clan / National Library of Korea

Most Koreans are familiar with the "jokbo," (족보) or genealogy, of their own family. Though the well-known, commonly seen family trees only document male members of the family and are criticized for being patriarchal, an exhibition at the National Library of Korea (NLK) sheds light on various types of jokbo, such as early ones that included both men and women, and a directory of occupational clusters.

Titled "Family Tree: Finding My Origins," the exhibit features some 66 genealogy books from the NLK's antique book collection as well as those borrowed from other organizations. The library has the largest collection of family tree books in Korea.

"We continue to grow the collection of family trees because people are constantly looking for it. At this exhibition, we present unconventional types of genealogy books less-known to the public," Kim Hyo-kyoung, curator of the Old & Rare Collection Division of the library, said.

The first section introduces the history of the genealogy register in Asia, originating in China and spreading to Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Japanese island of Okinawa.

The earliest jokbo in Korea appeared in the early Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). In the early 15th century, family trees were documented on a piece of paper or scroll.

"Before the Joseon era, the genealogy of the royal family or high aristocrats was carved on epigraphs," Kim said.

The oldest surviving family tree is "Genealogy of the Andong Kwon Clan," printed in 1476. "In these early genealogy books, sons and daughters were documented alike. As Confucianism prevailed during the mid-Joseon era, jokbo was reorganized to include only males," Kim explained. "The publication of family trees exploded in the early 20th century as modern typography was introduced to Korea. It was also the time when the caste system of Joseon was being abolished, so many fake jokbo were published as an attempt to launder people's social status."

The tradition of jokbo continues in modern times and the format has diversified _ now available in CD format or online.

In the jokbo, all members of the family are included with at least their name, pen name, the date of birth and death, and the location of their grave. Information on those who passed the state examination and worked for the government include career paths, posthumous epithets given by the king and authored books.

"Sunwonrok," the genealogy book of the Joseon royal family, is also on view. Bound in a blue cover, the royal family tree is significantly larger than ordinary ones and the names are covered in pieces of red paper, hidden from view, as royal names should not be called or used.

"In the exchange between noblemen, their family history mattered and it was important to know each other's family, not only mine. So genealogy collection including major families was also printed," Kim said.

There was also the genealogy of the middle class, which organized people by the same job, not by clan. Remaining occupational directories include that of interpreters and doctors. They list the names of professionals and their family trees including up to eight generations.

"Yangsegyebo," a genealogy of eunuch from Joseon Kingdom / National Library of Korea

An interesting type of occupational genealogy book is the "yangsegyebo," a family tree of eunuchs. Since eunuchs were castrated, they usually adopted children to carry on family lines. Unlike most genealogy books that only record names of the family members, the eunuch genealogy includes each member's last name, which could all be different as they come from different biological parents.

The Naju Oh Clan left a painting of a family tree, dated to the mid-20th century, which contains some 1,600 people from the progenitor of the clan to the 24th generation in the shape of a tree.

The exhibit runs through Aug. 27. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.nl.go.kr

Source:The Korea Times

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