Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Families

In 1874, Richard Dugdale, on behalf of the New York Prison Commission began to visit state prison facilities and, in doing so, discovered a particular family connection between some of the incarcerated guests in Ulster County. Interestingly, a descendant of Jonathan Edwards was president of this commission, but we will get to the Edwards connection soon enough. This lead to further research and, in 1877, the publication of a study entitled The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity. "Jukes" is a last name made up to represent people living and deceased whose identity he did not wish to disclose. He traced the lineage of this family tree to a man of Dutch ancestory named "Max," born in 1720 in the Hudson Valley. Dugdale estimated that there were 1,200 members of this family tree and was able to report on the details of 540 of these descendants, plus another 169 who married into the family line. One member of the family tree was said by Dugdale to be "Ada Juke," who married one of Max's sons, and was nicknamed "Margaret, Mother of Criminals." Of the total group of related individuals, Dugdale found that:

  • 310 were paupers who spent a combined 2,300 years in poorhouses;
  • 130 were convicted criminals;
  • 50 women were prostitutes;
  • 7 were were murders; and
  • these paupers and criminals cost the state of New York $1.5 million to pay for their incarcerations and $1.25 million in public welfare and other costs to society apart from incarceration.

The lack of documentation supporting Dugdale's research, specifically the identities of the subjects concerned and the incompleteness of the family study, and the research methology (for example, the financial calculations), has given rise to criticism of this study, notably by Dr. Robert Frick, but it has gained enough credence in popular lore that the name "Jukes" is a by-word for "bad seed." His study provided ammunition in his day for the Eugenics movement, although Dugdale ascribed this remarkable family connection to both genetics and environment.

Scott Christianson, "Bad Seed or Bad Science? The Story of the Notorious Jukes Family," New York Times (February 8, 2003):

In 1911, some eugenicists discovered Dugdale's original charts and notes, including the actual names of the Jukeses. They rushed the records to the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor, the leading eugenics research facility operated by the Carnegie Institution, where a field worker, Arthur H. Estabrook, was assigned the task of reviewing the records and updating the study.

The family's real names were kept hidden, but Estabrook said he had confirmed Dugdale's study and used the records to trace 2,111 Jukeses in addition to the 709 that Dugdale had described, bringing the total number of people studied to 2,820. His book, "The Jukes in 1915," reported that 1,258 Jukeses were still alive and reproducing — at a cost to the public of at least $2 million (about $35.2 million today).

In 1900, Albert Edward Winship published another supplemental study, Jukes-Edwards: A Study in Education and Heredity, this time tracing the descendants of America's leading theologian, Jonathan Edwards to compare them with the Jukes family. The results are generally non-controversial but fascinating. He reported that out of approximately 1,400 known descendants:

  • "practically no lawbreakers";
  • more than 100 lawyers and 30 judges;
  • 13 college presidents, 100+ professors;
  • 100 clergymen, missionaries and theological professors;
  • 62 physicians;
  • 80 elected public officials, including 3 mayors, 3 governors, several congressmen, 3 senators and 1 vice-president (Aaron Burr);
  • 60 authors or editors with 135 books to their credit; and
  • 75 army or navy officers.

In more recent times, this godly lineage was marred by one descendant of Jonathan Edwards, Janet Edwards, a, uh, minister, in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who officiated at a 2005 lesbian "wedding" ceremony, and was later acquitted at her church trial.

Moreover, the two churches that Edwards pastored in Northampton and Stockbridge are both now liberal.

Meanwhile, back to Max Juke, researchers discovered a poorhouse graveyard in 2001 located in New Paltz, New York, and additional records led them to conclude that one particular graveyard is that of the real Max in question -- whose true name is, apparently, Max Keyser.

There is a great deal of misinformation about the comparison of these two families that Christians and others would do well to keep in mind when considering these facts. Statistics can be used and they can be misused, and facts can be blurred, intentionally or unintentionally. It does not help the cause of Christ to misuse statistics or blur facts. It is always good to verify one's sources as much as possible. The two studies, it seems to me, serve best as a talking point for discussion, but I would not press the reported facts too far to make a point that Scripture makes on a more solid foundation.

God has promised blessings to godly families (Ex. 20.3-6, 12; Deut. 6; Ps. 112.1-2; Ps. 115.14; Ps. 128; Mal. 2.15; Eph. 6.1-3; etc.) and wrath to families who break his covenant and rebel against him (Ex. 20.5; 34.7; Num. 14.18; Deut. 5.9; Ps. 79.6; Jer. 10.25; etc.). But these promises and threatenings are general and not directed to particular generations within particular family lines. Godly families are known to have ungodly children and the Lord has been pleased to save many out of ungodly families so that the children no longer walk in the sins of their fathers. Trust not in (Matt. 3.9) nor blame (Deut. 24.16; Ezekiel 18) your parentage, but rather to each of us the word is: "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:" (Isa. 55.6). The meek shall indeed inherit the earth (Ps. 25.13; Matt. 5.5), but not by virtue of their physical lineage. God builds his church not only through families but also by breaking generational curses and delivering those whom the world despises. Each of us is responsible to God for our own life and shall have to give account for himself or herself, and not plead or blame his or her physical lineage in support of his or her case. This is a truth that many of us already know, but since it is human nature to tend this way, we must be on guard against this tendency when we speak of multi-generational blessings and curses.

Certain points to bear in mind:

  • The sources and methodology of Richard Dugdale are not known for certain, so his study, while it has stood up to some follow up research and scrutiny, may not be completely sound. What about the 500 or so descendants of Max who Dugdale could not report on?
  • The name of the anti-hero was ascribed by Dugdale as "Max Juke," though it has been reported by others as "Max Dukes" or "Max Jukes". Max Juke is a pseudonym, not a real name. More recently, researchers have come to believe that his real name is Max Keyser. Much has been said about his notorious life, but little is actually known.
  • Some have reported that the Max Jukes study was performed by Princeton professor Benjamin B. Warfield, which is incorrect; it was performed by Richard Dugdale.
  • Facts, figures and inferences about these two have been reported by many, and much has been written about the multigenerational consequences of righteousness and sin. The Bible does teach that covenant-faithfulness and covenant-breaking does have consequences from one generation to the next. But we must be on guard not to give people the impression that godliness is a purely genetic quality. And there are certainly exceptions to the honorable Edwards legacy, such as Janet Edwards and the two churches that Edwards pastored in Northampton and Stockbridge are both liberal. Moreover, statistics do not tell the complete story. The fact that certain Edwards descendants were elected officials or professionals does not necessarily speak to their virtue or godliness. Statistics give us a snapshot but how does one really quantify godliness?
  • Who knows about the descendants of Max Juke/Keyser today? Perhaps the Lord would be pleased to "bind the strong man" in that family and save some of those descendants. It is a dangerous thing to put trust in one's ancestry or to dismiss others because of their own reputed ancestry. While the comparison of the Edwards/Juke-Keyser family trees makes for a good story and there is a Scriptural principle about covenant fidelity that can be legitimately spoken of in connection with this story, Christians would do well to bear in mind the caveats, the exceptions, the uncertainties, about these studies and stand first and foremost upon the word of God over and above the potentially flawed scientific studies to make their point.


  1. That's all very interesting reading, Andrew!
    Praise to our covenant keeping God.
    Yet, "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and whom He wills He hardeneth."

    I am always fascinated by the stats about the Edwards family, but have never heard of these "Jukes". May God have mercy on them in this generation (and the wayward Edwards members)