Genealogy Q&A: Tracing a Math Professor Ancestor

By David A. Fryxell Premium

Q. My grandfather taught math, but that’s all I know about his professional life. How could I learn more?

A. An unusual site called the Mathematics Genealogy Project might be able to help. Don’t get too excited by the name, however: By “genealogy,” this site means connections not by parentage but by education, as in serving as an advisor for a doctoral thesis in mathematics. Its 180,000-plus records trace PhD family trees, as it were, of mathematicians famous and otherwise. You can go back several “generations” to see the professors who advised the advisor to an individual—intellectual grandfathers and great-grandfathers, in a sense.

The site does have some practical utility, however, for people seeking information about mathematician ancestors in the usual sense. Plug in a name and you can find the person’s university, year he earned his doctorate, dissertation title and advisor, and sometimes more. Some entries link to biographies on other sites. You can search on partial names, and even for whole PhD classes, such as all mathematicians who received degrees from the University of Wisconsin in 1935.
From the December 2014 Family Tree Magazine 

Unlock the treasures in all the records you can find with our Ultimate Guide to Genealogy Records eBook!

Discover the best genealogy records using the tips and strategies in this guide, which shows you how to find and use census records, birth records, marriage records and more.