Thursday, November 14, 2013

Has your family ever been in the Social Register?

There's been a bit of a focus on the Upper Crust here this week, with yesterday's mention of Burke's Peerage and, today, a look at the Social Register Summer 1944.

(Maybe this will lead to Rolls-Royce, Porsche and Versace signing huge advertising deals with Papergreat. A guy can dream.)

The Social Register is, in a way, the United States' equivalent of Burke's Peerage. The Register dates to the 1880s and has served as a subjective directory of prominent American families within the social elite. Typically, it has been limited to "old money," so you'd see the Tom Buchanans of the world listed there, but not the Jay Gatsbys.

Here are some excerpts from the "About Us" page of the Social Register Association website:

"The origins of the Association are to be found in 19th-century visiting lists. These were the names and addresses of the preferred social contacts of prominent families, alphabetically arranged. In 1886, Louis Keller, described in his obituary as 'known to more persons here and abroad than any other one resident of New York,' had the idea of consolidating the most important of these lists. His compilation was composed primarily of descendants of the early Dutch and English settlers of his city as well as others intrinsic to the Association's definition of Society. ...

"The summer edition of the Social Register is published in May and contains seasonal information as well as 'Dilatory Domiciles' and a list of yachts and their owners.1 ...

"Since its inception, the Social Register has been the only reliable, and the most trusted, arbiter of Society in America."

Social Register Summer 1944 states on the title page that it "contains the summer addresses where they differ from the winter addresses of the residents of" New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati/Dayton, San Francisco, Baltimore and Buffalo.

It also contains this handy typographical feature, so that you can follow the nuptials of the rich and famous:2

Here is a sample page from inside Social Register Summer 1944.

I enjoy the fact that the Register includes the names that the wealthy give to their summer residences. Some of these names from throughout the guide include The Outlook, The Elms, The Boulders, Endsleigh, Vegamar, Thistledhu, Casablanca, Wickerpiece Rock, Upson Downs, Tamlaght o'Crilly, Three Knobs, Pennymead Dell, Little Rathmelton, The Forecastle, Wonderwood, Faraway, Runnymeade-by-the-Sea, Hurricane House, Gyldenmorden, Casa Chica, Windygarth, Yamoyden, Brown Door, Justhome, and Lady of the Lake.

Actually, there was a lot of overlap among names of summer residences. Apparently, the rich weren't very good at thinking creatively when it came to their secondary domiciles. Most names are related to trees, fields, meadows, streams, rocks and other geographical features. Faraway was a common name, too.

So, you might be wondering how you become a member of the social elite and get your name into one of these registers? The Straight Dope addressed that very topic in 1995. Good luck!

1. Readers, please share the names of your dilatory domiciles and yachts in the comments section, so that I can keep track of them. Thank you in advance.
2. In medieval times, there were often arranged marriages among the high and mighty that involved the transfer of huge tracts of land.

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