In February 2006 JK Rowling donated a sketch of the Black family tree for a Book Aid charity auction, and as expected, it generated a great deal of interest and excitement in the Harry Potter fan community. And finally, as the year draws to a close, the MuggleNet Encyclopedia has managed to get the full family tree, along with information about the people on it, up on site - and about time too, a lot of you might say.
Whilst the tree gives a fascinating insight into the background of one of the oldest pure-blood families of all, it also threw up a number of surprising facts and - perhaps - the odd inconsistency or two. Well, JK herself has held up her hand to say that math is anything but her strong point, and so we'll certainly let her off on this one. Mathematical uncertainties aside, however, the tree does provide some very interesting information about the Black family. These are the things that leapt out at me when I first looked at it in detail.
You might be well advised keeping our copy of the tree open in one window for reference while you look through this lot. Here's an easy link to a new window to help you out: The Black Family Tree.
Even if the Black family was "practically royalty", as Sirius claims they thought themselves to be, the family tree shows three fathers who were only 13 or 14 years old when their children were born, and this seems to be going a bit far even for them.
Arcturus Black (1901-1991) sired his daughter Lucretia (1915-1992) when he was 14 years old (fourth year at Hogwarts).
Pollux Black (1912-1990) sired his daughter Walburga (1925-1985) when he was 13 years old (third year at Hogwarts).
Cygnus Black (1938-1992) sired his daughter Bellatrix (1951-) when he was 13 years old (third year at Hogwarts).
Well, the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts could have been turned into a maternity ward, and the children could have been cared for in an on-site daycare center. It all makes Ron and Lavender's snogging seem practically humdrum to be honest. Although it does make you wonder what would have happened if Lavender... oh, well, let's not get off the topic.
Phineas Nigellus Black
If the HP Lexicon's recording of the dates of birth is accurate, and there's no reason to assume that it is not, the birthdates of Phineas's third, fourth and fifth children seem to be in the wrong sequence. All the other families read oldest to youngest, from top to bottom (left to right on the Lexicon version). Interestingly, Albus Dumbledore (born about 1840) was just a few years older than Phineas Nigellus Black (born 1847). If they knew each other at Hogwarts, this would explain his familiar manner towards Albus.
Dorea and Charlus Potter
There is a distinct possibility that Dorea and Charlus are the parents of James Potter, as many facts about them - such as birth and death dates (Dorea lived from 1920 to 1977), and James' status as an only son and a pure-blood - fit in with the known facts about James' parents. Not all the facts tie in, however. JK reported that James' parents were "getting on a little" when their son was born, and died naturally due to old age. The tree shows that Dorea died when she was 57, which is an early death in anyone's language, and she would have borne her son at 38, which wasn't that old to have a child, especially by wizarding standards.
Bellatrix was born in 1951. Sirius Black implied that that Severus Snape hung out with Bellatrix Black and the Lestranges at Hogwarts (GF27, US p. 531). But Snape was born in 1959. So if the dates on the chart are correct, then Bellatrix Black could not have been at Hogwarts when Snape was a student.
His death was noted as being "some 15 years before" August 1995 (OP6, US p. 112). This fits in pretty well with the tree's version of his death date, which is 1979. Walburga's death date of 1985 is consistent with Sirius's mention of her death as "ten years" earlier in August 1995 (OP5, US p. 83).
Now this is really, really interesting. Draco's name and birth year is the only time that a descendant of a daughter was listed on the Black family tree. It is possible that he was chosen as the new heir of the Black family because Regulus had already died and Sirius had been disowned? Otherwise Draco would have gotten the simpler notation ("1s") allotted to the other descendants of daughters. However, Walburga probably never made a formal will, which is why Sirius managed to inherit the house (and why she is so angry about it).
JK has told us in the past that wizards have a much longer life expectancy than Muggles. But this family tree shows that most of them had similar (or indeed shorter) life spans to most 20th-century Muggles.
Wizarding families seem to follow certain naming patterns. Over half of the Black family named their children after stars or constellations: Sirius, Regulus, Bellatrix, Alphard, Arcturus, Andromeda, Draco, Cygnus, Orion, Pollux and Cassiopeia.
Inbreeding of Pure-Blood Families
Interestingly, Merope is the name of one of the Pleiades, a group of stars near the constellation Orion. Did a Black marry a Gaunt long ago? It is almost certain, since all the pure-blood families had to intermarry to keep their lines pure (OP6, US p. 113). Inbreeding in the Gaunt family resulted in physical deformities and insanity. The Blacks were a far handsomer family than the Gaunts and were still intelligent, but some showed signs of emotional instability (judging by Mrs. Black's portrait, Bellatrix Lestrange, Araminta Meliflua, and Aunt Elladora). Sirius was also rather emotionally unsteady, but a contributing factor was his extended stay in Azkaban.
Endangered or Extinct Pure-Blood Families
The Black family name has died out. The Gaunt family name has died out. The Crouch family name has died out. The Slytherin family name has died out. And since the Peverell ring was passed down to Marvolo Gaunt, this suggests that the Peverell family name has died out. Although weren't most of these families in Slytherin house, who prided themselves on their pure blood?
Tom Marvolo Riddle Connections
Tom Riddle was born in 1926. Since all the Blacks prior to Sirius had been sorted into Slytherin, it is likely that several of them were at Hogwarts with Tom Riddle.
Lucretia Black, who was born in 1925.
Alphard Black, who was born between 1925 and 1938. He was only blasted off the tapestry posthumously when he had the unmitigated gall to leave Sirius all of his money (OP6, US p. 111).
Cygnus Black, who was born in 1928.
Orion Black, who was born in 1929.
It is possible that one or more of these Black brothers were in that 1940s meeting of the Slug Club. Professor Slughorn addressed only Avery and Lestrange by name. At least three boys in the group remained nameless, and all of the boys looked to Riddle as their leader. The Lestrange in question, incidentally, is not likely to be Rodolphus or Rabastan, as that would make their date of birth also sometime in the late 1920s. Whilst it's certainly not impossible for a married couple to have a 20-25 year age gap, it is nevertheless rather unlikely that the Lestrange at the party married Bellatrix, who was born in 1951. It certainly makes it impossible for him to have hung out at school with Snape, who was born in 1959. It's therefore reasonable to assume that the Lestrange at the party was Rodolphus and Rabastan's father.
He may have been recruited into the Death Eaters by his father-in-law, Cygnus Black, and the Death Eaters may span three generations now (with the recruitment of Draco Malfoy).
She wasn't listed on this family tree even though Sirius mentioned her name when he and Harry were examining the tapestry. She was a cousin of his mother's who tried to force though a bill to make Muggle-hunting legal (OP6, US p. 113).
There should be no doubt that most of the items listed above are correct, and appear as JK intended them. Particularly on the dates front, however, there are undoubtedly a few inconsistencies, but we need to consider the background to the family tree when looking at this issue. After all, this was a quick family tree fired off for a charity auction. The problems in it are likely to be there because JK worked from the top to the bottom, instead of working from the bottom to the top. She is allowed to make minor arithmetical mistakes, and she has been honest enough in the past to admit that she has done it more than once in the past, and is very likely to do it again!
What should be taken as canon are the relationships on the chart. And as for me, what I really want to know are all "the stories between the lines"!