While Islamic scriptures like the Quran and Hadith are often quoted to negate the existence of social stratification among Muslims, authors of genealogical texts rely on the very same scriptures to foreground and legitimise discussions on descent and lineage. In the South Asian context, several conceptions of hierarchy as practised by Muslims in north India evolved over the course of colonial rule and were deployed interchangeably by Sayyids. These were based on notions of race, ethnicity, respectability and nobility, and occupational distinctions as well as narratives that referred to the history of early Islam. This article contributes to the study of social stratification among South Asian Muslims by exploring the evolution of Urdu tarikh (historical texts) produced by Sayyid men in the qasbah of Amroha in the Rohilkhand region of the United Provinces during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Sayyid authors narrated the past through the medium of nasab (genealogy). While their texts place emphasis on lineage and descent to legitimise a superior social status for Sayyids, they also shed light on the changing social and material context of the local qasbah politics with the discourse on genealogy evolving into a form that engaged with social contestations.