Jean Stephenson, 86, a retired government editor who was an authority on genealogy, died of a pulmonary ailment Monday in the Frostburg (Md.) Community Hospital. She had lived in a nursing home near Frostburg for about a month before her death.

Dr. Stephenson became interested in genealogy as a child in her native Texas, where she assisted her mother in looking up records of persons who applied for membership in the Society of Colonial Dames.

She moved to Washington in 1918 and continued her work in genealogy. By the 1930s, she had served as associate editor and herald of the National Genealogical Society, vice chairman of the national genealogical records committee of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and associate editor of the Magazine of American Genealogy.

During the 1960s, she was codirector of a genealogieal research program sponsored by American University, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the American Society of Genealogists.

The program trained college students in the methodology of genealogical research. Dr. Stephenson said that "the Washington area is the best place in the United States for doing genealogical research because there are so many places to look for information, includig natiuonal census data, and military, land and pension records."

Dr. Stephenson saw an increase in public interest in genealogy during the early 1950s. In a 1933 interview she had said, "Years ago, people depended on religion to find their 'place in the sun.' Nowadays, it is only through genealogy that they can extablish the link between the past and present."

She was a member of the Council of the National Archives, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Society of America Achivists.

She also wrote pamphles and books on genealogy and served as board member, and in 1932 as president, of the District of Colunbia League of American Penwomen.

Dr. Stephenson attended graduate school at Cornell University, where she worked in the school treasurer's office for four years before moving to Washington in 1968. She earned a doctorate in law at National University.

She was a publications editor for the Navy's Bureau of Supplies and Accounts for nearly 25 years before retiring in 1950.

Dr. Stephenson had long been active in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, had been an executive committee member of the Appalachian Trail Conference, and had edited the club's Trailways News for 30 years.

She belonged to the First Families of Virginia and The Washington Club.

There are no immediate survivors.

It is suggested that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions either to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club or the National Genealogy Society.