30 November 2022
Are you of royal descent? Diane Brook is - as are, she suspects, most of us. Read on for her insights into researching royal roots.
Why are we fascinated with royal descents? Most of our ancestors were ordinary people, not nobles or royalty.
Some royals were extremely prolific and lived a very long time ago, so have left vast numbers of traceable descendants, however, and royals are traceable into the distant past when ordinary folk generally are not. For instance, we have accurate dates for the birth, marriages and death of Edward I (born 17 June 1239, first marriage Oct 1254, second marriage 8 Sep 1299, died 7 Jul 1307) while I have only a possible death date for my poor Irish great-great-grandmother, born sometime in the earlier 1800s, and no marriage or birth dates.
How to find that 'gateway' ancestor
How do you find your actual royal descent? As we trace back and hit brick walls, lines which might link us to the deeper past get blocked. What we need is what is called a ‘gateway ancestor’, one with the necessary royal link.
Mine is a New England woman called Rachel Goddard, descended from Puritan Wiltshire gentry. The Goddard’s ancestors married heiresses, taking the line up the social scale until one comes to King Edward I. One royal connection then links to virtually all the royal families of Europe before that time. The line of descent is unlikely to be an all-male or all-female one. My ancestry switches between male and female lines ten times to get back to the king.
Useful leads for royal descendants
There have been several attempts to document all the royal descendants of a chosen king.
- In the early twentieth century De Ruvigny set out to publish all the descendants of King Edward III, published five volumes but died before he ever got to all the lines (English Genealogy, Anthony Wagner, 1983, Oxford, 233-237).
- There are a number of free websites which give royal lineages including The Peerage, Geni and Wikitree
- The Royal Household itself now has a website with details of previous royals
Text extracted from an in-depth article on tracing royal roots, in the January 2023 issue of Family Tree. Get your copy here.