RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, May 10, 2013

How reliable are published or traditional lines of nobility?

I have recently been taken to task because of some comments I made concerning the reliability of the traditional genealogies of noble and royal families. So, how reliable are these royal pedigrees that are incorporated into so many family trees?

As a matter of fact, I have seldom seen a claim to royal ancestry that was adequately sourced or had any sources at all. This lack of sources is much more common in countries such as the United States, where royal descent is viewed differently than it is in a country with a reigning monarch. I am reminded of the series of blog posts that I see from time to time asking if you are related to some famous movie star or political figure or another. There is an underlying, incorrect by the way, assumption in all of these claims, that the pedigree showing the relationship is accurate and correct. You might be impressed to be related to someone important, but how reliable is your own pedigree? How carefully has the connection been established?

OK, to start out, kings and queens had children just like the rest of the population. So, it stands to reason that their descendants can trace their ancestry back to some king or queen. What is not usually carefully researched by the claimants is each step in the relationship, even when the supposed relationship comes from an "accepted resource." It is also apparent that most of the discussion on this topic is by people who know little or nothing about doing research in the claimed royal lines. It is far different for a careful researcher in England to claim royal ancestry than it is for someone from the United States, who sees an online family tree showing royal ancestry and copies it.

Another crucial point here is the time period of the claimed connection. Many of the connections I have seen to royalty, make the connection back in the 1600s or even the 1500s when the research is much more difficult and errors are more common. There are absolute limits to the accuracy of any genealogical claim that goes far into the past. A recent book is cited by Nathan W. Murphy of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah in his post "I Have My Family Tree Back to Adam and Eve" Part 2: (I suggest reading Part 1 also).

Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. By Fran├žois Weil. Published by Harvard University Press, Online bookstore; 2013. ISBN 9780674045835. 320 pp.

In that book, the author, Fran├žois Weil, Chancellor of the Universities of Paris, as quoted by Nathan Murphy, states:
Genealogy was originally the prerogative of kings and princes. The oldest surviving royal genealogies in Europe go back to the sixth century A.D. for Gothic sovereigns, to the seventh century for their Irish, Lombardic, Visigothic, and Frankish counterparts, and to the eighth and ninth centuries for Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian kings. (pp. 10-11)
In doing any research in this area it is important to rely on the most recent and reliable sources. Any pedigree dating back to the 1800s or 1700s is suspect merely because more current research may have corrected earlier errors. Copying an undocumented pedigree from an online family tree is misleading and a total waste of time. Bad genealogical practices are bad whether or not they produce a connection to a bank robber or a king.





9 comments:

  1. Quite true.
    "In doing any research in this area it is important to rely on the most recent and reliable sources. Any pedigree dating back to the 1800s or 1700s is suspect merely because more current research may have corrected earlier errors. Copying an undocumented pedigree from an online family tree is misleading and a total waste of time. Bad genealogical practices are bad whether or not they produce a connection to a bank robber or a king."

    Documented and researched one's are available. And updated when new research is done. I've found a few that are reliable. I check references. I also do my own digging if need be.I'm the sort who prefers the real thing, not some pie in the sky.

    Took me over 20 years to do mine. Step by step. I also have it checked. Not so much for the membership even though I do enjoy the lineage societies I belong to...it's the knowing I proved it. To MY satisfaction. And I'm picky. Very. It's my family, my blood line. "Borrowed finery" as my great Aunt would say "rarely fits" so why wear it?

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  2. Just a note...although my line does go back to 1600's where it starts getting "interesting" it is covered by a couple books. Mainly because it's the Anne of York, Duchess of Exeter line. The same one that produced the mitDNA used to identify Richard III recently. I went back even further then needed actually......my ancestor was mentioned and the only problem was her husband's name wasn't. Anyway, apparently her grandfather was in a kuffle with a Bishop and he ended up in the Tower for a couple years. Interesting reading....Also he was distantly related to the Queen and she arranged his second marriage....MP etc etc....helps quite a bit.

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  3. "Another crucial point here is the time period of the claimed connection. Many of the connections I have seen to royalty, make the connection back in the 1600s or even the 1500s when the research is much more difficult and errors are more common. There are absolute limits to the accuracy of any genealogical claim that goes far into the past." Do forgive the continued comments....but, during the 1500's and later, the Royals, although Tudor were related to the prior via Henry VII wife, Elizabeth of York.....niece of Richard III as well as Anne of York, Duchess of Exeter, his sister and sister to her father Edward IV..... so Elizabeth I, would obviously be well aware of who her grandmother's family was and were...they didn't just vanish into thin air. If back that far it's usually traceable....just mentioning it....

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  4. Thanks James. I wish more people would give up their undocumented royal claims.

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  5. Again sorry for being a pain in the tush. Most if not all of those people in the Royal ancestry and for anyone who can claim to have they will find for the most part those people were TITLED. ie....my ancestor Dorothy Stapleton Nelson's father was just a GENT. His father was SIR Robert Stapleton MP....his wife was Katherine Constable, daughter of SIR Marmaduke Constable and Jane Conyer's daughter of LORD Christopher Conyers, Sir Marmaduke's father was SIR Robert Constable his mother was Katherine Manners, sister to the EARL of Rutland and daughter of SIR George Manners LORD ROOS and his wife Anne Saint Leger , daughter of ANNE OF YORK, DUCHESS of Exeter and her husband SIR Thomas saint Leger....Knighthood were the real deal back then as were titles...they don't get lost...it's not even impossible to find sixteen ways to Sunday a connection to several Kings more then once, if not half the Duke's Earls Lord's and such in the country..they were NOBLILITY. With warrants for lands and manners and titles and commissions to do this and that ....one SIR Robert Stapleton was comssioned to do the treaties with the KING of France as well as Scotland...not something you give to a clerk in the outer office....just saying..

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  6. I can only say the number of highly probable's with royal ancestry is calculated at 25% of UK and several MILLION in US....instead of wagging fingers at people, who are just starting on the road to family history give them the where to's look, and who to go to for reliable...and leave out ADAM an EVE as a example..apple and oranges. I saw some of those royal ancestry pedgree's way back in the day and my great aunt said we were....no documents but got me interested.....mine is now DOCUMENTED...give up? Many of them turned out to be quite helpful when looking for those documents....and while many of the people someone is looking for can't be found in local parish church...I found out many of those people had their own chapels (liscensed. btw, you could get in deep do do otherwise) Sir John Stapleton had a lis. to hear devine services in his namer at Wighill, Yourkshire dated 1424 and in 1447 had liscense from Archbishop of York to have and orartory (read chapel or mini"parish" church for a individual or family) in same...records were kept, many now available in private hands or local societies or Royal Archives or even in the hand's of a Duke or Royal College of Arms.......no records? You practically couldn't move a finger or toe without some one giving you permission to! Some people spend years looking for them..undocumented? Are you sure. I'd do a well, if you are interested here are the pitfalls and here are the sources for you to get the real deal....not APPLES AND ORANGES....encourage rather then discourage...let me give you and example....I have a line to a Mayflower..I contact the Mayflower society give them my possible..did they wag fingers at me? Nope....just so sorry as of now we don't have listed as....very nice no looking down nose just a couple very nice sorry! Next time I send in my MUCH better researched line, they say OH, yes indeed...we looked and we have that one down 7 generations all you need is...I'm one short of link up.....soooo you, Snif sniff, think you could be a Mayflower! A bit over your head my dear, sniff sniff....how about a nice here's how too...and a encourage then to continue looking. I wasn't made to feel uppity, just Good Luck on your search for your family and a feeling they weren't be snotty! Harummmump those posted royal pedigree's how silly of them and aren't we just dandy...I agree many are rubbish. Some are not. ENCOURAGE not snif snif...you know it's impossible! And then ignore the competent and truly well researched books. It isn't Impossible. Period. Nor are those rubbish pedigree's....I actually found a couple leads....I don't mind wading through ton's of records and census reports to find a nugget...you can find a lot of them in the most unexpected places....

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  7. I am, most definately, not the person who can do genealogy in the middle ages. But I get the impression (correct me if I'm wrong) that others have and are fairly reliable. E.g., Various articles in NEHGS, Douglas Richardson's Plantagenet Ancestry, etc. It seems that if one can trace one's ancestry to one of the known 300-400 immigrants that Richardson and other's claim are of royal ancestry, then the claim is reasonably valid, no? In my wife's ancestry she claims Richard Bowen-Margaret Fleming (which might be of royal descent -- many genealogical publications have printed it) and Agnes Harris (which royal descent seems pretty reasonable -- see Douglas Richardson, "The English Origin of Agnes Harris, of Hartford, Conn., Wife of William1 Spencer and William1 Edwards," The American Genealogist 63 (Jan. 1988): 33)

    If one is lucky enough to have a veritable slew of Ancestors from New England (such as my wife), such claims don't seem unreasonable. If one (such has my wife) has 300-500 ancestors from New England in the 1600's, the odds are fairly descent that just a single one will match the list of 300-400 known "Gateway Ancestors of Royal Descent", no?

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  8. Yes, there are about 600 known American gateway ancestors who descend from royalty. That's documentable. What is not documentable are the pedigrees European royalty fabricated to show their descent from Biblical genealogies.

    So you can get back to royalty.

    But not to Biblical genealogies.

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  9. I am supposed to be descended from royalty through two separate lines in America: Catherine Digges to Edward III and Rebecca Marbury to Edward I. The problem is neither Catherine nor Rebecca are mentioned in any known records as children of the people that are supposedly their parents; the individuals that actually descend from these two monarchs. Yet, the internet is flooded with genealogies making the claim through these women.

    It is very frustrating how folks copy and paste these trees into their own genealogies expanding the bad information. What do they hope to gain? If the genealogies were accurate they still wouldn't have any claim to titles, land, or money. Is it for bragging rights? I can tell you most people in my circle would be unimpressed.

    I personally find it to be a dishonor to the memory your true ancestor, the person left out of your tree and replaced with a false relative. I have too much conscience to place Catherine Digges or Rebecca Marbury in my tree based on nothing more than speculation. If some day the evidence is found to make the connection, I will enthusiastically add my royal lineage to my tree. Until then I am content to know, with certainty, through documented evidence, where my branches lead.

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