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

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Oh no! I'm First Cousins to William Shakespeare

I was guessing I could use my relationship to William Shakespeare to explain the overwhelming popularity of my blog (just kidding).  But, I doubt that the gene pool is sufficiently connected to account for the phenomena. Especially since Shakespeare would probably disown me. So how did I come to the startling knowledge of my 1st cousin (with a few generations removed) relationship to Willie Shakespeare (that's what we call him in the family)? It came as a results of my son's Relative Finder report on "European Royalty." So I decided to duplicate the results.

Relative Finder is a both a website and Facebook online program that access portions of your family tree from Interestingly, my family information in (NFS) is rather less than reliable. Also, NFS has some really questionable inclusions, such as the "One Royal Line" by Albert F. Schmuhl. When I clicked on finding my ancestors, the program came back with 7008 of my "relatives." I can hardly wait to add all of these individuals into my genealogy program!

After selecting a famous relative, I chose Famous Writers and voila! I am a First Cousin to William Shakespeare 12 generations removed.  Hmm. I was not aware that there was any agreement on Willie's genealogy. In fact, there is discussion that the ancestor through whom I am supposedly related may not  be Willie's father at all but possibly his brother? See The Shakespeare Family History Site.

So I began to look at the so-called relationship chart. Everything looks pretty normal back to David Kenyon (1693 Rhode Island) and his wife Mary Sanford (1703 Rhode Island) but here the plot thickens. Mary Sanford is shown as the daughter of William Sanford (1676 Rhode Island) and then Samuel Sanford (1635 Rhode Island) Whoops! Looks like he was either a Narragansett Indian or the line has drifted off course. Roger Williams settled in what became Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1636. Although Williams was not the first European settler in the area, Samuel Sanford is not mentioned as one of the few possible settlers before Williams.

It is beginning to look mightily like this relationship thing is entirely bogus and it isn't even cleverly bogus. So now we get into a discussion about whether or not this (possibly fake) relationship calculator is a boon or a bane? My answer. Only if you actually believe that you are related to some of these famous people. It is possible that a relationship to someone less remote in time could be more accurate, but if the relationships are based on information in NFS I would have to reject the proposed relationship out of hand without adequate documentation.

Will I go along with the argument that anything that gets people interested in their family is justified under the umbrella of "it doesn't hurt anyone, anyway." It would be OK if the program came out and said that this supposed relationship was pure fabrication, but it purports to dispense accurate information without any obvious disclaimers and people accept it on its face as true.

Sorry, if this is a rehash of what everyone already knows, but I run into this problem of relationships of famous people regularly. How dare I cast aspersions on a BYU program. 


  1. It's not all negative. It's good for a laugh. Some of it is accurate though (I'd venture that connections from the 1800s onward are fairly trustworthy; maybe even mid to late 1700s).

    I do agree that there should be a big disclaimer saying that the connections are only as good as the underlying information, which is questionable at best. In other words, have fun with the site but don't believe any of it without doing your own research (of the kind and quality that you espouse). Yeah, that's not very helpful but that's how research works.

  2. I agree with Jared. I realized many might assume it is correct, but I hesitate to tell people how they need to confirm everything themselves. I do tell people that when I teach, but among those who are less committed to family history, it can be hard to know how to balance stressing sources without scaring people.

  3. OK, you got me clicking again...I signed up, and ran it, and found that Willie is my cousin too. And all of those Mormon guys and Presidents and Kings and Queens.

    My cousins will be interested. I've been tempted to add the royal lineage GEDCOMs from the FamilySearch Community site to my own GEDCOM...but have resisted so far. I'm getting weaker... resist!

  4. im also related to shakespeare, although im not sure how exactly, 13 generation cousin i think maybe less maybe more

  5. I'm descended from Shakespeare's uncle, Henry Shakespeare, through his daughter Lettice who married a John Drake. Lettice died in 1623 after having several children, and Drake settled in Windsor,Connecticut in the 1640's. That's how I am related. I'm a first cousin, not sure how many times removed. A dozen maybe?

  6. I'm first cousins 11 times removed with William Shakespeare!