Connecting to Royalty

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A question we are often asked at Genealogy Roadshow is to verify someone's connections to royalty or nobility. While rumors of royal connections often run rampant in a family tree, there are certainly valid connections to be found. From Charlemagne to the late Princess Diana, thousands of Americans have an interest in seeking out a royal connection. While it is quite unlikely that solving this genealogical mystery will result in an invitation to a family reunion at Buckingham Palace, finding a family's noble roots can be an exciting adventure.

As a first step, it is important to remember that connections to royalty are often extremely distant and far removed. It is not uncommon to find a relationship to someone such as William the Conqueror, though you might find yourself tracing your line back more than a thousand years to find him. Many find connections to members of the royal family that date back several centuries. Often one royal connection will lead to another, as so many families intermarried across several generations. Millions of Americans can trace their distant roots back to someone of royal blood, which in turn means that connecting to royalty can also yield thousands of previously unknown cousins.

A common way to connect to royalty is through a "gateway ancestor," someone who already has proven royal ancestors. Those who have colonial American ancestry will often find an ancestor or two with royal links, particularly those who have early New England families in their tree. A few key resources have been created that offer lists (and the trees) of hundreds of gateway ancestors:

  • Cokayne, George Edward, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant. London: St. Catherine Press, 1910.
  • Richardson, Douglas. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2004.
  • Joshua Taylor-fade_x.png Roberts, Gary Boyd. Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2008.
  • Weis, Frederick Lewis, Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came to America before 1700, 7th ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992.

You can often find the books above at your local public library or genealogical society. If you can't locate a local copy, talk to your local public library's interlibrary loan department to see if they can order a copy to use. 

In addition to printed books, sometimes an online family tree might provide a clue to royal connections. A strong word of caution, many links in online trees are incorrect and lack any original sources. Even printed publications contain incorrect links to royal or noble families. Verifying information against reliable publications and original sources is absolutely essential. Newly discovered connections, disproven lines, and other details are also often published in genealogical magazines and journals, such as The American Genealogist and the New England Historical and Genealogical Register.

As with all things in family history, when working to verify or identify a royal connection you should research from the known to the unknown. Start with yourself and work back each generation to your "gateway ancestor."

— Joshua Taylor

Getting Started and Staying Motivated

Getting Started and Staying Motivated

By researching our ancestry, we learn about ourselves.

Newspaper Research

Newspaper Research

A local public library in the area where your relative lived is a great place to start.

Using Court Records

Using Court Records

Probate and court records document the lives of our ancestors.

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