Weekend Surprise: Unraveling Royal Descent

I  received my eagerly-anticipated copy of Martin Hollick’s revised edition of New Englanders in the 1600s. It now sits beside its well-used predecessor, and contains even more families, detailing all modern scholarship which has been performed on a given individual or family from 1980-2010. I use it constantly for work, but rarely ever sat down with it to review my own early New England lines, and became inspired to do so this weekend.

I’m always touting the significance of using current, scholarly research, since so many early genealogical works contained errors, small or large, which were then repeated ad nauseum throughout subsequent books – and then with the advent of the internet, exponentially spread far and wide. But then along comes a modern article published in a respected genealogical or historical journal which corrects those mistakes, or discovers brand new avenues of research. Thankfully, many of those articles are becoming available online, particularly through NEHGS, and are therefore easier to access. With that in mind, I am a bit sorry to admit that up until this point, I have never truly sat down to evaluate my early New England lines. The excuses? Sure! Working for the past five years at NEHGS, I often had clients and patrons ancestors running through my head instead of my own. And when I did have some time to work on my lines, I tended to focus on either the brick walls on my father’s lines, or the complete unknowns on my mother’s lines. Dad was lucky enough to come from several generations which had at least one or two people interested in genealogy, beginning with my great-great-great-grandmother Imogene (Everson) McClellan, and therefore I inherited a big chunk of work already “done” (especially those early New England lines) – whereas my mother, who descends entirely from Irish immigrants who ended up in Boston, had no idea what her roots were beyond the immediate family that she knew. And then of course I married and gained a whole new set of lines to research, since my husband’s British father knew nothing concrete beyond his mother in London, and my husband’s mother had only two generations back to Italy, with various details to be discovered. Add to that the fact that between me and many of my Great Migration ancestors are 13-14 generations. At 14 generations of ancestry, one has a whopping 16,382 ancestors – quite an overwhelming number of people to study exhaustively. So that’s a few mea culpas to add to the mix!

Grandma Imogene’s genealogical research, which largely dates from the first decade of the 20th century, was placed on the “someday” pile to review, and her beautiful fan charts were copied into my Rootsmagic software as tentative. Imogene’s work deserves a full blog entry – or several – as I have been lucky enough to inherit several wonderful pieces of her research. Handwritten letters to and from town clerks across New England, her notes on various contemporary published genealogies, her ancestral charts, as well as primary documents from her father’s line, including some of his deeds and probate (and those of his ancestors), as well as material culture such as quilts and silverware [which has been occasionally highlighted in previous entries].

Imogene descended entirely from early New England roots. And even after just one weekend of digging deeper at her research, it is quite impressive how much of her work holds up to this day. Many little red flags showed up, particularly around the identities of wives of Great Migration immigrants and other 17th century wives, who were falsely identified in genealogies dating to the 1800s – which of course is what Imogene would have been using as her reference works. I developed a folder for all the Great Migration sketches pertaining to her ancestors from Robert Charles Anderson’s series. Imogene’s work was essentially limited to mere names and dates, so works such as the Great Migration are a wonderful way to access modern scholarship which fully documents the lives of those immigrants (the good, the scandalous, and the mundane!).

So far, so good in terms of general accuracy. But then I worked my way to the Big Two: Imogene’s two gateway ancestors to royal descent. Any wagers on the conclusion? Both lines were completely bogus, perpetuated by early authors hoping to connect early New England immigrants (with no known ancestry) to more noble families in England with the same surname.

1. John Dingley of Marshfield, Plymouth, Mass. Supposedly John’s Dingley line connected to the Neville line, which connected to Beauchamp, and eventually to King Edward III, King Edward II, King Edward I, Henry III, King John,  King Henry II, Empress Matilda, King Henry I, and William of Normandy. However, according to TAG 56:207-210 and 61:234-40, John Dingley was unlikely to be the son of the couple Francis Dingley and Elizabeth Bigge who descended from the Neville line.
2. John Churchill of Plymouth. Many attempts to connect him with the ancestry of Sir William Churchill, which ties into a royal bastard line. But his origins remain unknown.

That eliminated all of Imogene’s royal lines. I wasn’t all too surprised to discover it. And frankly I equally love discovering new lines as much as I love disproving false ones. At work I had a running log of bogus “Indian princess” lines as well as a log of particularly egregious 19th century historians who not only made mistakes, but outright fabricated lies and documentary evidence (including writing false vital records on a piece of paper and then dipping it in tea to make the paper seem historic!). But there was a certain appeal to claiming descent from Charlemagne.

Then I began thinking about my extended family. As I mentioned, Imogene’s work has been known in the family since the early 1900s – that’s quite a few generations who took some pride in their royal descent. In my father and grandmother’s generations, quite a few uncles, aunts, and cousins have taken frequent trips to the British Isles, seeking out their “ancestral castles” along the way. Did I have the heart to break it to them?

I called it a night. On Sunday I went back to investigating a few more of Imogene’s lines, to continue adding documentation to her lines, and discovered that an “unknown” wife in Imogene’s time has subsequently been discovered and verified, and traced her line back to the Puritan minister Rev. John Maverick and his wife Mary Gye.

NEHGS genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts compiled The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants, which includes Mary Gye as a true gateway ancestor. 12 generations between Mary Gye and Henry III, King of England and his wife Eleanor of Provence. Huzzah! The ability to tell the cousins that only some of the castles they visited were bogus connections… except Gary writes: “Further documentary proof of generations 7-9 would be desirable”. That’s because it looks like this:

1. Henry III, King of England, d. 1272 = Eleanor of Provence
2. Edmund Plantagenet, 1st Earl of Lancaster = Blanche of Artois
3. Henry Plantagenet, 3rd Earl of Lancaster = Maud Chaworth
4. Eleanor Plantagenet = Richard FitzAlan, 9th Earl of Arundel
5. John FitzAlan, 1st Baron Arundel = Eleanor Maltravers
6. Joan FitzAlan = Sir William Echyngham
7. Joan Echyngham, said to be married to Sir John Baynton
8. Henry Baynton = (_)
9. (said to be) Joan Baynton = Thomas Prowse
10. Mary Prowse = John Gye
11. Robert Gye = Grace Dowrish
12. Mary Gye of Mass. = Rev. John Maverick

Now, I haven’t had a chance to review all the footnotes to get the full story of why, if generations 7-9 are considered sketchy in terms of evidence [though the two “said to be”s surely stick out], that they are accepted as more true than not. Gary had enough faith in the line to include it, but even he feels the connection could use additional documentation.

And of course, with Henry III as an ancestor, that also means we can claim again as ancestors his direct line of royal descent : King John,  King Henry II, Empress Matilda, King Henry I, and William of Normandy.

So in the course of one weekend, I went from erasing all lines of Imogene’s royal descent, to gaining one royal line, to discovering that line, while considered valid, is still a bit sketchy… call it a possible royal line? Martin has discussed the complications of medieval genealogy, but he has been able to document a line of royal ancestry from scratch – perhaps a more thorough review of the sources documenting the ancestry of Mary Gye could upgrade her royal descent from a possibility to a probability.

2 thoughts on “Weekend Surprise: Unraveling Royal Descent

  1. I did not realize that John Churchill was a “gateway” but I severed him from the long line I had a while ago and it was always sketchy. I just found out that there is doubt about my royal gateway, Ellen Aston. Kinda Bummed out about it.

  2. Finding the Gye/Maverick line has been so mind blowing for me(we decend from Moses Maverick & Remember Allerton – Mayflower). Even if it is sketchy, the probablility of being of royal decent is exciting. Mary Gye is also supposedly decended from an illegitimate royal. Do you know who that is?

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