Dreaming of castles

Many Americans are fascinated by British royalty, following the romances, marriages, childbirths, divorces and the gowns and jewels.  We may be the citizens of a democracy but we seem hypnotized by the bluebloods of Europe.

I once read an article that explained our interest in royalty by pointing out that for those of us with British roots, we feel connected to the heads of our ancestral tribe, a sort of deep-seated connection we don’t really understand but nonetheless have.

Have you ever wondered if you might have a distant royal ancestor?  It’s highly possible you may be the descendant of kings, princes, nobles or notable people.  It was once estimated that over half of Europeans could trace their ancestry back to Charlemagne through Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.  

And it’s not just English royalty; there are also French, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Spanish and others. And in the British Isles there’s also Scotland and Wales who had royal and noble families.  

How do you go about finding if you have such an ancestor?  The expert on American descendants of royals, nobles and notables is Gary Boyd Roberts, senior researcher emeritus of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston.  Roberts is the author or editor of several books dealing with royalty or New England families. Included are titles such as “Notable Kin,” volumes 1 and 2, “The Royal Descent of 900 Immigrants to the American Colonies,” along with “American Ancestors and Cousins of the Princess of Wales (Diana Spencer),” and “The Royal Ancestry of Meghan Markle” plus “The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton.”

If you’d like to know if you have some blue-blooded ancestors, perusing your way through Roberts’ books is an excellent place to start.  The odds are you may find a surname of an ancestor listed in one of these volumes. Many of his books are out of print but you’re likely to find them available in larger libraries.

If you think you could never have a noble ancestor hiding in your tree, think again.  Many younger sons were sent to the colonies to arrange business deals for their families and settled here.  Younger sons usually didn’t have a title or the right to use the family crest. It would only take a generation or two when all ancestry was forgotten or was considered just another family story.  Female descendants changed surnames when they married, losing the family names and the remembrance of the connection.

There are also several royal “lineage” societies that descendants can join if they wish to, including one for illegitimate descendants of royalty.  Some kings, such as Charles II, left a small army of royal children by a regular harem of royal mistresses.

So, if you secretly dream of ermine and diamond tiaras, go ahead and see if you just might be one of the many descendants of a king or noble.  Enjoy the hunt, but don’t count on inheriting a title or the key to the castle anytime soon.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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