Peering into Royal Lineage Research

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

I have often viewed royal lineage research with more than a little skepticism. As a newly-elected genealogical society president, I can remember inviting visitors to a society monthly meeting to introduce themselves and tell a bit about the focus of their research. A man stood up, identified himself, and told us that he had researched his line back to Julius Caesar. This declaration was followed not long after by a woman in the society’s creative writing class who informed the group that she had done all her research back to David in the Bible – by way of Stonewall Jackson. I, perhaps wisely, did not ask to see her documentation.

This skepticism was  reinforced recently as I work with a client whose extensive family files describe lineage from a line of Swiss barons (well-documented) and a variety of other collateral lines including one with supposed descent from the Scottish hero Sir William Wallace and former Virginia Governor Charles S. Robb’s descent from Robert the Bruce. As my assignment is to arrange and concatenate all of her files (rather than any actual research at this time), I am quite skeptical of the William Wallace connection because his history and documented lineage are sketchy at best (Blind Harry the bard’s account notwithstanding) and what is available does not match my client’s family’s information.

Nevertheless, I am aware that members of royal families, and to an even greater extent members of noble families, have documented offspring. For many of these offspring, lineages can be tracked through successive generations to modern-day individuals.

Given my interest in Barclay genealogy, I always search for that surname in royal/noble lineage publications. Almost invariably the Barclay included is John Barclay who was born in Scotland in 1659 and died in Perth Amboy, East New Jersey, ca. 1731. He was the brother of Robert Barclay of Urie, the “Quaker Apologist,” whose line is documented back to Robert the Bruce. My research in the Barclay-Allardice Papers some years ago in Edinburgh documented John’s grandchildren in New Jersey as John (b.1725), David (b.1727), Anne (b.1729), John (b.1731), Charles (b.1733), Peter (b. 1735), Robert (b.1737), Lydia (b.1739), Katherine (b.1742) and Richard (b.1745). While I have not done further research myself, thus far the Barclay Genealogical Database (a service of Clan Barclay International) does not include any descendants of these children. Despite a lack of documentation, many correspondents to the database are convinced that they descend from either Robert or John Barclay of Urie.

For many individuals, finding familial connection to an important person, preferably with noble or royal roots, is a much-desired research goal. Several motives prompt this desire, including the desire to qualify for one or more hereditary societies such as the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in the USA, the Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain, the Baronial Order of the Magna Carta, and many more. Royal and noble lineage research, however, requires skill and perseverance; it is not easy.

In a sense, royal and noble research methodology is no different than any other such genealogical project . You must start with yourself and move backward through time, documenting the details of each generation. One writer on the topic believes that for the ordinary person, it might be necessary to research twenty-five to thirty generations or more before reaching a royal line (my client’s files contend that from Swiss nobility to Senator Robb appears to be twenty generations). There can be no guarantee that you will link to royal lineage at any time in your research (unless you are one of the few, like the actress Brooke Shields, who already know that you can link to a royal or noble lineage within the past three to four generations). The ability to link to a noble line is much easier, and perhaps over half of the population of the United States is able to do so. If you can trace your lineage back to the colonial era in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, or the South, you may well be able to document your descent from the younger son of a noble line in England or Scotland. This younger son generally did not inherit property and thus had to support himself in some other fashion. In colonial Virginia, these younger sons often came to work as tutors to the children of plantation owners, or as ministers or businessmen. Do not forget to research the women in your pedigree, as they may be the individuals through whom you will discover your royal or noble connection.

Given the need to document individuals in so many generations, your work may require research in medieval records. To use these records effectively requires advanced skills, including the ability to read and translate the Latin or French in which these records were written. Some books that can help if you are doing British Isles research include Grant G. Simpson’s Scottish Handwriting 1150-1650: An Introduction to the Reading of Documents (Aberdeen University Press, 1986), Charles Trice Martin’s The Record Interpreter (repr. Clearfield Co., 2007, but currently out of print) and Denis Stuart’s Latin for Local and Family Historians (Phillimore, 2000).

In addition, your research will require analysis of the records of the time, records that are quite different from those you normally encounter in your research. You will want to learn about these records through such books as Amanda Bevan’s Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives (The National Archives, 2006), Mark D. Herber’s Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History (2nd ed., Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), and the British series of titles written by J.S.W. Gibson that include such titles as Probate Jurisdictions; Where to Look for Wills (5th ed., Clearfield., 2002; currently out of print) and Specialist Indexes for Family Historians (2nd ed., Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001; currently on sale).

You also need acquaint yourself with the surnames of individuals whose royal or ancestral ancestry has been documented. As always, just finding a lineage in a printed (or online) resource does not mean that it is accurate. Use your regular research skills to analyze the documentation provided before accepting the information as presented. You will want to consult titles such as the following:

Just as there are many books published on royal ancestry, the Internet also provides access to a wide-range of information. A search on Cyndi’s List yielded 261 links. While some sites cover the lineage of a specific family or the royalty of a specific country, others take a completely different tact. The Prosopographical Centre at Linacre College, Oxford, for instance, promotes the study of medieval prosopography, namely the “independent science of social history embracing genealogy, onomastics and demography” in which analysis focuses on a “person, his environment and his social status, that is, a person within the context of family and other social groups, the place or places in which he was active and the function he performed within his society.”

Wikipedia’s “List of Monarchs by Nickname” introduces us to Sweden’s Gustav V, “the Tennis King;” Saxony’s John George I, “the Beer Jug;” Bulgaria’s Ivailo “the Cabbage;” and Pamplona’s Garcia IV, “the Trembling.” Other links refer to individuals who maintain royal and noble databases and listservs that may prove useful in your research. You may want to look in particular at “Royal Genealogy and Heraldry” and the Open Directory Project’s list of genealogical links pertaining to royal lineages.

Have fun with any of your royal research possibilities – I’m returning to the connections between  Swiss Barons, Confederate generals, Charles Robb, William Faulkner, and more as I finish up my client project.

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