Sunday, March 12, 2017

Descended from Royalty?

This is a story, a story with many twists and a few surprises.
As some of you may know, I do genealogy as a hobby. It's like working on a jigsaw puzzle, except you don't know what the pieces look like, nor do you know the final picture. You just keep looking for a new piece to fit into what you have already put together.
I had a great start to my family tree. My uncle Russell Batie had researched the Batie tree extensively and traced it back to a chapel in Northumberland, England. I haven't been able to trace that line back any further, but there are more lines than just my paternal paternal line.
My father's mother's family is quite interesting to me since I live on, and farm their original homestead and tree claim after they emigrated from England. So I delved into the Pickering Family. I have traced them back to, and visited, Hartshorne, Derbyshire, England. One of my great grandmother's family I've traced back about 10 generations into Leicestershire. Pretty exciting.
I've also been trying to keep current with all the new marriages and babies and deaths in the family so we can keep a list of who's who. I am always behind. Facebook is great to get the birth announcements from proud grandparents, I just forget to enter them into the family tree right away.
On my mother's side the Burbank family has been traced back to Massachusetts in the 1600's. There are ideas how they got to Massachusetts but no concrete data. I have a copy of a Burbank family genealogy book that lists my 95-year old mother as one of the youngest members of the family.
One ling time stumbling block for me was my mother's grandmother, Maggie Turley. All of the Burbank cousins had heard stories of Maggie Turley. But the story ended with her. We knew that she was not raised by her parents and she died before her son, my grandfather, was married. So we had her picture and story of being raised and little else.
Then God stepped in. I have no other way of explaining how this could have happened.
When my mother was moving from her independent apartment to assisted living, my sisters and I were cleaning out her closets because she couldn't take many of her things with her. One box we got into had a packet of letters tied up with a string. One of the girls tossed it to me, since I was the family genealogist.
Since this was August and I farm, nothing was looked at until Christmas season. I then re-found the packet of letters as we were cleaning for family to visit. I untied the string, opened the letter on top and quickly went running up the stairs.
This was a letter to Maggie Turley, Yes, my great-grandmother. From her father, John. Who I didn't know a thing about. Included in the packet were over 20 letters from John Turley to his daughter, starting when she was too little to read until after her marriage.
Now why do I say this is a God moment? Because nobody still alive in the Burbank family had ever seen these letters before. Not my mother, who had them in a box for years, nor any of her brothers or sisters. They survived my grandparents moving from house to house during the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties. One year they even survived in a former chicken house because the family was so poor. How did these letters survive totally intact in perfect condition? How did they only come to light when I was ready and able to use them to trace our tree?
Included in the letters were references to a doll that he bought her for Christmas one year, the doll my sister inherited as Maggie's doll. Also referenced was a set of pictures of John. Which I had in another box of unlabeled pictures. His description was enough to ID the right pictures.
Later in the packet was a telegram from the Firemen of Chico, CA that her father John had died. As far as I can tell she never saw her father after he left her at age 2.
There were other letters in the packet, letters from friends in the Sandhills of Nebraska, letters from aunts and most importantly for me, letters from both of her grandmothers.
Turns out that Maggie's mother had died shortly after giving birth to her younger brother who also died. John was so distraught that he left her in the care of his aunt, Mary, and left for California.
The grandmother's letters included names of her mother, grandparents and great grandparents. I hurriedly entered that in my family tree and leaves began to pop. For those who haven't used their website, they add leaves to a family member if they have hints for you. Usually they are connections to another family tree or census data or whatever.
Maggie's family includes the Long Family, the Goodpasture family and the Turley family. All three families are large and are intertwined several times as the families moved from Kentucky to Illinois to Nebraska.
The Turley line goes back to John Thomas Turley, my 4th great grandfather. He married Elizabeth Frogge. Next stop is John Frogge, my 7th great grandfather. He married Elizabeth Strother. Now things really got going. Turns out the Strother family is HUGE. And well connected. Now I can count President Jimmy Carter and General George Patton as cousins of mine, distant cousins to be sure, but still cousins. There is a Strother Family Society that I now belong to that does much research.
Links quickly went to William Strother my 10th great grand father. That is where it sat for several years as a stumbling block. It is really hard to get solid connections across the ocean. Thankfully another distant cousin found the right link.
Turns out that William (9th g.g.father) Strother's mother and mother-in-law were sisters. Yes that means first cousins got married. Get over it. It happened, a lot. Their maiden name was Savage. The distant cousin found them listed in a book of English Peerage. The group of Earls, Barrons and Kings of England. My family!
That list is extensively researched in England and several websites have the genealogy all laid out. Who married whom and who were their parents. All connected by links. It is easy now to go zipping down one family line or another. Many of the entries include fascinating tales of the individual.
First hint of royalty I got was with my 15th great grandfather Humphrey Stafford, who married Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne Boleyn who married King Henry VIII. Further research down that line yielded no other royalty, except that his father Sir Knight Humphrey was executed by King Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth that ended the War of the Roses. Humphrey backed the wrong King of England.
So I backed up and went down other lines, more fascinating tales. More executions. Seems like getting on the wrong side of the King was pretty easy.
And then I happened on the last name of Plantagenet. Now I'm no English historian, but I knew that was the name of one of the Royal families. So up that line I went. Sure enough, my 23rd great grandfather was King Henry III. From there it was straight up the King line to King WIlliam I, or William the Conqueror, or William the Bastard, depending on which side you were on. King William is my 28th great grandfather. Wow!
After a bit of mucking about in the family lines I found another way up to King William. Not to mention the sisters who were both in my family tree, and then there was the brother-sister set of grandparents. Needless to say the British Peerage is very inbred. I think I have found a total 8 different lines that lead to King William.
Many other family lines go back to the Norman Conquest that William led. Looks like many of his fellow knights are in at least one of my family lines. The most distant Stafford ancestor is there at least 12 times, maybe more.
This might sound really impressive. But when you consider that there are over 536,000,000 possible 28th great grandfathers, the chances of finding at least one that is famous is pretty high. The difficulty is going back that far.
I was very lucky. First that the packet of letters survived and was found. Second I only had to go a few generations on my own and then ran into extensively researched families here in America. Then the jump into the English Peerage is the luckiest find of all. All that work has been done for me and has multiple connections and sources.
So what does this mean? Not much, except that it is a fascinating hobby for me. No need to bow the next time you see me. I'm not really royalty.

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