Finding royal roots

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile
Representations of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile at Lincoln Cathedral. Courtesy of

In lineage societies, the frequently-used term ‘gateway ancestor’ refers to an ancestor who has a known lineage which can be traced back to a person of prominence. Proven lines to gateway ancestors can result in descendants being accepted into many hereditary societies. In the following piece, I will be using my own ancestor, Robert Abell, as an example. Born about 1605 in Stapenhill, Derbyshire, Abell came to Massachusetts in 1630.[1] Through Robert Abell, I was able to trace my ancestry back to individuals such as Eystein Glumra (born c. 805), Amadeus of Oscheret (born c. 790), and Fulcois, Count of Perche, a tenth-century French nobleman.

I began my research by first confirming my connection to Robert Abell through my great-great-grandmother, Jennie Luther, daughter of Edwin Sanford and Jennie H. (Connolly) Luther. Using works including The Luther Family in America and The Luther Genealogy, as well as vital records, probate records, and other widely available resources, I was able to confirm the following ancestry of Jennie Luther:[2]

  • Robert Abell married Joanna _____
  • Mary Abell married Samuel Luther
  • Mehitable Luther married Ebenezer Cole
  • Mary Cole married William Salisbury
  • Sarah Salisbury married Calvin Luther
  • Caleb Luther married Lovinia Seamans
  • Joseph Parsons Luther married Harriet B. Westcott
  • Charles Henry Luther married Ellen Hughes Tompkins
  • Edwin Sanford Luther married Jennie H. Connolly
  • Jennie Luther married Alfred Garceau

When attempting to learn more about my gateway ancestor Robert Abell, I came across the book The Abell Family in America, which included a lengthy account of his ancestry.[3] I then turned to Gary Boyd Roberts’s Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants, which showed that Robert Abell was a descendant of King Edward I of England and his wife, Eleanor of Castile, through their daughter Joan of Acre.[4] Other sources which are indispensable in the study of royal ancestry are the works of Douglas Richardson, including Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families and Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families.[5] The latter source also suggested that Robert Abell was a descendant of King Henry II of England and his mistress Ida through their son, William Longespee, and King John and his mistress, surnamed de Warenne, through their son, Richard Fitzroy.[6]

Another resource which is extremely useful in establishing royal ancestry are the heraldic visitations of England, which often provide lineages of individuals from the time of the Visitation (usually in the sixteenth and/or seventeenth centuries) as far back as could be traced at that time. In the Visitation of Shropshire, 1623, I was able to find a lengthy ancestry of Sir Arthur Mainwaring, who married his kinswoman Margaret Mainwaring. This ancestry was traced all the way back to Hamelin of Anjou, half-brother of King Henry II.[7]

While these sources are useful for tracing your ancestry to kings and queens, they are also beneficial in showing connections to earls, barons, and knights, which in turn can lead to uncovering further ancestral roots. Once royal connections have been established, other works such as Frederick Lewis Weis’s Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists who Came to America Before 1700 can be used to continue your research. In this work, I was able to determine that King Henry II was descended (24 generations removed) from Cedric, King of the West Saxons from 519 to 534.[8] Therefore, through my great-great-grandmother, I am a descendant of Cedric, King of the West Saxons, as well as his descendant, King Henry II of England.

All of the sources mentioned in this article are considered valid in establishing royal connections. Many of these works contain extensive footnotes which can be used to locate the source of the information provided.

Other works which are useful include:


[1] Carl Boyer, Medieval English Ancestors of Robert¹ Abell: Who Died in Rehoboth, Plymouth Colony, 20 June 1663: with English Ancestral Lines of Other Colonial Americans (Santa Clarita, Calif., 2001).

[2] Leslie Luther, The Luther Family in America (Moravia, N.Y.: Chronicle-Guidance Publications, 1976), and  Leslie L. Luther, The Luther Genealogy (Rockport, Me.: Penobscot Press, 2001).

[3] Boyer, Medieval English Ancestors of Robert¹ Abell.

[4] Gary Boyd Roberts, Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008), p. 312.

[5] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (Salt Lake City, 2013), and Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (Salt Lake City, 2011).

[6] Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, pp. 33, 92.

[7] Robert Treswell, The Visitation of Shropshire, 1623 (London, 1889), pp. 347-49.

[8] Frederick Lewis Weis, Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists who Came to America Before 1700 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 1-3.

About Zachary Garceau

Zachary Garceau joined the Research and Library Services team in 2014 after receiving a master’s degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a B.A. in History from the University of Rhode Island. Zack also works for the Rhode Island Department of Health as the Chief of the Office of Health Regulation. Areas of expertise: Rhode Island, French-Canadian Genealogy and Sports History. He also enjoys working on heraldic and royal research.

25 thoughts on “Finding royal roots

  1. It seems to excite many to learn they are related to “royalty” of some sort. Although I have never understood that excitement, I recognize it and encourage anyone to continue their research to support any such connection. However, I would like to add that many of these sources have published errata (Weis, for example) and I would strongly urge anyone doing this sort of research to check, check, and re-check ALL primary sources suggested in these publications.
    Respectfully, Donna TILLINGHAST Casey

  2. Well hello, cousin! I am also descended from Robert Abell and Joanna [Hyde?].

    What I’ve found is that although some siblings are mentioned in those sources, there are often other siblings not yet mentioned who came to America and who had royal lineage. They are harder to prove however, since they are not listed as such. More Batts and Mainwarings for example, came with their more well-known siblings…

  3. Thanks for these references. The surnames Sanford and Baldwin (which goes to Bruen) have gotten me back to some royals. And I have connected to that Mainwaring line – which seems to be one of the keys to the kingdom ;-).

  4. Thanks for this valuable advice. There are still so many unsound royal connections floating around. I waited till I found incontrovertible proof of my German noble ancestry, which had long been published but without what I considered sufficient citations, before I published it. Both of my grandmothers bring royal and noble ancestry.

  5. Being related to royalty does not impress me. However, I do understand that the genealogy may be better documented than for those with no rank. I have yet to find all my ancestors on this continent and I want that first.

  6. When I first started doing genealogy 52 years ago, many people were rather disdainful of the effort. It was widely believed that the entire point was to snobbishly prove royal and aristocratic descents

    My answer was always that I have no great desire to prove such a thing for the sake of having William of Normandy or Charlemagne in my bloodline. But, such lineages have the great advantage of being well-documented, generally speaking, of great depth, and establishing links to their ancestors, not all of whom were among the elite. It also provided many historical narratives about what they did and their characters.

    As it happens, to my knowledge, I have no such familial connections.

    1. The only royal ancestor I am truly proud of and humbled by is Elisabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), sainted in 1235. A truly great human being and great, one might say, despite her royal origins.

  7. Mr. Hayter-Menzies, You are to be commended for the patience it took to find that “incontrovertible” proof. It takes a lot of time to dig and confirm and then re-confirm. You are to be applauded. Many with the “urge” to find “royalty” don’t do this and then put yet more questionable information “out there”.

    1. Once burned, twice shy, in my case! The proof I found, for example, on my connection to the von Buseck family (detailed in my recent article in American Ancestors), is based on a lawsuit, court briefs, and letters that survived the bombing of Darmstadt in 1944. Close call.

  8. It is far easier to “prove” a royal descent than a humble one. Kings kept records–peasants did not. There is a handful of royal ancestors for the majority of people in Europe (Charlemagne being one). But many noble/royal lineages are highly suspect, given the desire of individuals to link themselves to The Purple.

  9. I am also a descendant Samuel Luther and Mary Abell through their daughter Joanna who married Nathaniel Wilmarth. I have considered doing a supplementary lineage to my membership in the Crown of Charlemagne using this line.

  10. Great post Zachary! – I for one applaud “any drop” of blood I might share in royal lineage. I say this with much familial gratitude to my gateway ancestor Obadiah Bruen. – To the naysayers who find no value in royal lines I can only say – “keep searching.”- We all have lines to the common man – indeed it is the noteworthy man (or woman) who is remembered.

  11. My Great Grand Father is my gateway ancestor. He is named in Burke’s Royal Families of England Scotland and Wales, through his grandmother and and the Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal through his mother. I have as living cousins, A Princess, An Earl, A Baron, and a Contessa, she is the daughter of the Princess. She married into Italian Nobility. I have been in contact with the 9th Earl Bathurst who is my third cousin and he was nice enough to send me pictures of my 5th great grandmother, who was a sister to the 1st Earl Bathurst. He also sent me a booklet of the family Estate and a pedigree chart. Needless to say I was thrilled to receive all this. Finding myself as a descendant of English Royalty was the biggest surprise of my life. My mother never knew anything about her Grandfather. Goes to show you how much family History can be lost in just two generations. I have enjoyed every step of this journey!

    1. The 3rd Earl of Bathurst’s wife, Hon. Georgiana Lennox, is related to my family three different ways so I am assuming you are descended from this couple. I connect to these families by my gateway ancestress Mrs. Diana Dale (nee Skipwith) of Lancaster Co., VA, youngest surviving daughter of Sir Henry Skipwith, 1st Bart. of Prestwold, Leicestershire and his first wife Amy Kempe, daughter of Sir Thomas Kempe of Olantigh, Kent.

      1. So are you a descendant of the Bathurst’s. No I do not descend from that couple. I descend from the 1st Earl Bathurst’s sister..

  12. Hello, cousins! It appears that Robert Abell is my 10th great grandfather. I descend through his daughter Mary who married Samuel Luther, then his son Samuel, James, then Martha who married Benjamin Tripp. Their son Preserved married Mary Soule, second great granddaughter of Mayflower passenger George Soule. Thanks so much for the recommended reference works! I’ll probably be the rest of my life trying to prove the various noble and royal lineages I’ve found, but it’s worth a try! I always regard my family tree as a working hypothesis, with various assertions waiting to be proved or disproved.

  13. Oh drat, Zach. Looks like, re the Guyard link, you’ll have to “rethunk” that Mainwaring link to Hamlin of Anjou!

  14. It should be said that the heraldic visitations vary wildly in quality — the general rule of thumb is that they’re probably okay for three to four generations from the time when they were recorded, less so further back. In addition, the latter-day editions of them, mostly nineteenth-century transcriptions of manuscripts from hundreds of years earlier, often add further mistakes and misunderstandings. The visitations are certainly important evidence, but only in some cases can they be taken as proving anything.

    1. I want to reiterate to any readers that pnielsenhayden could not be more correct about heraldic visitations. Take the heraldic visitations with a grain of salt and use them to guide you to primary sources when you can find them or when they are available. There are numerous errors in the majority of them… it from bad transcriptions OR simply inaccurate information given.

  15. If you find your gateway ancestor a site you might want to visit is

    Darryl has done a great job of linking notables. His sources are recorded and available in most good library collections.

    you can also used the site to investigate possible gateways.

  16. I am a direct descendant of Robert Abell of Rehoboth, Mass. (abt 1605 – 1663) and double related to him through his two sons, Benjamin Abell and Joshua Abell. My paternal great grandmother, Emma May Abell, is a descendant of both lines.

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