An unsavory connection

When Chris Child completed the chart of the ancestry of Meghan Markle, which depicts her descent from Edward III and the common ancestry she shares with Prince Harry, I was intrigued by Markle’s early American ancestors. In looking over the chart, one couple in particular caught my eye: John Smith and Mary “Polly” Mudgett.

As someone who has seen one too many true crime documentaries on Netflix, the surname Mudgett reminded me of Herman Webster Mudgett, more commonly known as H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers. H.H. Holmes is infamous for his “murder castle,” a hotel built for the 1893 Chicago World Fair where several of Holmes’ crimes are thought to have occurred. Holmes was eventually arrested in Boston and executed at Moyamensing Prison on 7 May 1896, but intrigue over his life and crimes have led to books, documentaries, and most recently, a television show on the History Channel.[1]

Mudgett/Holmes was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire in 1861, son of Levi H. and Theodate (Price) Mudgett.[2] Mudgett married first, at Alton, New Hampshire, on 4 July 1878, Clara Lovering. In 1882, he began studying at the University of Michigan, and after his graduation, lived in several parts of the United States while his first wife, Clara, moved back to New Hampshire.

Herman W. Mudgett/H.H. Holmes was a descendant of Thomas Mudgett of Salisbury, Massachusetts.[3] A connection between Mary “Polly” (Mudgett) Smith seemed likely if she was also born in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. I located the marriage record of John Smith and Polly Mudgett at New Hampton, New Hampshire, dated 25 December 1817. Polly Mudgett was born at New Hampton on 16 January 1797, and was the daughter of Benjamin and Lydia Mudgett.

Through New Hampshire Vital and Probate Records, I found that Mary “Polly” (Mudgett) Smith and H.H. Holmes share common ancestors in John Mudgett, the son of Thomas Mudgett of Salisbury, and his wife Susanna Scribner. H.H. Holmes and Polly are second cousins twice removed; H.H. Holmes and Meghan Markle are fourth cousins four times removed.

While some family connections, such as being cousins to pilgrims, royalty, or American presidents, can evoke a sense of pride, it can also dredge up ancestors that some would like to keep hidden. In Thomas Mudgett of Salisbury, Massachusetts and His Descendants, a genealogy of the Mudgett family published in 1961, Herman Webster Mudgett is listed, along with his first marriage and oldest child. However, there is no mention of his aliases or crimes, while information on other notable Mudgetts is provided. Maybe the authors were trying to keep the connection under wraps!


[1] “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 9 December 2014), Herman W. Mudgett or H.H. Holmes, 7 May 1896; citing cn23640, Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 1,863,641.

[2] Household of Levi H. Madgett [sic], 1870 United States Federal Census, Year: 1870; Census Place: Gilmanton, Belknap, New Hampshire; Roll: M593_836; Page: 113B; Family History Library Film: 552335.

[3] Mildred D. and Bruce D. Mudgett, Thomas Mudgett of Salisbury, Massachusetts and His Descendants (Bennington, Vt.: M.D. Mudgett, 1961), 120–21. According to the genealogy, the line of descent from Thomas Mudgett is: Herman Webster7 Mudgett, Levi H.6 Mudgett, Scribner5 Mudgett, Samuel4 Mudgett, Edward3 Mudgett, John2 Mudgett, Thomas1 Mudgett.

About Katrina Fahy

Katrina, a native of Dedham, Massachusetts, earned a B.A. in History and Art History from St. Anselm College. Previously, she interned at the New Hampshire Historical Society, constructing biographies of New Hampshire quilt makers as well as transcribing a mid-nineteenth century New Hampshire diary and creating an educational program based on its contents. Katrina's research interests include New England and South East regions, as well as the American Revolution.

22 thoughts on “An unsavory connection

  1. Wow! And those genes getting intermingled with the Royal genes. What is this world coming to? Although that butcher of some of his wives and his 73-year old cousin, Margaret, none other than King Henry VIII of England, is a line from whom Harry is descended (through his mother, Diana, best I remember).

    Harry and Markle will be combining some dreadful genes…….

  2. I don’t recall our exact relationship, but I’m a cousin of that Holmes/Mudgett guy, too. A distant cousin in Texas who maintains a vast database of family relationships let me know a year or so back. I’d never heard of the guy before then. Eek!

  3. Katrina, many thanks for bringing to notice this socially taboo subject – that of serial killer connections. It is certainly a rightfully unspoken one – our connections to the evil monsters in this world. We surely must all have some sort of a genealogical connection to many of them – known or unknown. Imagine my surprise when I learned of my all too close ties to Hamilton Howard “Albert” Fish, an alleged source of the original phrase the “Boogey Man” – and a notorious cannibalizing serial killer, or my connection to John Wayne Gacy, who, while shaking hands with Rosalynn Carter was storing bodies under his house – way too close and way, way, too creepy.

    I suppose I should take some solace in knowing my wife is well connected to Charles Manson – but I do not. (It can be wise to sleep with one eye open!)

    My point is – Ms. Markle need not feel alone in such terrible connections. However they are connections none the less, and interestingly enough, often worth taking a look at, even if they cannot possibly ever be understood.

    1. I had suggested to Christopher Child (NEHGS) for the mayflower descendant, for the 50th anniversary of the Charles Manson slayings in Los Angeles, to try to explore the Ancestry of Manson family victim Abigail Folger, who was half Nicaraguan, but possibly may have Mayflower Ancestry.

  4. These very distant genealogical links to royalty in these recent posts prompts me to comment.
    Somehow knowing that some Royal person is a 7th cousin, 7 times removed, or some such relationship, seems pretty silly to me. I wish I had some of the preeminent genealogists working on my connections, like they are for Meghan and Harry, but alas I am of common stock, so it would not be very news-worthy.

    I am more concerned that, for the life of me, I can not figure out who were the parents of my 3G Grandfather, Clement Drew, born in Barnstead, New Hampshire, on 6 September 1775. After 25 years of work I still do not know. No royal blood or even a killer.

    1. Carole, Samuel Drew is the only Drew in Barnstead who signed the Association Test in 1776. He died in Barnstead about 1804 and he probably settled his estate by deed. In the 1790 Census for Barnstead there are 3 males under the age of 16 in the household, and Clement most certainly was one of them. Samuel’s father was Clement Drew who md. Mary Bunker, and I think Samuel’s wife was probably Lovey Bunker but you’ll have to work on that. Problem solved, and brick wall down.

      1. Thanks, James, for giving it a try! Indeed Samuel Drew is a strong candidate, but I can’t prove it. Samuel Sr & Jr and Clement are next found in Newfield, ME in 1800, with Robert, son of Samuel Sr. I am still not giving up, but it is tricky with missing records, and repetitive given names. Also Samuel Sr. had a brother named Clement who also went to Maine. Sigh.

        1. Hi Carole,
          In my research of William Obediah Marshall Sr., born in Barnstead in 1784….I followed him to Craftsbury, ORANGE, VT where he married Mary Polly Drew as Obediah Marshall in Dec 1809.
          Her parents were Elias/Elijah Drew and Lovey BEAN.
          You might find someone in common on this line?

          Speaking of embarrassing and horrifying ancestral connections…this William Obediah Marshall Sr is my 3rd AND 4th great grandfather. he committed incest with his 2 older daughters by Polly Drew.
          My gg grandfather’s mother was his half-sister Mary Eliza Marshall.

          I suspect that the John Marshall and Meribah Patch who married in Barnstead in Feb 1779 was William Obediah Marshall’s parents. The other daughter that William Obediah Marshall Sr molested was Meribah Marshall Johnson.

          Still looking for records.

          1. Hi Karen,

            My name is Nik and I came across your post here. If I have traced my ancestry back correctly, I am also a decedent of William Obediah Marshall as well (I believe he would be my 4th great grandfather) through his daughter, Maribah Johnson and her husband Jonithan. I hadn’t come across the disturbing info yet that you had! Very shocking to know that! Would you happen to have any further information about that lineage that you wouldn’t mind sharing with me?

            Thank you very much!

          2. Hi Karen

            My name is Nik and I came across your post here while researching William Obediah Marshall. I believe I am also a decendant of W.O. Marshall (if I did my research correctly) through his daughter Maribah Marshall and her husband Jonithan M Johnson (W.O. Is my 5th great-grandfather). I was shocked to hear the information you found about him and was curious to know if you had anymore information regarding this lineage that you would be willing to share with me! Thank you and hope you are well.

            Best regards,

          3. Apologies for the double posting, I had an error with my computer and thought the first post did not complete.

        2. Hey Carole! I went up my husband’s paternal mother’s line and I found Samuel and Clement too! So we must be related…by marriage!

  5. I’m sure Chris et. al. have been working on Meghan Markle’s genealogy chart since the day she and Prince Harry began dating. If there were any monsters to be found, they’d find them, along with the royal connections. Whether they’d mention the monsters is another story, of course! But they’re just as interesting. When I learned online that a g grandfather, Charles Johnson, was the only Norwegian American to lead a lynch mob that killed another Norwegian immigrant (in 1889, in Wisconsin), I didn’t believe it at first. He wasn’t a serial killer, but lynching is a particularly heinous form of murder. It was bad enough that his children didn’t pass the information along to their descendants, though! Eventually some of them found out. When I asked my mother about it, her response was that it was so long ago that it was just something interesting about a man she only met once, when she was five.

    I agree with Carole that even though, given the odds, there’s probably royalty in my background, I’m more interested in cracking some of my brick walls. Especially who my immigrant ancestor Hans Wagner really was. It’s like tracing Joe Smith. All I know about him is that he was in the Carolinas in time to have a son named Isaac b. 1761, who served in the Rev. War. I have Isaac’s pension file, and his will, among other things.

  6. Well, since the fall of man, one way or another we’re all descendants of or relatives of royalty and paupers, saints and scoundrels — sometimes the royalty and the scoundrels are one and the same, and sometimes a scoundrel reforms and becomes a saint . . . . It’s all part of the human drama and adds quite a lot of “color” to our family trees.

  7. For those who are interested in the case of Herman Webster Mudgett, I recommend “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. It was published in 2003 and became a best seller. It is very well written, and fascinating, although I don’t recommend it if you’re the least bit squeamish.

  8. I would be pleased to find that my ancestors hiding behind brick walls were scoundrels or even serial killers if it would mean more paper work on them. Might help me find them.

  9. Nik,
    If you see this post, send a reply so I can correspond with you . I have a bunch of records from the Geauga County Archives for the family and William Obadiah Marshall Sr. Always glad to hear from new cousins, and to share the records.
    All the best,

  10. Hi I am a decendant of HH Holmes. We found the connection while researching my sons middle school project. We were suppose to find someone of interest that he could speak about. My grandfather was Harry William Mudgett, who I believe was his cousin. We decided against discussing the serial killer. We did find that John Mudgett was a corporal in the American Revolution, however we were unable to confirm it with any government or military records. Any idea on how to do that?

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