Philoprogenitive ancestors

Rev. Samuel Willard (1639-1707), fourth child of Maj. Samuel Willard. Portrait from the 1915 Willard Genealogy

Recently a genealogical colleague made a Facebook post on his “newly discovered philoprogenitive” ancestor. This was a word I had to look up, with the colleague referring to its definition of “producing many offspring.” This prompted me to explore who in my own ancestry had the most children.

My recent post on my New Hampshire ancestress Mary (Carter) (Wyman) Batchelder noted that her second husband Nathaniel Batchelder (ca. 1630-1709/10) had seventeen children, fourteen of whom  survived to adulthood; Nathaniel is only my “step-ancestor,” and Mary had a mere ten children by her two husbands. For cousins, I have written about my distant relative Warren Gould Child (1835-1906), an early member of the Latter Day Saints movement, who had twenty-five children with three of his four wives.[1]

An early colonial ancestor that came to mind was Major Simon Willard (1605-1676) of Concord, Massachusetts, who sired a total of fifteen children, seven children with his first wife, and eight by his second (the converse of President John Tyler, who had eight by his first and seven by his second). Simon was sixty-five when his youngest child was born.

Simon [Willard] was sixty-five when his youngest child was born.

If you can connect back to royal ancestors during the medieval period, two large-scale progenitors standout, King Henry II of England, who had fifteen children with six partners, and Henry’s grandfather King Henry I, who sired at least nineteen children with more than ten partners.[2]

The above examples are all male ancestors, as they are capable of having children for a longer period of time than women. I know of several female ancestors with at least twelve children (although usually by the same partner), such as my patrilineal ancestress Mary (Bowen) Child  (ca. 1636-1707) and her daughter-in-law, Grace (Morris) Child (1660/1-1723). I am sure I will notice other colonial ancestors with more children. Who is the ancestor you have found with the largest number of children?


[1] Several other early L.D.S. leaders had significantly more children, Brigham Young siring fifty-six children with sixteen of his wives, and Heber Chase Kimball with sixty-six children by seventeen of his wives. Both are distant cousins of mine (Young through the Mixer family of Watertown, Massachusetts, and Kimball through the Kimball family of Ipswich, Massachusetts).

[2] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, 1:8-18, 24-43. See also Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., “Royal Bye-Blows – The Illegitimate Children of the English Kings from William I to Edward III,” Register 119 (1965): 94-102, “… [Part] II …. Edward III to Queen Anne,” 121 (1967): 185-191, as noted in a previous post.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

36 thoughts on “Philoprogenitive ancestors

  1. My great-great-grandfather William Boucher Jr. (1822-1899) is credited with 23 children: nine by his first wife, and fourteen by his second (my matrilineal ancestress), born between 1847 and 1887. A great-great-great-grandfather, Charles Augustus Wheaton (1809-1882), had seventeen by two wives: twelve with his first wife (my great-great-grandmother was the eldest child), and five with his second. The eldest was born in 1835, and the youngest, who outlived her great-niece (my grandmother), in 1869.

      1. Counting from my grandmother, she had six (half-) first cousins through her mother’s half-brother, Francis Xavier Boucher, and sixteen first cousins through her mother’s brother Louis Albert Boucher and sisters Josephine Mary Stone, Gertrude Mary Donovan, Marie Hogan, and Constance Marie Burch.

          1. Almost all of the Boucher children from the first marriage died young — Uncle Frank was the only survivor. Aunt Marie Hogan’s son died young, and Aunt Frances Wentworth had no children; Aunt Florence Boucher and Uncle Willy Boucher didn’t marry; Uncle Emile Boucher did marry, but like Frances was childless. Three others died in childhood — Ernest, Marie Constance, and the first Emile — and then I think my great-great-grandmother had one or more stillborn children.

  2. Simon Willard is also my ancestor as I descend from two of his sons. Need to check my Spaulding ancestry. Thx for this article.

  3. My 3x great-grandmother, Marie Julie Levesque, dame Joseph St-Pierre, had 22 children all of whom I have documented using the Drouin Collection in the three Quebec parishes in which they were born. Only four died as children, the remainder married and had many children themselves. Their son Bruno (my 2x great-grandfather) had 15 children including my great-grandfather, Joseph Bruno St-Pierre (Bernard St Peter in US) who was born in Gloucester County, NB and died in Orono, ME.

  4. Does anyone know if there is a way to search in FTM for number of children? Offhand I know my 7th great grandfather Adam MOSER had 16 children by three wives 7, 5, 4 children respectively. Five of the children died young. Of the eleven who made it to adulthood at Least SEVEN immigrated to PA in the early 1700’s. So in this case the “THREE BROTHERS” story is actually “SIX BROTHERS & a SISTER.” I wrote about it here Also I am a descendent of King Henry II or so it appears!

  5. I have in my New England ancestry Roger Clapp (1609-90/1) and Joanna Ford, who had 14 children over the span of 26 years. Zachariah Emery (1690-1776) also had 14 children, but by three of his four wives, though 2 lived less than a day.

    1. Hi Jim! I descend (in two ways) from Roger Clapp’s sister Jane (Clapp) Weeks (ca. 1597-1668) of Dorchester, Massachusetts.

      Roger is profiled here:

      The Clapp siblings are summarized nicely in Stevens-Miller Ancestry, volume 1, beginning on page 271:

      My colleague Eileen Pironti (whose husband descends from the Clapp family) also wrote about Roger Clapp here –

      1. Chris, I am also descended from Jane (Clapp) Weeks, through her daughter Renew. (and I have another line from Jane’s second husband, Jonas Humphrey, by his first wife). We are cousins several times over.

        Thanks for the links.

        1. Hi again Jim. Renew was quite a common name in this family as I have found. Did you mean you descend from their Jane’s granddaughter Renew? I do not believe Jane and George had a daughter by that name (see the Stevens-Miller link above for the full family). My specific lines are below:

          1. Jane Clapp m. George Weeks
          2. William Weeks m. Elizabeth _____
          3. Renew Weeks m. Benjamin Carpenter
          4. Jotham Carpenter m. Desire Martin
          5. Renew Carpenter m. Jabez Round
          6. Isabel Round m. Reuben Daggett
          7. Reuben Daggett m. Esther Cobb
          8. Esther Daggett m. John Franklin
          9. Lydia M. Franklin m. Ezra Harrison Botsford
          10. Marion Botsford m. James Taggart Severance
          11. Willard Lorenzo Severance m. Mary Rosetta Shank
          12. Elizabeth Belle Severance m. Alton Russell Challender (see below)
          13. Willard Alton Challender m. Daisy Dolores Horton
          14. Joy Dolores Challender m. William Chapin Child
          15. Christopher Challender Child m. Arlene Ovalle

          4. Elizabeth Carpenter (sister of Jotham) m. James Winslow
          5. James Winslow m. Anna Huston
          6. Betsey Winslow m. Rev. John Thompson
          7. Robert Thompson m. Emma Russell
          8. Alice Goodridge Thompson m. Josiah Steward Challender
          9. Alton Russell Challender m. Elizabeth Belle Severance (see above)

      2. I am also a descendant of George and Jane (Clapp) Weekes — we should look into the various ways we are related (and write about it!).


        1. George Weekes m. Jane Clapp
        2. Ammiel Weekes m. Elizabeth ____
        3. Ebenezer Weeks m. Deliverance Sumner
        4. William Weeks m. Sarah (Woodward) (Scott) Tukey
        5. Lemuel Weeks m. Margaret Gooding
        6. Lemuel Weeks m. Sarah Crabtree
        7. Margaret Weeks m. Abel Willard Atherton
        8. Eliza Robinson Atherton m. Samuel Henry Foster
        9. Margaret Atherton Foster m. Gilbert Livingston Beeckman
        10. Margaret Atherton Beeckman m. Campbell Steward
        11. Gilbert Livingston Steward m. Anne Beekman Ayer
        12. Campbell Steward m. Barbara Fairfax Glidden Bell
        13. Scott Campbell Steward

  6. Heber Chase Kimball is also a relative as I am related to his wife Vitale Murray and I believe one of his other wives as well.

  7. Omer Call (1834-1909), my 3rd great-grandfather and an early Latter-day Saint polygamist, had 22 children with two wives (11 each). Another 3rd great-grandfather and polygamist, John Scott (1811-1876) had 37 children (including one posthumous) with five wives. I’m never surprised when yet another DNA match–for the umpteenth time–is descended from John Scott. There are other polygamists in my tree, but those are the two that come to mind.

  8. My ancestor Benjamin Paine of Smithfield, R.I. (1699 – 1784) was the father of “the twenty-eight Paine family.” He is credited with 28 children by his four wives, vital records and/or his will identify 27 of them.

    1. Hi Rebecca, I wonder if your Benjamin Paine of Smithfield might be ancestor of Joseph Paine (husband of Drusilla) of nearby Foster, Rhode Island, that I wrote about here –

      Joseph and Drusilla’s son Christopher was born at Foster in 1817. I think they are the Joseph B. Paine household at Foster in the 1820 census. Numerous online trees attempt to link Joseph to a Paine family in Block Island,for which I am quite skeptical about. A connection to nearby Smithfield would be more logical.

  9. My grandfather, Robert Sauls, married my grandmother when she was only 14. They had 4 sons, of which my parent was second. They then divorced, and Robert married a second time. He and his second wife had 10 children together: one died young, and among the others I have two half-uncles who are my age or younger.

  10. One of my paternal second great-grandfathers, James Henry Sims, fathered 24 children — 12 with his first wife (I descend from their youngest); 6 with his second; 3 with his third; and 3 with his fourth. He was 73 when the last two (twin daughters) were born, and died a year later.

    On my maternal side, a sixth great-grandfather, Momme Melfsen, and his wife Lucia Ingwers had 14 children, including a set of triplets.

  11. Not counting some of those medieval ancestors you mentioned, 2 that I know have a lot in ours are my husband’s ancestor William Stoops b. abt 1765-1825 who had 12 kids with wife 1, 5 kids with wife 2, and 2 with wife 3 for a total of 19 kids. Mine is probably Isaac Lockman, my 4th great-grandpa born abt 1804-1881. He had 9 kids with wife 1, 2 with wife 2, 0 with wife 3, and 4 with wife 4 for a total of 15 kids plus 7 step-kids. My grandma was the youngest of 13, her mother oldest of 12 and father was the middle of 13 also. German Catholic farmers. Grandpa was only 9th out of 10 kids. lol

  12. Jim and Chris, my Clapp ancestor was Barbara, second wife of Joseph Weld, a cousin of your Roger, I think.. But, to the point: we had a live-in sitter c. 1952 who was at about 70 years old and the 19th of 23 children, by two wives. Her oldest half-brother was fifty years older than she.

      1. Hi Chris,
        Immigrant ancestor, Rev. Thomas Weld, presumably the brother of your Joseph Weld, is my 9th g-grandfather. Sarah Allen Weld, married my 3rd g-grandfather, Rev. Myron Tracy, in Braintree, Vermont in 1829.
        Also, immigrant ancestor Thomas Clapp is my 10th g-grandfather. Lucinda Otis Clapp, my 5th g-grandmother, married Asa Cottrell in Worthington, Mass. in 1770. Not sure where, or if, our Clapp lines intersect.

        1. Hi Scott,

          Yes Thomas Weld was Joseph’s brother. Thomas returned permanently to England in 1641, although his son Thomas remained in Massachusetts. Thomas is profiled here –

          The ancestry of Thomas Weld Jr.’s wife, Dorothy Whiting, who would be your ancestor as well, is treated nicely by Donald Lines Jacobus in the Bulkeley Genealogy – (there are docuemented royal lines back to King Henry II of England, which are updated in more recent compendia – Royal Ancestry by Douglas Richardson and The Royal Descents of 900 Immigrants by Gary Boyd Roberts).

          Thomas Clapp was a brother of my ancestor Barbara (Clapp) Weld. Thomas is treated on pages 87-93 of The Ancestry of Joseph Neal here –

          1. Hi Chris,
            I greatly appreciate your response. Thank you.
            I’m a bit confused about your reference to Dorothy Whiting and the Bulkeley family. It’s my understanding that Dorothy, wife of Thomas Weld II, was the daughter of Rev. Samuel Whiting and his first wife (name unknown) and that second wife Elizabeth St. John was not her mother. If true, no royalty lines here. If otherwise, please let me know.
            I do have a number of gateway ancestors including both Marbury sisters Ann and Katherine, Elizabeth Alsop Baldwin, Frances Deighton Williams, Elizabeth Mansfield Wilson, Richard Palgrave and Thomas Trowbridge.
            Regarding royalty lines, I’m wondering if you can confirm if Rev. Edward Norris (1584-1659) is or is not a gateway ancestor. I believe the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne lists him as a gateway ancestor but I’ve been unable to find proof.
            Thanks, Chris.

          2. Thank you for the link to the Buckley genealogy. Frances (Buckley) Welby is my ancestor.

          3. Hi again Scott –

            I stand corrected! Sorry about that. Yes within the Bulkley Genealogy on page 29, says Samuel’s “first wife, by whom he had but one surviving child, died, and he married Mistress St. John.”

            An article on the Whiting family appears here in the Essex Genealogist –

            as well as this biography on Rev. Samuel Whiting –

            Rev. Edward Norris appears on page 492 in Royal Descents of 900 Immigrants with a line back to King Edward I of England –

  13. Simon Willard is also my ancestor. His daughter Elizabeth (Willard) Blood, my 8th great-grandmother she had 12 children. My ancestor with the most children was probably John Thacher of Yarmouth, MA who had 20 with his two wives and next would be Thomas Hinckley of Barnstable who had 17 with his two wives.

  14. Dang, I feel so average here! Most of my folks seemed to stop with about 10 children, give or take, and depending on how many survived. The best # I can come up with “in recent memory” so far is John Simmons (1771-1846) a 4 x great grandfather who had thirteen children by the first wife and six by the second. Nineteen mouths to feed and way to many college educations to pay for!

    Looking forward to your post Joseph Weld Mr. Child. I think Mr. Weld may just put me over the mark!

  15. I’d like to mention my gx4 grandfather Asa Catlin (probably 1760-1855) of Kingsbury, NY, who had three marriages and at least 18 children over 30 years (1785-1814). He spent his last years with his youngest son, the only child who did not leave Kingsbury. He may be the only upstate New York farmer of the 19th century whose death was noted in the New York Times (August 30, 1855), several Boston newspapers, and the Register (October 1855, vol. 9, p. 372)! I remain baffled as to the basis of this recognition. The late Betty Payne of the NYGBS was also descended from Asa, whose life still holds many mysteries.

  16. In the 1900 census of Eaton County, Michigan, it was reported that my matrilineal great-great-great-grandparents Hobson and Emma (Van Vleet) Sinclair had been married for 30 years (slightly wrong; the correct figure was 32) and borne 17 children, of whom 11 were still alive. They also had one “Adopt Son” living with them. I can identity 16 of their biological children; my great-great-grandmother was the eldest survivor.

  17. My paternal grandfather was the youngest of 14 children; the first to die was a twin of the eldest child, altogether 13 children survived to adulthood. My grandmother’s first cousin had 16 children with the same wife, and only one of them died young. That family was fortunate because the father sold Cadillacs, and they got to travel more than their contemporaries.

  18. My most interesting case of philoprogenitive ancestors are my 5G grandparents, Aaron Martin and Eunice Flint of Windham, Connecticut (where they married in 1766 and where their children were born), and later Williamstown, Vermont. This couple had 15 children, all of whom grew up and married. If I remember correctly, 14 of their 15 children had children, including some very large families (at least one of the children had 14 children). I wonder if there is a word for carrying philoprogeneration into multiple generations.

  19. One historical female with several children was Eleanor (Calvert) Custis Stuart (1757/8-1811), the daughter-in-law of Martha Washington. By her first husband John Parke Custis, Eleanor had seven children, four survived to adulthood. After her husband’s early death in 1781 her two youngest children were sent to Mount Vernon and informally adopted by George and Martha. Eleanor then married Dr. David Stuart and had sixteen more children, for a total of twenty-three children by two husbands!

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