Documenting Royal Ancestry

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Everyone descends from royalty, right? So why make a fuss about it? In spite of this truism, many of us, especially Americans, are fascinated by the thought of documenting royal ancestry.[1] We come across kings and queens in online family trees and wonder – are these trees accurate? Let’s walk through the process royal hereditary societies use to judge whether or not an applicant for membership has a documented line.

From You Back to the American Immigrant

First, check to see if the immigrant ancestor in your purported royal line can be found on accepted gateway lists. A finite number of American immigrants can be documented as descendants of royalty. These immigrants are known as “gateway ancestors” and are the focus of intense scrutiny and study by expert genealogists. Approximately 650 gateway immigrants are known to have arrived in what is now the United States during the colonial period.[2] One such list of gateways, which I help maintain, is on the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne website.

If the immigrant in your family is a valid gateway, you are on track to documenting royal ancestry. If your immigrant is not on the list, the royal lineage presented to you is probably underproven or false. Major problems with online family trees purporting royal descents include:

  • Generations between living people and accepted gateways lack documentation.
  • Disproved gateways continue to be accepted.[3]

Document your pedigree back to an accepted gateway.
From the American Immigrant Back to Royalty

Once you have documented your descent back to an accepted gateway ancestor, these books[4] are considered the best reference works to help you connect to royalty:

  1. Richardson, Douglas. Plantagenet Ancestry, 3 vols. 2nd ed., Salt Lake City, 2011.
  2. Richardson, Douglas. Magna Carta Ancestry, 4 vols. 2nd ed., Salt Lake City, 2011.
  3. Richardson, Douglas. Royal Ancestry, 5 vols. Salt Lake City, 2013.
  4. Roberts, Gary Boyd. The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States. Baltimore, 2008. 2004 edition available online at Ancestry.
  5. Weis, Frederick Lewis, Walter Lee Sheppard, William R. Beall, and Kaleen E. Beall. Ancestral Roots of Certain American Colonists Who Came to America Before 1700. 8th ed. Baltimore, 2004. Available online at Ancestry.
  6. Weis, Frederick Lewis, Walter Lee Sheppard, and William R. Beall. The Magna Charta Sureties, 1215. 5th ed. Baltimore, 1999. Available online at Ancestry.

N.B. Two online databases I use when studying royal ancestry are:

  1. FamilySearch Medieval Unit. Community Trees. Available online at FamilySearch.
  2. van de Pas, Leo. Genealogics. Available online.

These compilations connect you back into works such as the Complete Peerage, a standard work that links to royalty.

It would be very helpful if one day in the future, owners of online family trees improve the quality of royal lines in their databases by vetting them to conform to scholarly consensus. That would also improve the accuracy of tools that search for a person's famous relatives, like Relative Finder (which draws its data from such databases; in this case FamilySearch Family Tree).


[1] Ancestry Team, “Americans Desire Explorers, Royalty, Mayflower Descendants and Military Heroes in Their Family Tree,”Ancestry Blog, posted 14 July 2015. For surveyed Americans, the number 1 most desirable ancestor was “a member of royalty.”

[2] More work needs to be done on immigrants of royal descent who arrived after the Revolution.

[3] The GenMedieval forum (on Google Groups and RootsWeb) is a place where active conversations take place about proven and disproven gateway ancestors. Discussions about most gateways may be found by searching the archive for your immigrant ancestor’s name.

[4] These books are all available to consult at the Family History Library. Note many have gone through revisions as new lines are discovered and old lines disqualified, so use the most recent edition.


Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG works at FamilySearch. He also serves as Genealogist General to several royal hereditary societies. He thanks James Tanner for inspiring this post.


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