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genealogy here presented is very much a work in progress
and I hope the viewer will not take the “spurious
precision” imparted by the computer as evidence
that it is anything else. There are many more ancestors
to be found and more genealogically-sound bridges to
Europe to be established. There are, doubtless, numerous
mistakes to be found here. And I know there are many
insufficiently supported conclusions. They are here because
they are plausible, not proven. Neither the sources nor
the bibliography are even remotely complete.
the less, what follows is a summation of what I know (or think I know) at the moment and indicates clearly where more work is required. For this reason, I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections, and additions (with citations, please).
To use the genealogy, click
here. Then you can either click
on a letter on the index page and then click on one of the individuals and proceed
there. Or you can start at the beginning (me) by clicking
here and wandering
up whatever line interests you. Click on the notes icon to the right of a name
to see what information I have on a particular individual
on the pedigree icon to view his or her immediate ancestry.
is a collecting hobby, like stamps, coins, Georgian silver, or tea cozies.
And, like many such hobbies, with me it started by accident. In 1969
I received a letter from a Washington lawyer named Brice Clagett telling
me that I was a Clagett descendant (a fact I didn’t know) and
asking for information about my immediate relatives to be included
in a book on
family in America. I sent him the information and he sent me some
on the Clagett family in early Maryland.
that time, I inherited a Bible that had belonged to my great great grandparents
Samuel Whittemore Torrey and Catharine Coggill. It contained, as many old
Bibles do, information about the ancestry of those two families, much of
also news to me. The Coggill information only went as far as Catharine’s
grandparents, but I thought it might be fun to make a chart of the
Torreys back to early Massachusetts, using the information in the
Bible. I designed
and typed (thank heavens the Xerox had been invented so I only had
to do it once) a pedigree chart showing four generations and set
That was it. I was hooked.
I had exhausted the information in the Bible, I went to the New York Public
Library, which has one of the country’s leading collections of genealogical
material, and began filling in the ancestry of the families that had married
into the Torrey family, families with such New England names as Whittemore,
Cutter, Bowditch, Bass, Adams, and Greene. When I had gotten most of my Torrey
ancestors back to the water’s edge, I began on the ancestors
of my great grandfather Hart Lyman and a whole new set of New England
Collins, Starr, Beach, Richards, Huntington, Royce, and Baldwin among
But it never ends, of course. Like all collecting hobbies,
genealogy is compulsive. How ever many ancestors are uncovered and catalogued,
one always wants more.
No collection is ever complete. Fortunately, there always are more.
No matter how far back you take a line, that last person must have had two
four grandparents and so on. The further back one goes, of course,
the more difficult, on average, it becomes to find the next generation. But
collecting is basically a hunt and the thrill is in the chase quite as much as
In recent years the computer and the Internet have revolutionized
genealogy. Producing blank pedigree charts today requires little more than
the click of
a single computer key. Maintaining, correcting, and expanding a genealogical
database on a computer is a hundred times easier than on paper and
the Internet makes the exchange of information (and, alas, misinformation)
both easier and
It also makes it possible for those who take genealogy seriously
to get to know others of like mind. Although I have met, face to face, only
of the American Society of Genealogists (FASG, for short, the most
prestigious initials in American genealogy), I have gotten to know many others,
to such Internet newsgroups as soc.genealogy.medieval. They have
been unfailingly helpful and generous with advice and suggestions and I regard
even though I have never actually met them. Nor, for that matter,
have I ever met Brice Clagett, to whom I owe so much more than merely my start
A Busman’s Holiday
Of course, there is much more to genealogy than simply adding one more
generation to a particular line, courtesy of a book or an article in a
Genealogy abounds in hints and possibilities: an odd first name, a mysterious
disappearance from the records, an unsupported statement in a dubious source.
Sifting through these, turning the possibilities into hypotheses, and then
finding the proof or disproof of them is the very essence of genealogy.
It is also immense fun for someone with my sort of mind. Like all members
Steele family—great lawyers, mathematicians, and engineers, lousy philosophers—I
love to solve puzzles by applying logic and knowledge to a testable
question. Genealogy simply resonates with something deep inside
And far from the least of the appeals of genealogy to me
is the fact that it is a busman's holiday for a historian, for genealogy
of history. But while history usually takes an eagle-eyed view
of the past, seeking to examine and explain the great forces at
at street level.
A historian, for instance, might look at the different
manpower potentials of the North and the South in the Civil War.
A genealogist might note the different
individual decisions as to whether to join the army or not. It
says much to me that most of my male Southern ancestors and their relations who
fighting age joined the Confederate army, but not a single Northern
ancestor wore a blue uniform.
Further, because genealogy is arbitrary–your ancestors are who they are,
and there's nothing to be done about that–it often takes
the researcher to places and people he never imagined existed.
Many of these people are
fascinating in their own way, some deplorable, some heroic. And,
in almost all cases, had
they not happened to be ancestors, the researcher would never have
heard of them and been the poorer for it. This serendipitous aspect
Consider Captain Samuel Whittemore, the great great grandfather and namesake
of Samuel Whittemore Torrey. He is a man of no importance whatever to the
great tides of history, just a prosperous Massachusetts farmer. But he
be among those who assembled at Lexington on April 19th, 1775, to resist
the British march, although he was seventy-eight years old at the time.
he was among those who actually heard “the shot heard ‘round
He also killed two British soldiers, was shot in the cheek, suffered numerous
shots through his hat and clothing, was bayoneted at least six times and
left for dead. But he wasn’t dead. He recovered and lived to be ninety-six,
dying a month before Washington’s second inauguration.
Equally interesting, if far less admirable, was a half-brother of my fifth
great grandfather Josiah Pendarvis of South Carolina. Richard Pendarvis
was a rabid loyalist who conducted a vicious guerilla campaign against
and their property until he was finally cornered one night. Realizing that
the game was up, he confronted his pursuers, ripped open his shirt to expose
his breast, and shouted “Shoot and be damned!” They obliged him.
Later, Josiah Pendarvis asked the state legislature to change his last name
to Bedon (his mother’s maiden name), apparently to avoid association
with the infamous “Tory Dick Pendarvis.”
How could anyone who loves history not cherish such tales?
A “WASP’s” Genealogy
particular genealogy is, to some extent a curious one.
For it is both ethnically constricted, but, within those
confines, unusually diverse.
By ethnically constricted, I mean that I am a pure “WASP,” a
not altogether pleasant acronym coined only in the 1960's,
when the ancient WASP
hegemony in this country's social and economic life was rapidly
coming to an end. Only three of my immigrant ancestors came to the New World
Revolution, and even they had all arrived by the War of 1812.
(The last one, George Coggill, actually arrived under arrest as an enemy alien.
from England in 1812 and the war broke out while he was at
sea. His ship was then captured by a privateer.)
More, only one of my four grandparents had ancestors who
crossed the Appalachian Mountains, and even those ancestors got no further than
Middle Tennessee. The
rest found ample opportunities on the eastern seaboard and
saw no reason to leave.
But within the confines of the people who lived in Colonial
America, my ancestry is extraordinarily widespread. Of the thirteen colonies,
I have ancestors who
were present at the earliest days of eleven of them, missing
only the extremities, New Hampshire and Georgia.
And while there were twelve major groups who peopled colonial
America, only two are missing entirely from my ancestry. One is the so-called
Dutch, who were not Dutch at all but German (Dutch, in this
case, is a corruption of Deutsche). The other missing group is the blacks who
came in the chains
whose clanking has rung down the halls of American history
to the present day.
Let us look briefly at the other ten groups, the ones whose
members make up my American ancestry.
New England was settled mostly by people who came in the
Great Migration, between 1620, when the Mayflower sailed, and 1642, when the
English Civil War broke
out. While they came from all over England, the locus of the
migration was East Anglia, the flat, agriculturally productive country that bulges
the North Sea to the northeast of London. The ancestors of
my great grandparents Hart Lyman and his wife Marion Torrey on her father's side
of this group.
Maryland and Virginia were settled at first by the so-called Cavaliers
(and their far more numerous indentured servants), whose families came
southern England. They came beginning in 1607, but the largest numbers
came in the middle decades of the seventeenth century, especially after
of King Charles I and the establishment of Oliver Cromwell’s
Commonwealth. My great grandparents John Nelson Steele and
his wife Mary Alricks Pegram
were largely descended from these people.
Many of my Gordon forebears who crossed over the mountains
to Tennessee also came from this group, as did one line of the ancestry of my
Ralph Kennedy Carson. This group helped settle lowland Carolina
as well, centered on Charleston, towards the end of the seventeenth century,
and are among the
ancestors of my great grandmother Catherine Bonneau Johnson.
The Quakers, like the Puritans before them, came from all
over England, but in their case the locus was in the North of England and in
the counties on
the Welsh border. They came in the final decades of the seventeenth
century when William Penn established a refuge for this much persecuted group
New World. John Nelson Steele is descended from Quakers who
settled in both Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The Scots-Irish came originally from the lands that lay on either side
of the English-Scottish border. The Scots-Irish families who settled in
first spent several generations in northern Ireland, where many had been
granted land in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in attempts by
and Oliver Cromwell to pacify—and Protestantize—that
They began migrating to America in numbers in the middle third
of the eighteenth century, often arriving in the port of Philadelphia.
tended to migrate westward to the foothills of the Appalachians
then south through the valleys of the Piedmont, populating
what is now the
Valley, central North Carolina, and western South Carolina.
My great great grandparents Alexander Cunningham and his wife
were of this
group, as were most of the ancestors of my great grandfather
Ralph Kennedy Carson.
The last of the major British migrant groups were the Scots
and the Welsh. Unlike the other migrations, however, they did not come largely
during a particular
period. Instead there was a steady trickle of Scots and Welsh
throughout the colonial era and to most of the colonies. There were, however,
groups of Scots
transported here as prisoners of war after rebellions in 1651,
1715, and 1745. They are among the ancestors of Marion Torrey, John Nelson Steele,
Pegram, Catherine Bonneau Johnson, and, of course, the Gordons.
John Nelson Steele was descended from Evan Morgan, who was born in Wales, while
Carson and Mary Alricks Pegram have Lewis ancestors originally
The Dutch also made major contributions to the settlement
of the eastern seaboard, mainly in New York and in Delaware. Mary Alricks Pegram
has this ancestry (Alricks
is, in fact, a Dutch name). So does Catherine Bonneau Johnson
(Johnson was originally Jansen).
Finally, among European settlers in colonial America, there
were the French Huguenots. Many had fled to England in the late sixteenth century,
St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and some of these then migrated
to New England in the Great Migration. The most famous of these New England Huguenots
the Delanos, ancestors of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but Hart
Lyman counts the Hyannos among his ancestors. After the revocation of the Edict
in 1685, there was a second wave of French Huguenots, settling
in New York (where they are among the ancestors of Hart Lyman), Maryland (ancestors
John Nelson Steele) and, especially, Charleston, where they
are prominent among the ancestors of Catherine Bonneau Johnson, whose middle
name, of course, is
French in origin.
That leaves American Indians. My great great great grandmother,
Dorothea Cross, had no doubt whatever that she was a descendant of Pocahontas.
she named my great great grandfather Powhatan Gordon, another
son Bolling Gordon (a Pocahontas descent must come through the princess’s
great grandson, Col. John Bolling) and a daughter Louisa Pocahontas Gordon. Unfortunately,
no one wrote down the descent, or, if it was written down,
it is not now
where, and the public records that would prove it were lost
in the Civil War. I suspect the descent is good for various historiographic reasons,
research, obviously, is needed to confirm or disprove it. (I
may be disowned
by my Gordon kin should I disprove it, however, as they set
great store by this ancient family tradition.)
What’s the point?
people who have not been bitten by the genealogy bug
think of it as being largely an exercise in snobbery,
an attempt to gain prestige from the accomplishments
of others. That was certainly, at least to some extent,
true in the nineteenth century, the Golden Age of the
nouveau riche. But today precious little prestige
flows from one's ancestors, however exalted, rich, or powerful
they may have been.
That is not to say, however, that finding an ancestor of
great prominence is not fun. It certainly is. But it's a bit like golf. While
no one plays the game to hit a hole in one, any golfer who happens to do so is
going to talk about it quite a lot. And in genealogy, a triple bogey is the same
as a hole
one, in the sense that a great scoundrel is quite as good as a great hero.
So while I'm more than happy to be descended from, say,
Sir Thomas Adams, Lord Mayor of London in the 1640's, who was clapped in the
Tower for his adherence to King Charles I and who paid to have the Bible translated
into Persian, I'm equally delighted to be descended from his contemporary Lt.
Daniel Axtell, who was hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1660 as one of the “regicides,”
men who were directly involved in the execution
of the King.
And while most of my American ancestors were-to use a phrase
common in the nineteenth century but now long without useful meaning-“well
born,” there are no signers of the Declaration or Constitution here, no
Presidents, not even a Senator. There is one U.S. Attorney General, a sprinkling
of Congressmen, a few generals of no great fame, a couple of colonial governors,
several New England divines who were famous in their day, a very prominent eighteenth-century
physician, Thomas Bond, an equally prominent eighteenth-century cabinetmaker,
Thomas Elfe, and the first Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. There
is the brother of a great Supreme Court justice, William Johnson, and the brother
of a great botanist, John Torrey. But only specialists in the appropriate fields
of American history would have heard of any of them.
Indeed, the only ancestors of mine on the American side of the Atlantic
that the average man would have heard of are Pocahontas—if she is indeed my
ancestor—and William Brewster, John Alden, and Priscilla
Mullins. The latter are famous, however, only because they
stumbled into history
on the Mayflower. And, because there are more than two
million living Americans with Brewster and Alden descents,
it is somewhat less than a big deal to
have them as ancestors. (John Alden and Priscilla Mullins
had no fewer than 481
great grandchildren, whose descendants have been multiplying
now for three hundred years.) Indeed, most people with
substantial New England ancestry
can probably make a Mayflower connection. The Mayflower
Society, to which I do
not belong, estimates that no fewer than nine million people
alive today are eligible for membership.
But if there are no people of great fame
among my American ancestors, likewise, there are no major
crooks. There is one bigamist who abandoned one wife in
England and married another in Maryland, one with an acknowledged
mistress (I can't say how many had unacknowledged ones), and one who was hauled
before the New London courts for being conspicuously drunk
on board his
the harbor. One was fined for borrowing a canoe without
permission. But that, it seems, is about as deep into the pit of crime as any
of my American
Instead most were hard working, many very clever, and more
than a few, I am happy to say, very successful. Some of the immigrants arrived
Brooke appeared in Maryland in 1650 with twenty-eight servants
in tow, along with the first pack of fox hounds in America.) But most arrived
more than a few clothes, their dreams, and the immense
courage it must have taken to leave all they had ever known in order to chance
a dangerous crossing
in a small boat to a new world.
But for those who survived the crossing (more than a few
did not), those dreams and that courage were usually enough to make the most
of the vast opportunities
their new world afforded them.
The Leap Across the Pond
overwhelming majority of immigrants in the colonial era
have ancestors who can be traced, if they can be traced
at all, only a few generations back
in Europe. The Adams family, for instance, despite enormous
efforts because it produced two presidents, can be traced
no further than the great grandfather
of the immigrant who, like so many of his descendants,
was named Henry.
There are two reasons for this. One is that it is often very
difficult to make the connection. Despite untold efforts, no one has yet pinned
down the origins
of John Alden, for instance. Even if a possible origin
is found, it is often very difficult to be sure that a person of a given name
on this side of the
Atlantic is the same as a particular person with the
same name on the other side.
Nineteenth-century genealogists often simply assumed that they were the
same (especially if the person in England came from a prominent family),
name’s-the-same mistakes have plagued American
genealogy ever since.
The other reason is that the records soon run out as the
researcher works his way backwards. Parishes in England only began keeping records
marriages, and burials in 1538.
Before that date, only wills, contracts, lawsuits, and
such records are available. And these records almost
what today would
be called the upper middle class—which is to say, those families with
substantial property to leave, sell, or dispute—rarely show up in them.
Thus, well over ninety percent of all the people who lived in Europe before
the middle of the sixteenth century left no trace whatever of how “they
kept the noiseless tenor of their way” or of even
This is the reason why the socioeconomic status of one's ancestors
seems to get steadily higher as one goes back generation by generation: those
of lower status simply disappear from the records and are lost to history,
leaving only the high status ones. Thus if one recovers a total of a hundred
ancestors in the, say, sixteenth generation, who would have lived mostly in the
latter fifteenth century, many of them will be titled and even well-known historical
figures. But there is a theoretical total of 65,536 ancestors in that generation
(later cousin marriages will likely reduce the actual total
considerably). And most of the 65,436 irrecoverable ancestors undoubtedly were
peasants and laborers, likely living lives that were, in Thomas Hobbes's famous
phrase, nasty, brutish, and short.
For these reasons, so-called “gateway ancestors” are particularly
prized among American genealogists, for they allow one to go further. Gateway
ancestors are simply ancestors whose European origins can be determined with
certainty and who have extensive known ancestries among the wealthy merchants,
gentry, and nobility who left “footprints on the sands of time.” Instead
of being the end of the genealogical line, as is the
case with most immigrants to the American colonies, they
open up vast new genealogical possibilities
I have been astonishingly lucky in the number of gateway
ancestors who have turned up in my genealogy. Among the more remarkable in the
size of their known
ancestry are Jane Haviland, whose widower and two young
sons emigrated to Massachusetts; Thomas Trowbridge, Oliver Manwaring, and Elizabeth
Alsop of Connecticut; Robert
Brooke, Alexander Magruder, Kenelm Cheseldine, Thomas
Gerard, and Maria Johanna Somerset of Maryland; Anne Lovelace, Gerard Fowke,
Sarah Offley, Adam Thoroughgood,
Mary Townley, and George Reade of Virginia; and Rebecca
Axtell of South Carolina and Pennsylvania.
I was not aware of a single one of them when I began doing
genealogy more than thirty years ago. Indeed in all but one case, Maria Johanna
Somerset of Maryland,
I did not know they were gateways when I determined that
they were ancestral to me.
So for me it has been a bit like a stamp collector going
up to the attic now and then to look for a suitcase or whatever and, over and
a wonderful stamp album in an old bureau drawer, full
of philatelic treasures.
there is no end to a genealogy, at least until you reach
Pooh-Bah’s “protoplasmal primordial atomic
one has to set rules and limits. I have one of each.
The limit is thirty generations and the rule is: stop
Many gateway ancestors have a descent from one or
more medieval kings. Edward I of England, for instance,
who ruled from 1272 to 1307, is ancestral to many
millions of people of substantial British descent alive
today and to millions more who do not think of themselves as British at all.
(This is not surprising:
someone with seven children who live to adulthood is
likely to have a lot of descendants over the course of twenty-five generations.)
I have made
to trace the ancestry of a crowned head. The information
is easily available elsewhere.
will update this site as new information becomes available.
I hope the English origins of Henry Steele (1731-1782)
and John Moore (1658-1732), will soon be
elucidated. They might prove to be major gateways,
they might prove to be dead ends. But just as with the
medieval search for the Holy Grail, so with genealogy:
the goal is in the questing, not the cup.