all genealogy inquiries to email@example.com
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.
None 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
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 from 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 or 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 the Clagett family in America. I sent him
the information and he sent me some on the Clagett family in early
About 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 which was 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 to
That was it. I was hooked.
When 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 family
names emerged: Collins, Starr, Beach, Richards, Huntington, Royce, and Baldwin
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 parents and 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 the capture.
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 one
Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists (FASG, for short, the most prestigious
initials in American genealogy), I have gotten to know many others, thanks to
such Internet newsgroups as soc.genealogy.medieval. They have been unfailingly
helpful and generous with advice and suggestions and I regard them as friends,
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 in genealogy.
A Busman’s Holiday
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 genealogical journal. 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 of
the 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 me.
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 is undeniably
a branch of history. But while history usually takes an eagle-eyed view of the
past, seeking to examine and explain the great forces at work, genealogy is history
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
were of 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
is among genealogy's greatest charms.
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
happened to 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.
There, 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 the patriots
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
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
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 after the American
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. He had sailed
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
Pennsylvania 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
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 out into 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 are overwhelmingly 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
largely from southern England. They came beginning in 1607, but the largest numbers
came in the middle decades of the seventeenth century, especially after the execution
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
great grandfather 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
in the 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 America, however, first spent several generations in northern Ireland, where
many had been granted land in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in attempts
by Elizabeth I 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.
From Philadelphia, they tended to migrate westward to the foothills of the Appalachians
and then south through the valleys of the Piedmont, populating what is now the
Shenandoah Valley, central North Carolina, and western South Carolina. My great
great grandparents Alexander Cunningham and his wife Anne McClelland, were of
this group, as were most of the ancestors of my great grandfather Ralph Kennedy
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,
Mary Alricks Pegram, Catherine Bonneau Johnson, and, of course, the Gordons.
John Nelson Steele was descended from Evan Morgan, who was born in Wales, while
Ralph Kennedy 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,
after the 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
were the Delanos, ancestors of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but Hart Lyman counts
the Hyannos among his ancestors. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes
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 of 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.
That is why 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 known
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, but more 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
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
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 in one, in the sense that a great scoundrel is quite as good as a great
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.
Col. Daniel Axtell, who was hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1660 as one of the “regicides,” the
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
by sailing 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
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 vessel
in 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 ancestors
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
rich. (Robert 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
with little 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
Nineteenth-century genealogists often simply assumed that
they were the same (especially if the person in England came from a prominent
family), and these name’s-the-same mistakes have plagued American genealogy
The other reason is that the records soon run out as the
researcher works his way backwards. Parishes in England only began keeping records
of baptisms, marriages, and burials in 1538.
Before that date, only wills, contracts, lawsuits, and such
records are available. And these records almost always concern property. People
below 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 their names.
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 in
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
over, discovering a wonderful stamp album in an old bureau drawer, full of philatelic
there is no end to a genealogy, at least until you reach Pooh-Bah’s “protoplasmal
primordial atomic globule,” one has to set rules and limits.
I have one of each. The limit is thirty generations and the rule
is: stop at kings.
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
no attempt to trace the ancestry of a crowned head. The information is easily
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.