A House of Cards
Shortly after writing a post discussing how all people of European descent are related to Charlemagne, I stumbled upon a strange discovery when I realized I could trace a branch of my mother’s lineage back to a 13th-century queen who died 777 years ago. This revelation freaked me out because I had previously traced my father’s ancestry back to the same person; a woman named Isabella of Angoulême who, as the wife of King John, was Queen of England and, upon his death, married Count Hugh X of Lusignan.
Because I could trace my father’s pedigree through Isabella and John, and now here was a line from my mother’s side that went through the House of Lusignan to Hugh and Isabella, this meant that my parents were 21st cousins twice removed!
Yet, I was not freaked because of the cousin thing. Instead, I was freaked out that I had actually made the connection, tracing through multiple historical pedigrees and, based on intuition, following one and not the other. Once I reached a daughter of noble bearing whose daddy has a Wikipedia article, I knew I would eventually hit Charlemagne. I was only off by four centuries and ten generations. Their MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) was Isabella of Angoulême.
Having made this find, I was shocked-but-not-shocked – for comparison’s sake, former Pres. George W Bush’s parents were 11th cousins once removed. Yet, I decided to slow down and double-check my research before publishing it. I had made mistakes in the past that needed retractions, and I prefer not wearing eggs on my face. After researching historical records and publicly available family trees on sites like ancestry.com, familysearch.org, and geneanet.org, it became clear to me that many of the findings lacked proper sourcing and that the historical records were full of contradictions and misdirection. It did not take me long to find where errors had been made. With me playing devil’s advocate and pulling on threads here and there, everything soon came crashing down like a house of cards. Halfway through the 20+ generation pedigree – sometime in the mid-1600s – I discovered that I, and others, had connected two men as father and son – a connection that, in actuality, did not exist.
Not Naming Names
Initially, I concluded that one of the causes for this mistake was that pedigrees, such as those published by Burke’s Peerage in the 19th C., tended to leave out wives’ and daughters’ names, many times, referring to them only in terms of property gained or lost. For example, in most editions of Burke’s “Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland,” only the family name and hometown are shown for the woman I believed to be Mary Emily’s great, great grandmother, the second wife of, William Knox of Castlerea. A part of the pedigree for the family “Knox, of Rappa Castle” reads: “[William] wedded secondly the daughter and heir of Crofton, of Rappa Castle and had by that lady, two sons and a daughter, viz.”
I found one exception in a 1912 edition of Burke’s Peerage, where it gives names for both father and daughter: “[William] m. 2ndly, Elizabeth, eldest dau. of and co-heir of John Crofton, of Rappa Castle, and had issue.”
Another cause for these cases of mistaken identity is when, for whatever reason, someone invents a connection where it has yet to be documented to exist. The problem, as I discovered, is that in many shared family trees, John Crofton, father of Elizabeth, is assumed to be the son of Sir Richard Crofton of Lissadorn and his wife, Anne Brooke.
However, according to another publication of Burke’s Peerage – Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Peerage and Baronetage, the Privy Council, Knightage and Companionage – United Kingdom, no “John” is listed among the children of Sir Richard Crofton. This does not mean that John Crofton of Rappa Castle, a soldier in Cromwell’s New Model Army and father-in-law to William Knox of Castlerea, was absolutely positively not the son of Sir Richard Crofton of Lissadorn. It means that despite how many people have it documented in their family tree, there is no evidence to support this relationship.
The Wikipedia article for Rappa Castle, located in Northern Ireland, states that the estate “was held by the Bourke family and was granted to a Cromwellian soldier named Crofton. In the 17th century William Knox of Castlerea (born 1630) married a Crofton of Rappa Castle. The castle remained the home of the Knox family until the 1920s.” The article cites Burke’s Peerage and a 19th-century book that some consider to be an authority on the Knox families of Scotland and Ireland – Genealogical Memoirs of John Knox and of the Family Knox by Rev. Charles Rogers, LLD.
So basically, if I cannot prove a connection between “Crofton of Rappa Castle” and Sir Richard Crofton of Lissadorn, I cannot establish a connection between my mother and the House of Lusignan. And with that, there is no evidence that my parents were related other than as husband and wife.
The Scottish Connection
Nevertheless, it did not end there. Not being able to leave well enough alone, I decided to review the research I did a decade ago into the Knox family of my mother’s great-grandmother, Henrietta Knox Kelsey Bannon Campbell.
Growing up, my grandmother often mentioned that our Knox ancestors were “lineal descendants” of John Knox, the Scottish Reformer and founder of the Presbyterian Church. It was a family joke that following Henrietta becoming a Roman Catholic after arriving in Kentucky in 1864, we were now Papists, in league with Jacobites and the grand Popish conspiracy. However, when I later discovered that neither John Knox’s sons survived to carry on the surname Knox, it seemed the joke was on us (see Knox, Knox, Who’s There).
So, I thought I had it all figured out – that we were distant cousins of the Rev. Knox and that I could draw a line from my mother to a man named Adamus Knox, a contemporary of Alexander II, King of Scotland, who reigned in the early 13th century. Yet, after the “consanguinity crisis” involving my parents, I needed to re-examine everything I thought I knew. So, rather than focusing on the mistakes made, in the next episodes want to examine the known facts and review some clues that possibly bridge my Irish Knox ancestors to their Scottish forbears.