How to Find Out If You’re Royalty

by Benna Crawford
A close-up of a tiara leaning against a tea cup on a tablecloth.

A close-up of a tiara leaning against a tea cup on a tablecloth.

Being royal might not garner you any more respect but your bragging rights would take a sharp turn upward. Rumors of noble status often swirl around in the background of lost family origins, particularly in a nation of upstarts and immigrants like the United States. Reality says there's probably no crown in your immediate future, but you can search for one in your distant past. And there, the possibility of royal blood is exponentially greater.

Kissing Frogs

Families have their fairy tales, and rumors of royalty are often among them. If that lost lady-in-waiting to the queen on your grandmother's side piques your curiosity, there are ways to discover records that might reveal a monarch or two in your distant past. Online ancestry search services and the digitized genealogy records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can help you find historical archives. The more data you have, the easier your search will be. Check and cross-check birth, marriage, and death certificates, wills and probate records, census lists, historic parish registries, ships' manifests, family bibles and journals, real estate and other legal transactions, newspaper archives, provenance for inherited art or antiques, and even genetic information -- your DNA -- to elevate your status from commoner to one-thousandth in line for king. However, an exhaustive search might be as expensive as it is addictive -- especially if your international cadre of potentially distinguished relatives requires a lot of translation.

Follow the Money

If any of your ancestors were wealthy, your odds of having a royal connection increase. AARP reports that between 5 and 10 million Americans are related to the current British royal family -- entertainer Ellen DeGeneres is a 14th cousin twice-removed from Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge and future Queen of England. Kate has some American ancestors who lived in Massachusetts, Virginia and Maryland. William, the heir to the British throne, has an American great-great grandfather through his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. But your relatives likely moved in the right circles to cross paths with the House of Windsor only if they had money. So search your genealogical connections for evidence of land-holding, domestic servants, first-class travel, titles such as "Sir" or "Count" and dead-giveaway last names like Plantagenet, Windsor, Stuart or Spencer.

What's in a Name

Discovering that your lifelong predilection to princess behavior is justified may be all the reward you need. But prepare yourself before you set out. A successful search for royal ancestors might reveal historical prominence or infamy, a family crest, coat-of-arms or tartan, the very lively escapades of a black sheep, a claim on property or privilege, the genetic origins of a family disease, the diaspora -- or judicial sentence -- that led to a migration, or an unsuspected ethnic or racial heritage. A report published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2010 notes that people who searched for ancestors using genetic markers were able to use what they found to shape a meaningful personal identity narrative. But, not all searches are definitive, so you may never know for sure about your claims on the castle. Second sons and illegitimate children often wandered too far from the family tree to ever be tracked back to it.

Universal Curtsy

We're all royal. Genetic researchers and statisticians have calculated DNA segments across populations and back in time to show the inevitability of common ancestors for all Europeans, including you, if any of your ancestors were European. That's not just a random common ancestor. Yale statistician Joseph Chang published a paper in 1999 tracing the intersections of genealogical lines back to 1400 AD, when the math shows that everyone alive then is the ancestor of everyone alive now. Charlemagne was hale and hearty in 1400, just about 40 generations before you. Even more impressive, do the math for all humans and, at 3400 years ago, Nefertiti was your ancestor. A more extensive study, published in PLOS Biology in 2013, proves universal common ancestry as recent as 1,000 years ago. No pressure, but ask yourself what you've done lately that might be considered notable, as your roots are pretty royal and your place in history may not yet be assured.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .

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