Genealogy: Descended from William the Conqueror and Edward III

Sunday, January 03, 2021

As a genealogist with 30 years experience tracing my family history as well as the family histories of others, I enjoy the "Who do you think you are?" series and have previously mentioned it in other posts under the "genealogy" tag on this blog.

One episode that was particularly interesting was the episode on Danny Dyer, a British actor. I'm not familiar with Danny at all (despite being British) as I left the UK in 1995 and it seems he came to popular fame by appearing in Eastenders after that date.

As it turns out Danny and I are related. Danny is descended from Edward III, as am I. Edward III is a descendant of William the Conqueror (1066 who is reported to have been responsible for shooting an arrow in the eye of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings - as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry). This means we shared a number of ancestors in common and I admit it is somewhat unusual to get a whole bunch of your own family history served to you on a platter in an hour simply by watching a TV show. Additionally Danny was able to get access to locations and artifacts that would not be possible for the average person (like me).

My Edward III lineage
I left a comment to the video that received a number of comments which I'd like to address. 

The first is the idea of being a direct descendant of someone. Some viewers commented that it was special that Danny was a direct descendant. Being a direct descendant isn't a concept in genealogy (it also implies another concept of indirect descendant). A descendant is a descendant. Whether the ancestor is a male or female, or 1st or 2nd son is irrelevant. You are descended from all your ancestors equally. Danny in fact descends from Edward III through both male and female ancestors, as do I.

The second is the idea that this is highly unique. While it is somewhat unusual, it is estimated there are over 1 million living descendants of William the Conqueror. This sounds like a lot to many people, but genealogy is something that grows exponentially with each generation doubling the amount of ancestors in that generation. When I was a kid there was a song about an inch worm sung by Paul McCartney that explains the concept.

Two and two are four (your grandparents)

Four and four are eight (your great grandparents)

Eight and eight are sixteen (your great-great grandparents)

Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two (your 3rd great grandparents)

Each couple would have had several children - it was quite common to have 6-10 children in the days before modern contraception as there was no way to avoid pregnancy. Even with many of these children dying of childhood diseases, the number of descendants for any one person would explode exponentially. So the probability of you having one of these people in your family tree is actually quite high.

Lastly, it was commented on how Edward III is my 16th great grandfather and Danny's 22nd great grandfather.  This can be explained by a few things: 
- Danny has a significant number of female ancestors in his line to Edward III. Females generally married young, and bore children early into their marriage.
- I have a significant number of male ancestors in my line to Edward III. Males generally married later (to younger females), in fact, many had multiple marriages as spouses died in childbirth etc. In fact you'll see from the photo, my maiden name Hamersley is an unbroken patrilineal line back to 1565 (Sir Hugh Hamersley) before it switches to the first female. Danny's line switched to females much earlier. 

While I don't particularly encourage you to seek royal lineage (because I believe all ancestors are special and had interesting lives) if you happen upon a knight in your family tree (indicated by the Sir prefix) you are likely to find royalty around. Knights were clearly close to the Monarch and generally married into other noble (royal/notable) families so it is worth looking. 

Where should you look? 

I suggest researching using the following resources:
  • (if you don't have a subscription, try your local library or family history centre)
  • (most royal families and other nobility have been recorded)
  • Wikipedia

Wikipedia (while not always accurate) documents fairly well-known people, knights, barons, earls etc. My Audley/Touchet ancestors were very well documented on Wikiepedia and I was able to learn a lot about their lineage. 

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