My ancestor – The Queen… In the final part of our genealogy series, how one woman used findmypast.co.uk to discover her astonishing royal roots
21:57 GMT, 21 September 2012
Genealogy – thanks to the internet – is enjoying a golden age. Instead of having to spend hours trawling through dusty archives it’s possible to trace your family back through history at the touch of a button.
Last week we showed you the basics of becoming a family detective. This week – with the help of leading genealogy website findmypast.co.uk – we will explain how you can find out whether you are related to the aristocracy or have a secret black sheep in the family.
‘The ease with which you can now access millions of records on the internet has revolutionised family history,’ says Adam Rees, editor of family history magazine, Your Family Tree. ‘If you want to discover whether you have blue blood, you have a vast array of archives at your fingertips.’
Diane Gow, with a picture of her great grandmother Madeline Constance Browne, who was the key to Diane unravelling a rich and aristotic family tree that leads all the way to the current monarch Queen Elizabeth
When 53-year-old Diane Gow first started researching her family tree five years ago she certainly never expected to discover that she was related not only to Her Majesty the Queen but also the late Princess Diana and the joint monarchs William III of Orange and Mary Stuart, daughter of James II.
‘It felt quite surreal when I first made the connection,’ says Diane, a general studies support worker at her local college in Bangor, Northern Ireland. ‘My father had been told by his father that my great-grandmother Madeline Constance Browne had come from an aristocratic line.
But we all took it with a big pinch of salt. After all, Madeline – who died when I was four years old – lived in a small terraced house in Belfast. Although she was something of a lady – she always wore a hat and gloves and made sure there was a table cloth on the table – there was nothing to suggest we were anything but an ordinary family.’
Intrigued by the aristocratic connection, Diane started to surf the net. She joined various genealogical websites, including findmypast.co.uk, and began to travel back in time.
Diane had no idea she would be related to the Queen when she began her search
The key was finding a newspaper cutting that gave her the name of Madeline’s father – Nicholas John Clinton Browne, a sea captain. Diane then simply entered his name into the ‘Search all records’ box on findmypast.co.uk and she was able to discover his extraordinary story.
‘Within seconds I saw that there was a record of his name in the At Sea Deaths 1854-1890 register,’ says Diane, who lives with her husband Paul, 50, and daughter Lauren, 23. ‘This told me that he had drowned, together with the rest of his crew, on 3 December 1883 – it turned out that his ship, the Dartmouth, was wrecked off the Welsh coast in bad weather.’
Diane made more spectacular discoveries the further back she searched. Using resources on findmypast.co.uk, together with thepeerage.com (which is free) and genealogical forums, she was able to show that Madeline’s family had links with not only the English aristocracy but with royalty.
‘Madeline’s grandfather was called Sarsfield Vesey Browne and, working my way through his line, I discovered that Mary Stuart is my nine-times-great-grandmother, and her husband William is my nine-times-great-grandfather,’ she says.
‘It was quite a shock. So far Her Majesty the Queen appears four times in my tree – twice in my blood line and twice through marriage. I’m her 12th cousin once removed. I’m also connected to Princess Diana – we are related through the wonderfully named Agmondesham Muschamp, a colonel from Surrey who died in 1642. When I tell my friends what I’ve discovered, and to whom I’m related, they think I’m a little bit mad – but it’s all here in black and white.’
If you think you may have royal connections it’s worth checking out the Royal Household Staff 1526-1924 records on findmypast.co.uk. Simply go to the ‘Search records’ option at the top of the homepage and select ‘Institutions & organisations’. Scroll down until you see ‘Monarchy & royal families’. The records of the Royal Household – which number about 75,000 – will cost you 10 credits per view. (See below for details on how to claim free credits.)