In the song “The Queen Is Dead,” from my favorite Smiths album of the same name, Morrissey sings:
And so, I checked all the registered historical facts and I was shocked into shame to discover how I’m the 18th pale descendant of some old queen or other.
So imagine my shock (if not exactly shame) to learn that I can trace part of my family tree at least 18 generations back to find noble (if not exactly royal) ancestors lurking there.
This connection to European nobility, however attenuated, comes through the family of my second great-grandmother Rhoda Wyckoff Agin (1850-1907) – one of my 32 second great-grandparents.
The Wyckoff family is one of the oldest families in America, going back t0 Pieter Claesen Wyckoff (1624-1694), my 8th great-grandfather, who came to the New Netherlands colony in 1637. You can actually visit Pieter’s old farm house in Brooklyn, built in 1652. It’s an official New York City landmark.
Thanks to the efforts of genealogists, I can trace the Wyckoff line back to a Dutch noble family in the 16th century. My 13th great-grandfather, Adrian van der Goes (1495-1560), was Lord Advocate of Holland. His wife was Anna van Spangen (1495-1548), whose portrait hangs in the National Gallery in London.
There are some who assert the Wyckoff line can be traced to Scandanavian kings but this is not proven.
Rhoda Wyckoff was also descended from another old family, the Stouts. Her great-grandparents – my 5th great-grandparents – were James Wyckoff (1743-1832) and Hannah Stout Wyckoff (1747-1833).
Like the Wyckoffs, the Stouts were among the very earliest immigrants to the United States. My 8th great-grandfather Richard Stout (1615-1705) left England for the New Netherlands colony in 1648, originally settling in Gravesend, Brooklyn. He eventually moved to Middletown, New Jersey – one of the very first English settlers in what was still a Dutch colony. Richard’s son Jonathan Stout (1660-1722) moved further west to found the town of Hopewell, New Jersey, where my sister Cathy and her family now live.
Through Hannah Stout, I can trace my lineage back to English and Scottish aristocracy.
Sir Edward Howell (1584-1665), my 10th great-grandfather, was heir to Westbury Manor, a great manor house in the vicinity of Oxford. But he decided to leave that all behind, selling the estate in 1638 and emigrating to the colony of Massachusetts. By 1640, he led a group of settlers to Long Island where they founded the town of town of Southampton.
The Haig family of Bemersyde, Scotland can be traced back thirty generations to the first Laird of Bemersyde, my 28th great-grandfather Petrus de Haga (1150-1200). (Haga became Haig over the years.)
Petrus was a Norman knight who built a castle in the Scottish town of Bemersyde. He married Goda, daughter of Cospatric, Earl of March. Their descendants lived in that castle in an unbroken succession for seven centuries before the line finally died out in 1867.
Over the years, the Haigs were involved in numerous military battles with the English. They fought in the Crusades. And at least one of my Haig forbears, Andrew IX Haig, Laird of Bemersyde, was knighted by King Robert III of Scotland in 1390.
Sources: The Wyckoff Family in America, The Wyckoff Association in America, Summit, NJ (1950); John Russell, The Haigs of Bemersyde: A Family History (1881); Edward Howell Family Association.