Every genealogist knows the one about only wanting to find the wealthy relatives. But joking aside, finding out that you have aristocratic ancestry can be an incredibly exciting discovery. Once you've established an aristocratic connection, you're more likely to find certain older records that were kept for the wealthy that wouldn't have been for the average person, meaning you can find out more about your family tree as a whole.But just how do you find out if you're related to aristocracy? We've put together some tips to get you started.
It's all in the name
Do some research on the aristocratic families in the area your ancestors lived. For instance, the Duke of Somersets are Seymours, and the Dukes of Northumberland are Percys. While not every Seymour or Percy will be linked to aristocracy, your chances are better than if your ancestors have surnames more commonly associated with traders, such as Smith or Wright.
Given names are also important. Aristocratic families will often carry the name of an important ancestor through the generations, so look for similarities between father/son or mother/daughter lines.
Unravelling a family crest or tartanEven if you don't have an aristocratic surname, be sure to check with relatives if there are any family insignias, such as a crest or tartan. It may be that it's been lying forgotten in an attic for decades, and your ancestors were in fact related to aristocracy through marriage.
Montgomery family crestA crest was originally the mark of an individual rather than a family during the Middle Ages. They would have been handed down if there was a male heir, but often with some change, such as a different colour. If you find one in your family there is a chance you're descended from an early knight or lord who wanted to differentiate themselves during feuds. Try searching for your suspect in the Britain, Knights of the Realm & Commonwealth Index.
Find out if your ancestors had money
There are a number of ways to quickly assess whether your family came from a wealthy background. Family photos from when photography was a rare, expensive memento is one sure sign, as is any priceless heirloom.
A rare daguerreotype
Records of ancestors owning a registered business or attending renowned schools or higher education are also important indicators, as both were out of the grasp of a large section of society for centuries of history. Education and work records are a great resource for finding your ancestors' sources of income, and the relative wealth of the family. It can also lead your research further, as many elite schools will keep their own records that may include details about your relatives.
Wills and probate records offer the chance to discover more about where money came from, a family's standing in society and even the more complex family relations and politics. If you're looking for a will but are unsure of who left it, try searching for the benefactor's name in the 'optional keywords' box in our search.
Look for landAristocratic families will almost always be recorded as owning some kind of land or estate. Findmypast has over nine million such entries from across the world in our land and estate records. If you don't find your family as landowners, you might find them as workers who inherited from a grateful employer.
If your family lived in Britain at any point between 1826 to the modern day, Burke's Landed Gentry also contains almost two centuries worth of research done by the Burke family of the wealthy estate owners and influential persons across the UK.
Search Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland, 1899 today.
Research the local gossip
For years people have documented the history of families and areas, perhaps wondering if they too could make some sort of aristocratic connection. You'll find a whole variety of different information in almost 18 million world Directories & Social History records. There's the history of the Scots-Irish in the United States to an index of the American Bible Society, not to mention the countless names contained in records from across the rest of the globe.
It's always worth searching for your family in these records, as the breadth of their scope means you never know what mention you might find in a local historian's work that could just confirm your suspicions. Wealthy or influential families will often have been recorded in these social histories.
Much like today, historic Newspapers & Magazines often ran stories on aristocratic families, not just headline acts but also more mundane news, not forgetting notices of weddings, funerals and births. Try searching for an address rather than a name to see if there's an advertisement looking for servants. As long as you keep an open mind, you never know what you might discover.