Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Not to Be … There is no Question

The 22nd in a series of posts about my family tree
Inspired by Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Prompt: Mistake

Shedding light on the family tree can be a bit of a vanity project. Who among us has not thrilled at the discovery of famous (or infamous, as the case may be) ancestors in our lineage?

When plugged into FamilySearch some of our family’s personally-sourced genealogical data connects to New England ancestors who are descended from lines that can be traced back as far as the Plantagenets, and beyond. For instance, one of my favourite connections so far goes back through the Fairchild and associated lines to John of Gaunt and his mistress (later to become his wife) Katherine Swynford.

And, of course, there’s the discovery that we’re descended from Maria Padilla and King Pedro “the Cruel” of Castile. Forty years go my mother, Lois Jeanette McDonall, sang the title role of Maria in a lauded recording of Gaetano Donizetti’s rarely performed opera, Maria Padilla, for the Opera Rara label (1). She had no way of knowing at the time that Maria was, in fact, her 19th great grandmother. (See A Magical Connection made by Music)

Still, all of this is dependent on good research.

Trusting Research

These ancestral discoveries, of course, rely on verifiable research. I know my first few generations are sound because of family documentation. However, what about the data we’re connecting to? Case in point … this week I happened to be exploring the more distant branches of the family tree.

As I was progressing up the McDonall branch to the Sumners of New England I took a detour at Samuel Lockhart Sumner and Sarah (Tyler) Sumner (m. 23 January, 1793, New Hampshire) through three more generations of Tylers to John Tyler and Abigail (Hall) Tyler (m. 14 January 1694, New Haven, Connecticut). The Halls are one of the oldest New England families. Abigail was the eldest child of Thomas Hall and Grace Watson who married in Wallingsford, Connecticut (m. 5 June, 1673). Thomas was the fifth of nine children of John Hall and Jane Woolen (m. ca 1643, New Haven, Connecticut). John has the distinction of being one of the founding fathers of Hartford, Connecticut (2).

When I looked at John Hall’s data I was met with a surprise. Someone had recently input his parents as Susannah Shakespeare and Dr. John Alexander Hall, daughter and son-in-law of the great Bard himself, William Shakespeare. The rationale was tied to two identity numbers, but nothing, as far as I could tell, beyond that.

To be?
Source: FamilySearch

My initial reaction was one of disbelief and then, of course, “Wow! Wow! Wow!” What writer wouldn’t want to claim a direct line back to the world’s most celebrated playwright?

Not to be …
William Shakespeare is not anyone’s ancestor

And yet, I wondered.

When the initial euphoria had worn off I did a little digging, checking through the listed sources and collaborations. Soon I noticed conflicting information. John Hall of Wallingford, Connecticut, is noted as the earliest documented of the New England Hall line dating back to his birth in 1606, possibly to Manchester, England (3) versus John Hall is the son of Susannah Shakespeare and Dr. John Alexander Hall.

Well, it turns out there’s no documentation to support the latter. On the contrary, Susannah Shakespeare and Dr. John Alexander Hall had one child, a daughter named Elizabeth who married twice, first to Thomas Nash (1626) and second to John Barnard (1649), and had no children by either marriage (4). In fact, William Shakespeare had no heirs from any of his three children and thus has no living descendants. Case closed.

This means, of course, that the parentage of John Hall of Wallingford, Connecticut, is still an unsolved mystery.

Interestingly, within days of discovering the connection to Susannah Shakespeare another researcher had already deleted it. The reason stated: “There is no support for a child/parent relationship.”

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. ❦


©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2022 … Aimwell CreativeWorks


(1) Lois McDonall/Maria Padilla …

(2) Society of the Descendents of the Founders of Hartford … John Hall, Hartford Founder …

(3) John Hall of Wallingford, Connecticut …

(4) Shakespeare’s Children … Shakespeare’s Trust Birthplace …

2 thoughts on “Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Not to Be … There is no Question

  1. I love your Shakespeare story. Such a typical thing to find online, “Oft repeated and rarely researched.” Cautious skepticism is necessary when doing genealogy. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh yes, cautious optimism. This sort of thing is an ongoing issue. Good to be just a little cynical until there’s irrefutable evidence. Thank you for stopping by … 🙏😊

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