Our family histories are filled with simple quirks of fate that can send families off in new directions. If not for a single decision, your family’s life would have been much different. And who knows, perhaps you might not even exist?
We all have our special interests in genealogy. There are those who get very excited about having royal ancestry. For me, it is an interesting side note, but not hugely of interest to me. Although very few of us can actually prove it, most of us who are of European ancestry probably have some sort of royal ancestry. The reason for this is quite simple.
For the most part, only one individual can become king or queen. It is usually the eldest who ascends to the throne (son or daughter will vary depending on the monarchy). His or her siblings and their children become lesser royals. Lesser royals marry into the nobility. But once again, only the eldest can inherit the title. Lesser nobles become landed gentry. The younger children of the landed gentry end up marrying commoners. So within a few generations, the youngest children go from being royalty to becoming commoners. And most of us have ancestry filled with commoners, some of who trace back to those royal ancestors. Unfortunately, in most instances, this is so far back it is difficult or impossible to prove.
Sometimes, however, the trajectory changed. For example, Elizabeth II was never supposed to be the Queen of England. King George V and his wife, Mary of Teck, had five sons and a daughter. Upon George’s death, their eldest son Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII.
Edward, however, was destined for a short reign. From the beginning, he did not pay attention to accepted conventions. Within months he proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson, a divorced American waiting for her second divorce. This threw the nation into a constitutional crisis. The prime ministers of the United Kingdom and many of the dominions disapproved of the monarch’s marriage to a divorced woman. The Archbishop of Canterbury also objected, based on the Church of England’s oppositions to remarriage of divorced persons whose original spouses were still living.
Great-grandson of the longest-reigning monarch in British history, Edward’s reign was one of the shortest. Less than a year after ascending the throne, Edward abdicated seventy-seven years ago yesterday, on 11 December 1936, “for the woman I love.” They married in 1937 and remained so until his death in 1972.
Edward’s abdication thrust his younger brother Albert unexpectedly onto the throne as King George VI. Since George VI had no sons, his eldest daughter Elizabeth ascended to the throne upon his death. Interestingly, Elizabeth’s grandfather George V also was never supposed to be king. His elder brother Albert was heir to the throne when he died of pneumonia at the age of 28. Neither father nor son were supposed to be king.
In our own family, we see similar circumstances. And eldest son dies and the second son inherits the family farm instead. One family makes the decision to leave their native land behind and emigrate to America. Another family makes the same decision, but unfortunately chooses to travel on board H.M.S. Titanic. When researching, take a moment to look at the decisions and circumstances of your ancestors’ lives. See how much things may have been different, for better or for worse, had it not been for circumstances or the decisions they made.