By Conrad H. Wilcox
DCGS Publications Committee Chairman
The Tragic Loss of Cousin Di
When the tragic news of the crash in a Paris tunnel, that took the life of Princess Diana, first hit our TV screens, I was engulfed in the torrent of feelings of disbelief and grief that shocked the rest of the world. However, there was an added dimension of emotion for me, as I viewed the spectacular ritual of bereavement. I realized that I had just lost a cousin in that scene of twisted metal near the River Seine.
Not too long before, I had been browsing the resources in the genealogy department of the Wheaton Public Library. Since most of my ancestors came from early New England, I like to spend time browsing in one of the best resources in the library, THE NEW ENGLAND HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL REGISTER. The library has the volumes from 1847 to 1896 on microfilm and the volumes from 1948 to 1998 on the shelves.
I was intrigued by an article in the April 1982 issue of the REGISTER, entitled, "The New England Ancestry of H. R. H. The Princess of Wales", by Gary Boyd Roberts. The article is continued in the October 1982 issue. Since Mr. Roberts was the Director of Research at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, I viewed the article as coming from a very credible source. As I began to skim the article, I was somewhat shocked to discover that Princess Diana was ancestrally one-eighth American.
When I saw that Princess Di’s "gateway ancestor" to New England was Dr. Joseph Strong, her 4th great grandfather, my interest was sparked even more. His ancestry was made up entirely of New Englanders and their Great Migration and English forebears and I recognized his name as one that I had seen in my research since we had several common immigrant male ancestors.
As I read that Joseph Strong’s great great grandparents were Caleb Fobes and Sarah Gager from Connecticut, my heart skipped a beat since I knew that I had them on my direct line pedigree chart. So, in a couple of minutes, I was able to determine that my common progenitors with Diana Spencer were Caleb Fobes (ca. 1653 – 1710 CT) and his wife Sarah Gager (1651 – ca. 1701 CT). In my wildest imagination, I never dreamed that twenty minutes of research at the Wheaton Public Library would reveal to me that when Princess Diana was killed that night, I lost my 8th cousin once removed. Our two lines to the common ancestors in Connecticut go like this:
Caleb Fobes and Sarah Gager
Mary Fobes Sarah Fobes
Simon Gates Caleb Bishop
Mary Gates Lucy Bishop
Harrington Wilcox Joseph Strong
Benajah Wilcox Eleanor Strong
Frederick Wilcox Ellen Wood
Herrick Wilcox Frances Work
Hildreth Wilcox Edmund Roche
Conrad Wilcox Frances Roche
Another interesting feature of this research is that because of the Princess of Wales’s New England immigrant ancestors, at least 250 of her cousins would be included in the list of most notable individuals in American History, a good sample of the Connecticut Yankee contribution to our nation’s history. A list of some of Diana’s well known American cousins follows in alphabetical order: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Louisa May Alcott, Horatio Alger, Ethan Allen, Susan B. Anthony, John Barrymore, Henry Ward Beecher, Humphrey Bogart, Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge, Thomas E. Dewey, Emily Dickinson, John Foster Dulles, Amelia Earhart, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Marshall Field, George Gallup, Erle Stanley Gardner, Nathan Hale, Julie Harris, Rutherford Hayes, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Donald Lines Jacobus, Henry Cabot Lodge, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dwight L. Moody, Edward R. Murrow, Walter L. Newberry, George Patton, William Proxmire, John D. Rockfeller, George Romney, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Bertrand Russell, Arthur Schlesinger, Charles Scribner, Benjamin Spock, Adlai Stevenson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Robert Taft, Shirley Temple, Lowell Thomas, Spencer Tracy, Harry S. Truman, Gene Tunney, Rudolph Valentino, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Noah Webster, Orson Welles, Woodrow Wilson, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Brigham Young.
If you have a New England ancestry, I suggest that you check out this article since you, too, may find a common ancestor with Diana. The Boston genealogist, Gary Boyd Roberts, calculates that the living descendents of Diana’s New England ancestors probably number between twenty and thirty million Americans. So, there is a chance that you are one of them
The Review of the DuPage County (IL) Genealogical Society, May 1998, Issue #140
Reprinted on Tri-County Genealogy Sites with permission of Connie Wilcox