Focus on SoG Collections: A Pedigree Bursting with Historical Interest

A Pedigree Bursting with Historical Interest

Volunteers from the Society of Genealogists are scanning and indexing the Society's extensive collection of rolled paper pedigrees and are findng some remarkable genealogy gems.

Do you belong to a family with very successful members? Does your family tree show saints or are they often sinners? Or do you have a famous surname even though you have no direct line to the actual famous person? We think we’ve found a pedigree that is so full of famous and successful members that we hardly knew where to start. Alan Pursell, a volunteer working to set up our new Pedigree Rolls scanning project, found the document last week. Else Churchill, the SoG Genealogist described it as “..a very interesting pedigree…there are famous people abounding in this tree…”

The pedigree shows the Kemble family and many of the other families they married into. It has entries from the late 16th century through to 1935, when it was created. The Kemble surname is known because for generations they have been actors, theatre managers and singers. We can begin in the late 1700s, when John Philip Kemble played Hamlet and Macbeth in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. And we can fast forward all the way to 2015, when 13 year old Sebastian Croft, a direct descendant, played the young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones. 


Compiled from the Genealogists Magazine

A note at the top of the pedigree reads “Compiled from the Genealogists Magazine Vol 7 No 1, March 1935”. The Society holds a full set of Genealogists Magazines and many of them are online or have been made avaiable as PDFs to purchase. They are an incredibly interesting resource that are worth checking for a number of reasons. Most of the articles refer to data, evidence and issues that do not age, for example, a genealogist’s account of a family tree. The account will give you a lot of carefully researched evidence that may help you even as you use the latest DNA evidence.

So, the pedigree that Alan found was drawn from the 1935 article in the Genealogists Magazine.  A PDF copy of the article can be found here The article describes a pedigree seen at the Society that was then held in the Hereford Library. It was so large that 1930s technology made it impossible to reproduce it as a graphic. If you’re still with us, we would like to share some of the people featured. 

The Kemble Family

Alan was especially fascinated by an entry at the top of the pedigree: “John Kemble b 1599 executed 1674 a Roman Catholic priest”. There are many accounts of this John Kemble and the other Catholic priests who were executed during this period. However, it’s important to note that this pedigree doesn’t give enough evidence to link John Kemble to later generations of the Kemble family.

We would like to start with Roger Kemble (1721 to 1812) who married Sarah Ward, an actress. They had four children: John Philip, Stephen George, Charles and Sarah. It’s worth briefly looking at these four children and their descendants.

John Philip (1757 to 1823) was an actor-manager in the London theatres. He married an actress, Priscilla Hopkins. Priscilla’s father was a prompter at the Theatre Royal. Apparently, Priscilla was the original Maria in ‘School for Scandal’ in 1777.They had no children.

Stephen George (1758 to 1822) was a theatre manager and an actor, working in many parts of Britain including Newcastle and Edinburgh. As an actor, he was most famous for playing Falstaff. Stephen married Elizabeth Satchell, who was a very famous actress, known especially for playing Ophelia. A note on the pedigree shows that Stephen’s oldest son, also Stephen, has “13 descendants connected to dramatic or allied callings”. Not to be outdone, Stephen’s daughter, Frances, married Robert Arkwright. The pedigree shows in one corner how Robert is the grandson of Sir Richard Arkwright, “the inventor of the spinning frame”.

Charles (1775 to 1854) was also an actor, although not as famous as his brothers and sisters. The pedigree shows that he married ‘Marie Camp’, actually Maria Theresa de Camp. Maria was a popular singer and dancer and comedy writer. The pedigree shows how their children continued the roll call of famous and interesting names. John, eldest son, was an “Anglo-Saxon scholar”, who married Nathalie de Wendt. Her father was a well-known German philosopher and music theorist. Adelaide, younger daughter, was an opera singer.

Sarah (1755 to 1831) was a very gifted actress. At one point she was known as ‘the Queen of Drury Lane’ under her maried name of Sarah Siddons as she married William Siddons, also an actor. 

The pedigree shows that Charles and Maria’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren kept up the family tradition. Here are some of them:

- Henry became a colonel in the Bengal Cavalry.

- Gertrude married a very famous singer, Charles Santley. He led the cast in the first Wagnerian opera to be performed in London at, yes you guessed, the Theatre Royal.

- Sarah married the American writer, Owen Wister. Owen wrote Westerns and is probably most famous for ‘The Virginian’.

- Frances married James, a member of the Wordsworth family.

- Algernon married Nellie Grant, daughter of Ulysses S. Grant, President of the USA. Nellie had grown up in the White House. However, other histories show that ‘Algernon’ was known as ‘Charles’.

- Edith married cricketer Robert Lyttleton. Lyttleton played in the time of gentlemen cricketers. He led a successful campaign to penalise leg before wicket, which is eye-wateringly painful and not gentlemanly.

- Alice was a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Company.

This pedigree surely traces the most over-achieving family ever. More than that, it is a marvellous example of the treasures we hold at the Society of Genealogists. It also demonstrates how other collections, like the full set of the Genealogists Magazine, can help you to build on basic facts and create a context for your family tree.



Some volumes of the Genealogists Magazine are available in SoG Data Online. The include the first 4 volumes (1925 to 1928) and later volumes (2004 to the present).

You can search an A-Z list on our website to see surnames featured on our pedigrees. See our Search pedigree index under the Search Records tab.

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