Method for Well Documented Magna Carta project?

+11 votes

I am new with how your projects work.  I am a little confused with the next step.


I am descendant from severl of the Magna Carta Barons.  These come from Marshall/DeClare.  I find it odd that no Spoffords are listed as gateway ancestors.  Am I looking in the wrong location.  

Harriet Spafford married Isaac Brock Brower Berkhoven in 1866.  Harriet is descendant of John Spofford b 1588  the son of Lady Agnes DeClare

Bigod, to Marshall to Declare to Spofford then Spofford marries into Brouwer. 
WikiTree profile: John Spofford
in Genealogy Help by W B G2G4 (4.9k points)
retagged by Darlene Athey-Hill
Hi William, and thank you for bringing up the Spoffard lineage up for consideration.  I am a co-leader of the Magna Carta project, and I specialize in researching (and usually detaching) questionable lineages, so hopefully I can explain how things work...

First of all, in this case John Spofford (b. 1588) can't be a gateway ancestor because he didn't emigrate to America!  That's part of our working definition of gateway ancestors.  But, for the record, in the past I have advocated expanding the definition.  However, the Magna Carta project has more than enough work to do using the current, limited definition, even though there are many British Magna Carta lineages involving families that never migrated to America.

Second, the Magna Carta project recognizes gateway ancestors if they have been identified as such by professional genealogist Douglas Richardson, whose books are well-sourced and authoritative within the community of genealogists.  Richardson doesn't recognize John Spofford as a gateway ancestor, so neither do we, unless compelling evidence based on new research is presented.  (Never say never...)

In this case, it is John Spofford's alleged son, also named John Spoffard, who migrated to Massachusetts and died in 1678.  Could he be a gateway ancestor?  I have gone ahead and added the "Questionable Gateway Ancestor" category to the younger John Spofford, for the time being, at least.

The big question here is, was the younger John Spofford the son of the elder John Spofford?  You will notice that the younger John Spofford has a "disputed origin" paragraph at the top of his profile.  At first glance, the information contained in this paragraph seems sufficient to justify detaching John Spofford "Jr." from his alleged father.  I will plan to do that in a few days unless somebody comes up with some evidence or at least a good argument.  Do you know of any primary source documentation that indicates that John Spofford, Jr. was the son of John b. 1588?
I understand that many branches need to find a "gateway ancestor" because it is very difficult to find all descendants of a specific name.  It is much easier to track a few gatweways than to calculate whole paths.  This is why I was surprised that Spofford was not listed.  Understandably, Spofford isn't listed as a gateway ancestor, because no one has listed their lineage on wikitree for magna carta yet.  


BUT, I would like to contend that perhaps "Gateway ancestors" is not the appropriate thing to look for.  I propose this because this Magna Carta project isn't "JUST" for children of immingrant ancestors (otherwise wouldn't it be titled Magna Carta of US Immigrants etc etc).  Even if the Spofford line did not migrate out of Europe, this would do nothing to dimish their claim of Surety.  We do have direct records of Spofford descending from DeClare.  As long as I could trace my line directly from that, nothing more should be needed .


You ask for source documentation, and I have that.

The Spofford line is well documented in Burke's.  


I want to explain my first paragraph in this comment.  I am not attempting to argue the policy for Magna Carta Barons, I am merely proposing that the qualification not lie on immigration.  I do understand that the majority of people with lineage from these surety barons will have early Americana lineage...... but, is it a neccesity?
The Magna Carta project has been defined from a North American perspective. The research that is the basis of the project was chosen this way as well. There has been discussion with folks in Australia and the UK about having additional Magna Carta trails built from their perspective as well, but it hasn't progressed past the discussion stage due to the amount of work involved, the resources available, or a research framework.

Perhaps it will happen down the road.
Hi William,

Unfortunately, Burke's is known to have incorrect data.  John asked you for primary source documentation.  This means there needs to be a will or probate or land records that prove the connection between the two people in question.  Burke's doesn't give a source for its statement of one being the son of the other.  Douglas Richardson, in his books, lists his sources for his data.

At the present, John Spofford Jr.'s lineage hasn't been proven, because primary source documentation hasn't been located to connect him.

Darlene - Co-Leader, European Aristocrats Project
Thank you for your reply Darlene.  
It seems I have more research to do.  I thought this lineage was non-disputed.

I have found this:

which is an addendum to Wakefield lineage.  Interestingly, it documenst Robert as having a different wife.
Even though this is not source information, it mirrors the other written information about John Spofforth..

Plus, there is a "family records of the descendants of John Spofforth"

Peter, I'm not comfortable with the thought that the Magna Carta project "has been defined from a North American perspective."  From the beginning of the project, I have been concerned to leave the door open to well-researched lineages that don't involve 17th-century immigrants to America, and April and I even set up a procedure for discussing and adding such lineages.

With that said, of course we rely heavily on Douglas Richardson's works, which are indeed focused on lineages from MC barons to American immigrants.  But, to answer William's point, we rely on Richardson because of the widely-recognized excellent quality of his research.  Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find other lineages that are as well-researched, so we do what we can with what we have.  In the long run, I have no doubt that other well-documented lineages will also receive templates from the Magna Carta project.

William, for better or worse, Douglas Richardson doesn't recognize the Spofford lineage.  Why not?  Is it a problem with the parentage of the immigrant, or are there further problems with the Clare ancestry (or whatever lineage supposedly leads back to the Magna Carta barons)?  I don't see the Clare ancestry on wikitree, so I can't evaluate it.   If the only problem is with the parents of the immigrant John Spofford, then perhaps he should be retained as a "questionable gateway ancestor" pending further research.

Another possibility is DNA research -- the Spofford family has American and Australian branches, and perhaps there are still Spoffords in England.

Here is a link to Capt. Ralph Spofforth's "New History of the Spofforth Family":

John, Thank you for your link... it has provided me with another source of the lineage.  This is the same lineage that I have linked in the prior comments above.


Oh yeah, I also found out that Thomas Lord Stanley is my 16th great grandfather...
The problem with both of the sources to which you link are that they give no supporting evidence for their claims. The first one, I see, is a privately published history; the author could very well have pulled their information from Burke's. One good thing is that there is a lot more information/source records available these days as compared to the past. You can't base your research solely on what you can find on -- not even with their books -- nor Google Books. They can provide clues, but you need to find the original source documentation to prove the lineage. As John mentioned, this may ultimately be a lineage that is determined by DNA as opposed to records...

John, I agree that the Magna Carta Project can have a broader focus. I believe PM is correct insofar as the term Gateway seems to be meaningful only in a North American context, and the current focus of the Project is links to Gateways...

I do not know if this will help

Home » Schools » Biographies » The 25 Barons of Magna Carta

The committee of Twenty Five were a group of barons in the forefront of the opposition to King John who were entrusted by the terms of clause 61 of Magna Carta to ensure the king’s compliance with its terms.

The Barons

From the outset, the opposition barons had been aware of the danger that, once King John had left Runnymede, he would renege on the Charter on the grounds that it constituted an illegitimate infringement of his authority.  The barons came up with a novel solution to the problem in the famous clause 61, the security clause.   In this, King John conceded that ‘the barons shall choose any twenty-five barons of the realm as they wish, who with all their might are to observe, maintain and cause to be observed the peace and liberties which we have granted’. Any infringement of the charter’s terms by the king or his officials was to be notified to any four of the committee; and, if within forty days no remedy or redress had been offered, then the king was to empower the full committee to ‘distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions’ until he made amends.  In this remarkable clause, then, the charter introduced the novelty of obliging the king to sanction and institute armed action against none other than himself.  The means by which they sought to achieve this was use of the common law doctrine of distraint, the means by which debts were collected from debtors and malefactors obliged to answer for their actions in court.

4 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

Hi William,

It looks like you have a great start above in working to document this lineage.

For the possible benefit of others who may read this discussion later, I thought I'd also lay out a recommended approach for building a trail to Magna Carta ancestry.

As PM has noted above, the current working definition of "Gateway" on WikiTree is North American-centric and refers to an individual who is both provably descended from Magna Carta/noble lines in Europe and who immigrated to North America, generally during the colonial period. (You've correctly pointed out that there are other pathways to noble descent, e.g., through a family who remained in Europe for a longer period; that isn't the situation for Spofford, though.)

So, if you're North American, and you want to trace back to these lines, you'd follow these basic steps:

  • First, thoroughly research the connection from yourself back to any colonial immigrant ancestors you can find. As you build out those connections, you'll need at least a little bit of primary source research to verify the accuracy of the parent/child relationships (which can be tough pre-1850). Family books and associations are sometimes excellent, sometimes totally fabricated, and everything in between, so don't rely on them alone - find out what their sources are and evaluate those, too.

In your case, it looks like your Spofford/Spafford line currently consists of Harriet, William, and Solomon, not yet linked back to the immigrant profiles here on WikiTree. If you show Harriet as being a descendant of the immigrant John Spofford, a good place to start is to shore up that connection and add sources.

  • Second, identify which of your immigrant ancestors, if any, may be a Gateway. As mentioned above, the Magna Carta Project uses the works of Douglas Richardson to confirm Gateway status. The Royal Ancestry series is his most recent, and many of us Project members and leaders can do lookups in it.

As John S. mentioned above, the link between John the immigrant and John the vicar and the vicar's wife Agnes (she's the source of the Gateway claim) is disputed. I have a bunch of these in my tree, too. Until other primary-sourced, publication-quality research comes to light, that might be the end of the line for this line. But you may well have others! Especially because, if you have one colonial-era immigrant ancestor, it's extremely likely you have many of them, and maybe another one's origins are proved...

If you have an membership (your screen capture suggests that you might), you have access through its Card Catalog to Anderson's Great Migration series, which is the definitive source for the Puritan Great Migration Project covering immigrants to New England. It doesn't cover nobility, but it documents the known origins of many families and also does a great job discussing known disputes. This can help you narrow and focus your search.

Many Gateways came through the southern colonies rather than Virginia, which is an area of research I don't know as well.

  • Finally, follow Richardson's documented pedigree to verify that your Gateway ancestor is descended from the particular baron/royal/whatever line of interest to you. Here on WikiTree, many of those trails have not yet been built, or have been GEDCOM-uploaded in poor quality and need their primary source documentation added. This is the work of the Magna Carta Project, and we welcome new members to help us improve these profiles and trails!

At the moment, even though Burke's lists Agnes (Clare) Spofford as a descendant of noble lines, that connection doesn't appear to have been made here on WikiTree. If it's accurate, it would be valuable to fill in the trail and cite the sources.

I hope this helps, and please continue to bring your excellent questions here to G2G! Good luck!

by Cheryl Hammond G2G6 Mach 1 (19.2k points)
selected by W B
P.S. My significant other is also a Brouwer/Berckhoven descendant. :)
Thank you much for your reply.  
The Card Catalog to Andersen's Great Migration is a great suggestion.  I hadn't heard of that yet.

To me, it is interesting of how much critique is given to a lineage from just Burke.

I understand that saying "source information" is good, but expecting that from 1588 is a bit unrealistic.  I do hope that I can find them.  

If we have collaborating accounts from the family, should we give extra creedence to the lineage?  Spofforth Esq of London and Cpt spofforth UK both researched and verify this lineage.  

Is Burke's account of this known to be false, or are we saying that because of it's lack in Richardson's research it is deemed not true?  

What would be the best method for acquiring source information from the early 17th century in England? The records that I have found are index-only, so they don't help.
Very nice 'how to,' Cheyl.

William, per the relationship finder it appears you are a descendant of Gateway Ancestor Audrey (Barlowe-1) Almy. As Cheryl mentioned, you would want to research and cite, if necessary, the connections in this line. It looks like your line to Barlowe-1 is mainly your own gedcom and without sources. There are problems, too. Right now, for example, Brower-604 died 25 Feb 1802 and his son, Brower-603 wasn't born until about 1809, so this relationship appears impossible.

If it does prove to be accurate, you would have a line via Audrey back to Magna Carta surety baron William de Huntingfield-11. This line is featured in Richardson's Magna Carta Ancestry here:

We have yet to build her trail (or complete any trail to William de Huntingfield). You could compare Richardson's line to what is already on WikiTree.

Those are big questions, and there isn't just one answer.

Richardson's works are very well-sourced for many lineages. Understanding his sources and methods can be a good place to start. As I have worked backward through Royal Ancestry on the couple of trails I'm researching, I can see just from his footnotes how the nature of evidence changes in each century. Anderson also has awesome methods. I'll never be as good as they are (I have a day job), but I strive to learn from them.

(Similarly, researching from myself back to colonial times on Ancestry - I never use other people's trees, I always do the work by hand using direct sources - it's really interesting how the information changes from decade to decade. Census from 1850-1870 is different from census 1880-1940, and pre-1850 in the northeast there are often good church records, but for some reason in the south it's all about land deeds and court records instead.)

Not everything we need will be available online! Especially as we go further back. But that doesn't mean the evidence doesn't exist! I am astounded by what Europe has preserved. If we don't have the ability or time or money to do the research offline ourselves, we will have to rely on other trusted genealogists to do it (good secondary source authors who provide all of their evidence so we can verify it) or walk away for a few decades and hope more stuff gets scanned...  :D

There's a big difference between "unproven" and "disproven", and I try to be precise on WikiTree about which one is which. Disproven would mean we've found evidence that the immigrant could not possibly have been the son of the vicar. (Disproving can be harder than proving!) I don't think that's the case here. It sounds like the Spofford vicar-immigrant connection is unproven.

In the world of unproven, there's also a big difference between "professional genealogists have tried really hard to prove this and have come up empty so far" and "someone said this in a book once but we have no idea where they got it from". It sounds like the Spofford case has been looked at, at least a little bit.

In family association books, especially those written in the 1800s, it was very popular to assert that just because a North American family had the same surname as a European family, they must have been direct descendants. (I have a huge mess of ridiculous claims in my Hammond line and also in a Blodgett line, just to name two.) Strangely, no matter how common a surname it is, all the North Americans manage to be descended from the most prominent and noble of their namesakes in Europe, never from the commoners or peasants. ;)

Thanks for the note about 604 and 603.  Very simply, there must have been additional ghost profiles in my gedcom, and it put the birthdate of John's son.  His son was born in 1809, and John was born in 1789.  

Eyestone, I have fixed the error that caused the link error between Aaron and John Brower, and it seems as if I am lineage to Almy as you suggest.

What relationship finder are you referencing?  

I looked at William de Huntingfield, and through my Dad's mother, he is my first cousin 26 times removed.  They don't have my link through Brower yet, which is another thing to work on.  I just love seeing close relations from very different lines.  




Cheryl, thanks for another informative comment! I have to agree with you on the problem of using other people's information.  The worst is the duplicate children!  I have another tree that is all my own personal manual work, but I am so far behind in that one......


I definitely have seen many false assertions, some just in error, and some in an attempt to claim royal lineage.  I agree that you must be careful about lineage books written in North America.  I would like to pose the counterpoint that both of the Spofford books were written by British family members (seemingly not connected to the Immigrant). One of these was titled Esquire, so undoubtably from the same proposed lineage.  

I guess what I am asking is this..... If family J was attempting to show links to the royal family of family O, then surely references from family J would be looked on with scrutiny.  However, if family O (the one with proven lineage) states that family J is descendant, then is this not collaborated proof?  

This is a confusing situation for me, because I have never seen Spofford lineage questioned.  This is one of the main lines from DeClare/Plantagenet.  What are the qualifications of being "proven"?  



About Gateway ancestors, is there a rule to follow?  In the case of Almy, there are two Gateway ancestors as both the Father and son were born abroad, then immigrated to America.  Of course, I will use the one where I can find the most information, but is one of them "more correct" for the project?  


Thanks all for your comments.... You are defintiely giving me a better understanding of your proces.... there's a whole lot to digest on the project page.

Here is the 'relationship finder' for Barlowe-1 to Huntingfield-11:

Here is the relationship finder for Barlowe-1 to Brower-595:

The relationship finder only goes back 25 generations so it will not show you as having a direct relationship to Huntingfield-11 because the line is too long. By breaking it into two parts, though, you can see that it is direct. 

Regarding a rule to follow for Gateway Ancestors... which two Almy men are you referencing? I'd suggest looking at a line and reviewing 'who was the Gateway Ancestor' through that lens. Did two generations have immigrants? You go with the earlier ancestor. Did one generation have a handful of immigrant siblings with issue? They would each be Gateways to their own descendants. 

One note on Spofford-16... His profile includes a reference to Gary Boyd Roberts: 

  • Roberts, Gary Boyd; Ancestors of American Presidents. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2009.

So Roberts has done some work on Spofford-16. Would Roberts have been aware of the suggested royal lines of Spofford-16? Hard to say what Roberts knew, but also safe to say he is familiar with Burke's. Roberts' list of 600 immigrants can be described as more inclusive than Richardson's 250 or so. While we can't say the omission proves what Roberts thinks, that Spofford-16 didn't make Roberts' list is something I would note.


Eyestone, my question goes back to why Roberts didn't include the Spoffords.  In the link that I find, they suggest that there may be a missing generation after John.  See this link


It is an interesting thought, that perhaps just because of the missing generation (or suggestion of one), Roberts removed (or didn't include) the family's lineage.  It is very interesting that we have not found published claims or redactions of their lineage.  If disproven, would there not have been redactions and revisions published?

The Spofford family is also described in Ancestors of American presidents

And also in

William, just what is the Spofford Magna Carta lineage?  I haven't seen it anywhere.  It appears that Robert Spofford, father of John, married a woman named Agnes Clare, daughter of Gilbert.  THIS WAS NOT THE MAGNA CARTA FAMILY!

The medieval de Clare family died out in 1314 with the death of Gilbert de Clare, who left three daughters.   This was clearly a different family from that of Gilbert Clare, father of Agnes, the wife of Robert Spofford.

Great question john. I had checked this a long time ago, and I forget what I concluded. Oddly enough, this is very prevalent of claims. thank you
And it looks like my "well documented" may only be that... Documentation and not fact. That is okay, the English royal family has 5 to 10 million descendants in USA alone. Today, from wiki tree, I learned that I "may" have the Dame grandfather as prophet Muhammad. All speculation of course.... So we find something possibly untrue and a new mystery begins. Who is his father? Why is Agnes listed so much as Lady Clare. Were there other Clares descended from earlier Clares? And now to trace to another baron. Time to source the line that wikitree says is there. I am very curious to look for corrections and revisions published for this. Having found none yet, I am perplexed. There is a tale of a missing generation. I can see how another matching name found throw records off. It is well documented in history of course, even by family members who are well sourced genealogists.

William, the link appears to be about Catholic religiious history, see Wikipedia.

St. Clare lived in Assisi at the same time as St. Francis of Assisi. She founded what became the Poor Clares, an order of nuns. Internet searches can lead us up some interesting blind alleyssmiley

This thread has developed into a thorough explanation of the purpose and methods of the Magna Carta project, and a great discussion of sources and methods of proving lineage. Thank you for asking intelligent questions, William, and thanks to magna Carta project co-Leaders John Schmeeckle, Peter Eyestone and Cheryl Hammond, along with EuroAristo project co-Leaders Darlene Athey and John Atkinson for providing thoughtful answers.

I appreciate your perseverance William, working to find the best sources for your ancestral tree. It's all any of us can do, use the best source we can find, but never stop looking for confirmation in better sources.


Why Magna Carta project favors works by Douglas Richardson and Robert Anderson

I'm astonished at the amount of primary sources that exist from Medieval times, in palace vaults, in muniment rooms of great estates, in national archives, town archives, great libraries and universities, abbeys, and elsewhere. We are the beneficiaries of countless anonymous academics and technicians who are recording, copying, interpreting and publishing these records - a work so vast it will take more decades to complete.

Availability of records, both ancient and modern, is changing what people believe about their family trees, and showing us again the necessity of using source documents along with careful genealogical methods to prove a lineage. Magna Carta project favors using work by Douglas Richardson (Magna Carta Ancestors, etc.), Robert Charles Anderson (Great Migration series), etc., because we value their experience as professional genealogists using primary sources in footnotes.

"Hilary Clinton Family Tree a Wake-up Call for Genealogy" is one example of why we need professional methods - a professional surveys all records first.

"Barking up the Wrong Tree" is a cautionary tale for all of us.

Both of the above examples courtesy of Dick Eastman at "Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter".

April, it's just the two references to her spouse was throwing me off in the letter. 

To the daughter of the King of kings, the servant of the Lord of lords, the most worthy Spouse of Jesus Christ, and, therefore, the most noble Queen, Lady Agnes: 


So, this "Spouse of Jesus Christ", do you propose that this is because she founded the sisterhood of Clare, and that with a devotion she was "married" to Christ?  Or, is this a more literal interpretation?  


It does reference this twice in the same letter:

Your Spouse, though more beautiful than the children of men, became, for your salvation, the lowest of men, despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout His whole body, and then died amid the sufferings of the cross. O most noble Queen, gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.


This second reference definitely sounds as a devotional to Christ.  


I realize that even the Spofford that is linked to this G2G is incorrect, as it should have been the 1588 Spofford linked


This discussion has been continued with some proposed reasons behind the errors.

Eyestone, thanks for pointing out Almy.... I think I will find some more in the future.

I have just found William Bonville KG


And... after I post this, I see the link of Spofford to Sheldon seems to be the incorrect Sheldon.  Spofford seemingly married Sally while Dinah married a Jabez
+3 votes
I would suggest contacting the leaders of the project via this link to discuss:
by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.4m points)
+4 votes
I will reply in a way intended to help understand the replies already coming to you. I am an Australian genealogist. I see you are wondering how this all makes sense.

1. First, the fact is that tracing to an early American immigrant who descended from a magna carta surety baron is a big American hobby, and a hobby that is very useful for all genealogists of British descent. Non Americans are not as interested in the Magna Carta, at least traditionally, and this has to do with ideas about how the American constitution has the Magna Carta as "ancestry". As a practical thing, it is very good for all of us that Americans have this hobby. Their ancestors are our ancestors and we can work on it together. The all break off when the emigrations happen but for the trees before then we are looking at the same people. I say, let them say that Magna Carta gateway means someone who immigrated to America. :)

2. Is it difficult to argue about evidence from before 1700 or even before 1500? Yes. Great right? Once the internet started getting popular it got filled with people using old editions of Burkes and similar, just copying and pasting each other. But the internet already did that. It does not need more copying and pasting. Now is the time to go beyond that. So much more fun!

3. Third point. Why use one source? Is Richardson perfect? No. But he is living and writing now and he has built up his book based on what was known before, plus some new research. He is good enough. His books are being published now, and they represent a very good practical source. Also, he participates in online discussions where he informs the world of his mistakes and new ideas. I think in practice if you cite his discussions that is also allowed.

So the "rules" of magna carta project are basically fixed on a practical basis, like in a sport. They give good doable goals that people can work on together and which are unlikely to ever lead to true disaster. They help all people with British ancestors. It has succeeded in creating a kind of hard core of reasonably good pedigrees within wikitree. You might not believe it, but not all wikitree is that good. :)


by Andrew Lancaster G2G6 Mach 8 (81.9k points)
+1 vote
Is this the right moment to point out that Venn (Cambridge Alumni) believed that this John's father was Thomas Spofforth of Wistow in the West Riding. Presumably he worked from material available at the University. Edited to add. He graduated 1616/1617 so it is unlikely her was born much before 1595.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (198k points)

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