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Introduction to Fitz Randolph family history & FAQs

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Surnames/tags: Fitz Randolph FitzRandolph Fitz-Randolph
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Fitz Randolph One Name Study

This is a research page of the Fitz Randolph One Name Study. Click this link to return to Study's Fitz Randolph Traditions home page.

An introduction to Fitz Randolph family history and genealogy

The title of this project pays homage to the book Fitz Randolph Traditions: A Story of a Thousand Years by one of ours: Lewis Van Syckel Fitz Randolph. This book, published in 1907, became the main reference for those interested in knowing more about the Fitz Randolph family origins. The book is written in an old-fashioned scholarly style that gives it an aura of authority and found an honored place on many a Fitz Randolph mantel. In my case, it was a photocopy given to my father by my grandfather and kept in a special folder. Many times during my childhood I would leaf through the pages, slowly developing an identity and a pride that my family could trace back to Edward the Puritan and from him farther back to nobility as outlined in the detailed family trees and to the castle at Middleham. I have to admit, though, that I never had the patience to actually try to read the full text itself. The book has undoubtedly inspired many to make the pilgrimage to Middleham and related sites in England -- my grandfather did in the 1930s -- and when I made my own a few years back, found the many names of Fitz Randolph descendants in the guest registers as evidence of the steady stream of visitors over the years.

We now know, however, that some of the lineage information in Fitz Randolph Traditions is inaccurate. In the late 1800s, it was not uncommon for genealogies to be embellished or simply fabricated to satisfy the growing demand from Americans and Europeans interested in establishing their pedigree -- and hopefully a suitably impressive one. The research done by Lewis may have been influenced by such genealogical literature and in any case we can imagine doing good research was an enormous challenge given the difficulty in knowing what sources of information might be available and how to get access to them -- no trivial matter. The homage being paid to 'Fitz Randolph Traditions' is not due to the accuracy of its content, but rather to recognize the central role it has played in nurturing a sense of family pride that we have a well documented deep and rich history, and that has probably in turn encouraged many of us to learn more.

A defining feature of the Fitz Randolph family in America is that we all trace back to one person -- Edward Fitz Randolph the Pilgrim-- the only member of the Fitz Randolphs from England to emigrate and settle in America. That fact likely serves to strengthen our sense of family identity -- knowing that when we meet another Fitz Randolph, we can be fairly certain that we are both descended from Edward. It also means that our family history comes in two distinct volumes with Edward as the link: Volume 1, America with the descendants of Edward; and Volume 2, England with the family and lineage he came from. And there are many, many gaps to fill if we are to complete those two volumes, which is why our collective work here on Wikitree is so important!

For the person just beginning to explore their links to the Fitz Randolph family, there is a lot to discover. In America, Edward and his family were initially part of the classic American tale of the Puritan colony in Massachusetts, but eventually re-established in the more fluid and mixed history of northern New Jersey, from which different branches got involved in a variety of trades and religious sects... and always having lots of children. A few went farther south to the Carolinas after being involved in protests against absentee landowners or to explore business opportunities there. While a number of Fitz Randolphs served as patriots in the Revolutionary War, a few remained on the fence and as the result lost their property and had to relocate to Canada. After the war, Fitz Randolphs became part of the push West through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and beyond. It would be a safe bet that we are likely to now find Fitz Randolph descendants in all 50 states and most if not all of the provinces of Canada. A contingent remained in New Jersey, with one prominent member serving at one point as its governor. We're lucky to have the recent book by Roy Zeigler, Unfaltering Trust: How Pilgrim Edward Fitz Randolph Jr. and His Descendants Helped Build America, that documents a number of the highlights of how we have participated in America's history.

On the other side of the pond in England, much work has been ongoing to revise and correct Edward's line going back, and it is well laid out and recorded here in Wikitree. The basic story remains unchanged of Norse origins and being part of the Norman invasion in 1066 with Ribald de Bretagne becoming the Lord of Middleham. The changing fortunes of the family over the following centuries reflected its role in various events and political dynamics of the day, with our branch eventually morphing into middle-class clergy and landowners, and Edward finally leaving for America. We are still lacking a good account from a historian's perspective of how our Fitz Randolphs evolved over those centuries within the context of England's history.

There are many other gaps in our Fitz Randolph family tree that need filling and the explosion of online genealogy resources and advances in DNA are allowing us all to participate more actively in clarifying our lines and contributing to a better understanding of our family history, whether it relates to figuring out how the Fitz Randolph family has spread across America over the past three centuries using autosomal DNA, or confirming how our line reaches back in time using our yDNA. Hopefully the smorgasbord of topics covered across the various pages in this project will pique your interest and help you find a way you might contribute, too! And everyone does have something to contribute!

Thomas Fitz Randolph

Frequently Asked Questions

If you know the answer, please share here!

What is the origin of the name Randolph?

What is the origin of Fitz, and is it true that it was only given to an illegitimate son? In other words, are Fitz Randolph's really all bastards?

Is it true that Fitz Randolph's get free tuition at Princeton University because a Fitz Randolph gifted the land where it stands?

Why did Edward leave England and go to America?

Are there still Fitz Randolph's in England?

Why have there been questions about Edward being considered a Gateway ancestor?

Did Edward's mother or father accompany him to America?

Please suggest in the Comments any additional questions you think should be added to these FAQs.

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I am an Edward FitzRandolph descendant through his son Nathaniel, and Nathaniel's wife Mary Holley. I have some brief and incomplete answers to some of the above.

FitzRandolph descendants don't get free tuition at Princeton. I read this on the Princeton site, as I remember.

Edward may have left England for America because he was not his father's eldest son and probably not in line to inherit much land, etc.? I'm thinking he also wasn't in alignment with the Church of England?

I read online that the FitzRandolph family in England died out under "rather tragic circumstances." This information appeared on a site dedicated to either British history or to Nottinghamshire. I'll see if I can find it and whether it sites any sources.

Edward the immigrant's father left a will and died in or around 1647, in England, long after Edward had left for America. Edward's mother, Frances Howes/Howis, I believe died around 1631...so neither went to America with him.

There have been questions about Edward being a gateway ancestor because, quite a long time ago, a FitzRandolph pedigree was published (I think in the book titled, "FitzRandolph Traditions"), and this work included connections to nobility/Magna Carta barons/royalty. Some of these connections have now been a) shown to be false, and/or b) they contain a particular unproven or in-doubt generational connection. For this reason, Edward can't be officially listed as a "gateway ancestor."

The particular, more recent generation in doubt or unproven is -- according to my understanding -- Edward the immigrant's great-grandfather, Christopher FitzRandolph (1495-1570), who m. Joan Langton; Christopher is "presumed to have been the third or fourth son of John FitzRandolph" of the Spennithorne line of FitzRandolphs (in Yorkshire -- as distinct from the Nottinghamshire line), but this is not proven. I believe that John d. abt. 1517, either in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire.

A known link between the Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire branches of the FitzRandolph family is Christopher FitzRandolph, a parson at St. Wilfrid's church in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. This Christopher is shown in one or more original document/references, I think, to have been referred to as Christopher's uncle or cousin.

posted by Anonymous Hannasch
edited by Anonymous Hannasch
Thanks! It would be great if you could confirm the documentation behind these answers and then insert your answers directly into the profile text. I am really curious to see what you have found about the fate of the Fitz Randolphs in England! It's up to you how you want to handle taking credit for doing these bits of research, but certainly ideal to have the link to your wikitree profile.
posted by Thomas Randolph