May 7, 2015

Finest Hour 111, Summer 2001

Page 04


I am a member of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants and The Churchill Center. I have a fairly complete set of documents on Churchill’s American ancestry, viz… 1) “The American Ancestry of the Right Honorable Winston Churchill,” by Conklin Mann, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 31, July 1942. 2) Francis Cooke of the “Mayflower”: The First Five Generations, by Ralph V. Wood, Jr., 1996. 3) “Six Generations of the Anglo-American Ancestry of Sir Winston Churchill,” by Scott C. Steward, Nexus, the News-magazine of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Vol. XIII, No. 5, September-October 1996. 4) The Churchills, Pioneers and Politicians, by Elizabeth Snell, 1994.

Conklin Mann’s article, published shortly after the U. S. entry into World War II, made a great deal out of the “relationships” between Churchill and prominent Americans: with President Roosevelt (8th cousins once removed, descent from Mayflower pilgrim John Cooke); with General MacArthur (8th cousins, descent from Joseph Farnsworth); and (in a later article, Vol. 31, October 1942) with Vice President Henry Wallace (8th cousins once removed, descent from James Clark).

I believe that the most authoritative reference is Wood’s work, as does Steward in his Nexus article. No genealogies have been more carefully prepared or reach a higher standard than the Mayflower Society genealogies. There is solid evidence that Daniel Wilcox married a first wife prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Cooke, granddaughter of Francis Cooke. There is no evidence that Elizabeth was the mother of his sons Daniel (Churchill’s ancestor) and Samuel. There is circumstantial evidence that she was not. In genealogy, absence of evidence means absence of conclusions.

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If Churchill had applied for membership in the Mayflower Society in 1942, I have no doubt that he would have been accepted based on the Mann article and the standards of acceptance then in effect; and probably as a patriotic gesture to the war effort. However, if his descendants should apply today, research done since Mann’s article would not allow membership.

On the basis of current research, therefore, I can no longer claim to be a tenth cousin of Winston Churchill’s through descent from Richard Warren of the Mayflower (Elizabeth Cooke’s maternal grandfather). Churchill, however is still related to Roosevelt: he is an eighth cousin, twice removed of FDR through their descent from Arthur Howland, brother of Mayflower passenger John Howland. Arthur did not, however, accompany John Howland on that famous voyage to America.


Even before the Mann article appeared in 1942, G.A. Moriarty had suggested that Churchill’s ancestor Daniel Wilcox Jr. was the son of Daniel Wilcox by an unknown first wife, rather than by Elizabeth Cooke, descendant of Francis Cooke and Richard Warren of the Mayflower. Francis Cooke of the ‘Mayflower‘ in its third edition (1944) noted that Daniel Wilcox Sr. names his wife Elizabeth as the mother of four of his children (Daniel Jr. not among them), leading the compilers to state: “it seems certain that Daniel [Jr.] was by the first wife.”

The only evidence I know of the unknown first wife is a deed where Wilcox (Sr.) apparently mentions her. I am unaware of any direct evidence that, if she existed, she had any children, much less Daniel (Jr.). The absence of Daniel Jr. from the list of Elizabeth’s children could be for any number of reasons. Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. She remains his only clearly identified wife and clearly was fertile.

Under these circumstances, while there is reasonable doubt that Churchill was Mayflower descended, it hardly can be dismissed as a myth. While it would be unfair to accuse the mythologists—when asserting that the alleged prior wife was Daniel (Jr.’s) mother—of constructing a dinosaur out of a tailbone, the vigor of their position greatly exceeds the quantity and the quality of evidence they have mustered to back it up.
DUNCAN KINDER, [email protected]

Editor’s response: Daniel Wilcox Sr. mentions a first wife, but she may not have existed?

One of Webster’s definitions of “myth” is “an ill-founded belief held uncritically, esp. by an interested group.” Well, the belief is certainly “held uncritically by an interested group”; is the story ill-founded? Steward says, “the Mayflower lines from Francis Cooke and Richard Warren to Sir Winston Churchill seem to have been disproved.” Francis Cooke of the ‘Mayflower says, “…it seems certain that Daniel [Jr.] was by the first wife.” Against this, what are the odds that Daniel Wilcox Sr. forgot to list one of his and Elizabeth’s children in his probate records?

We phoned Gary Boyd Roberts of the New England Historical Genealogical Society, who says the Society does regard the Cooke theory as ill-founded. They acknowledge the connection via John Howland of the Mayflower, but note that it is more tenuous, since Churchill’s mother was descended from John’s brother Arthur, who did not sail with John on the Mayflower.

We can’t help it if the evidence of Messrs. Wood, Steward, Roberts, and Snell fails to satisfy. But until solid genealogical evidence is produced to the contrary, we can only regard the claim that Churchill was directly related to a Mayflower passenger as a myth. Any well-documented case to the contrary will be published with every delight.

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