Is he thy kin? How I wrote a book, then discovered I was related to William Shakespeare…

PUBLISHING my first book recently was a big life goal ticked off the list that has left me with the “writing bug”, yearning to pen more publications.

I’m pleased to say I’m already in a pretty advanced position with my next book too (it’s not about music – watch this space!), though I do have plans to write more music books in the coming years (watch these spaces again!)

My book was a non-fiction celebration of some of the greatest pop acts to grace our planet – not a selection of superb sonnets or prose, save some of the greatest plays ever written.

But, perhaps my love of writing can now be explained, as my father, Bob, has just revealed a very exciting discovery in our family tree, the project he has been diligently researching and compiling for as long as I can remember.

To be related, or not to be related? That is the question…

It seems writing is in my genes, as Bob has found that my mother and my brothers and I – and therefore our children too – are related to none other than the Bard himself – William Shakespeare – on my mum Sandra’s side of the family.

Little did Bob dare to dream his early research in Leamington library in the 1980s would lead him across ‘unpathed waters, undreamed shores’ to unearth a precious jewel like this.

Curiosity hooked him in after contact from a cousin about his side of the tree and, using the International Genealogical Index (IGI) which features most of the British church records on microfiche gathered by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, his quest began.

Family tree research was made much easier for my dad in 2005, when he bought membership of Ancestry.co.uk.

The online resource proved much more helpful in scouring the myriad of records, especially those pre-1837, as it was only after this point it became compulsory to register births, marriages and deaths.

Prior to that research relies on parish records which can be anything from as meagre as one line of almost illegible script in a register saying who was baptised or buried, or who married whom.

After 1837, ten yearly censuses were also introduced which record where people are living, where they were born and, later, their age, marital status and relationship to the head of the household, which makes it a lot easier to establish family links.

Returning to Shakespeare, and the journey to the present day, it was established without doubt, some time ago that our Cook family (that’s my mother’s side) joined with the Mander family in 1907.

This provides a direct link over seven generations to Samuel Mander, 1648-1716, who married Mary Shakespeare, 1637-1694.

The Mander family coat of arms.

According to the records in Stratford, Warwickshire, Mary was the daughter of John Shakespeare who was the son of William Shakespeare’s cousin, Thomas Shakespeare, 1590-1627.

Pursuing this back a further two generations via another Thomas Shakespeare, 1560-1638, brings us to our common ancestor – Richard Shakespeare, 1512-1583.

Richard was William Shakespeare’s grandfather – and it’s here that our link to the same family of William is cemented.

The Shakespeare family coat of arms.

“It’s hard to explain the type of excitement that occurs when a new fact about an ancestral family member is uncovered; it must be similar to a detective finding a clue to a major crime.”

Bob ILes, family historian and grandfather

So, is the family link ‘To Be or Not To Be’, or ‘Much Ado About Nothing’?

“The records quoted definitely exist but one can never be 100 per cent sure that the links – particularly in the 16th and 17th century – are definitely related,” explains our family’s official historian.

“Even if you are in the correct parish, the proliferation of families with the same surname can lead to mistakes and people also were less mobile and tended to stay around the area where they grew up.

“Relying on research carried out by others (which if meaningful can be incorporated into the family tree) can also be suspect.

“Despite this, and without having the researchers and the time employed by the “Who Do You Think You Are?” TV programme, the fact that we are related to William Shakespeare’s family can definitely, in my view, be assumed ‘To Be’!”

“Is he thy kin? They friend?

CYMBELINE, ACT 5, SCENE 5

So, where exactly does this leave me, and my close family, in relation to Shakespeare?

Well, William Shakespeare’s grandfather is also my 12 times great grandfather (13 times great grandfather to my children).

So the Bard himself is my first cousin, 12 times removed (13 times removed for my children).

See the family tree below where my mother, Sandra Diane Cook, is bottom left, and William Shakespeare is the lowest line – but many generations higher up – on the right hand side of the chart.

One final thought. I half expect some fool who “doth think he is wise” to try and explode this theory now, but I’m going to park the small element of doubt that lingers because, as the Bard himself, said: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

• You can also find out more about William Shakespeare’s family at https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/william-shakespeare/william-shakespeares-family/

Published by James Iles

Journalist, production editor, features writer, music lover, gardening enthusiast and published author. Get in touch if you would like to work with me.

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