Posted by Ancestry Team on March 6, 2017 in Who Do You Think You Are?

When family history research leads to a royal line, often the focus is on only the names and royal relations. Too little time is spent investigating the actual lives of these royals and nobles whose DNA may be found within us. But by focusing only on the who, we miss out on the what, where, when, and how—and there are some pretty amazing stories in the answers to those questions. One of the advantages of investigating royals is that so many documents from the medieval period have been published in books that are now available online.D-170533 WDYTYA Tune-In Cards_COURTNEY_V5

Courteney Cox traces her ancestry back to a group of English aristocrats who were all vying for greater power. That political struggle led to outright murder, when her ancestors killed King Edward II, who had been forced to abdicate the throne to his son, Edward III. The story unfolded as Courteney visited Berkeley Castle, the site where the king was murdered, and discovered historical documents that revealed what happened.

Although the original records are available only at the castle, most were compiled and published many years ago. Courteney read an account of King Edward II’s murder that was included in The Berkeley Manuscripts, a compilation of Berkeley Castle records published in 1883. The former king’s horrible death was described as coming after “he was miserably tormented many days” with “the pain being almost intolerable unto him.” His enemies then suffocated him.


Account of the death of King Edward II that Courteney reads on screen, in The Berkeley Manuscripts, Volume 1, p. 291.

A king’s murderers cannot go unpunished, and suspicion fell on Courteney’s ancestors Robert Mortimer and Thomas de Berkeley. It was Berkeley’s own castle where the king was killed. Parliament held trials for both men. Courteney viewed the original trial records in the episode, but transcriptions of the same documents were published in A Complete Collection of State Trials, Volume 14, in 1816.

Roger Mortimer was found guilty of treason for his role in the king’s murder, along with numerous other crimes, and sentenced to death “as a traitor and enemy to the king and realm.” He was “to be drawn and hanged” in a very public execution. Thomas de Berkeley escaped conviction by claiming he was not at Berkeley Castle, but instead was at another castle with a “great sickness” and had “no recollection of what happened.”


Impeachment of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, for Treason, p. 51 (sentencing on p. 54)


Proceedings against Thomas De Berkele, for the Murder of King Edward the Second, p. 55

Courteney experienced the drama of royal power struggles, murder, trials, and executions through the documents written at the time. While it makes for a richer experience to discover documents in the very castle where events transpired, documenting the drama of ruling families does not require traveling to England and digging through castle archives. Published transcriptions of those records are typically widely available, allowing anybody to hear the story in the words of those who were there, albeit without a tour of the castle.

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists

  • The most direct way for Americans to document royal ancestry is to find a “gateway ancestor.” These are early colonial immigrants whose genealogies out of royal families have already been thoroughly researched and documented. A good starting point for identifying gateway ancestors is Gary Boyd Roberts’s The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States (published in 2006).
  • To make sure your royal ancestry is correct, rely on the most trustworthy sources. For royalty of the United Kingdom, start with Burke’s Peerage (published and revised since 1826) and George E. Cokayne’s The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant (published in 1910).
  • Approach royal lineages in online family trees with caution. Even if they are founded on a reputable source, errors could have been introduced in the data entry process.
  • If you want to determine that a royal ancestry is correct, reach out to a professional genealogist. Multiple genealogists at AncestryProGenealogists have years of experience documenting royal lineages, and they are well versed in the current historical scholarship that is so important to this type of research.

Learn more about Courteney’s journey or see videos about other celebrities’ ancestries on Watch full episodes of the show on Discover more celebrities uncovering their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.



  1. Mari Jo Babcock

    Really enjoyed the Who Do You Think You Are last night as my husband has the same family line. I got so much farther back in his tree than the program. Past William the Con. to Rollo the Viking and King of Normandy and now am working on the Caesars. So many records when you have famous ancestors. Thanks Ancestry. Now I wish I could find my maternal gr. grandma’s twin sister in Norway. I am at a dead end.

  2. Alice Bennett

    Absolutely loved last nights show and Courteney Cox had such great reactions to each stage, it was truly entertaining and educating!! LOVE WDYTYA!!

  3. Denise

    I have watched every WDYTYA from its first show to this one. But, I found this one to be very boring. I hope next week will be much better.

  4. Kelly Jurgens

    I was both shocked and pleased to watch the Courtney Cox episode as I am a descendant of Thomas Ligon, my Great-Grandmother was Florence Ligon. I do have information on the family and had known they had come from England but not this far back! I enjoy watching the show and will continue to do so.

  5. Janet Landry Lucey

    This was the best episode yet!! I have been on all afternoon today, lit a fire in me again! How cool is it that her lineage is SO well documented, Courtney must have been floored! My paternal line is Landry and I go back pretty far, but not sure how accurate it is towards the 1500’s when it turns in to De La Tour Landry and looks like some pretty important people in Eruope!, would love to know for sure my true lineage though!! How fun and incredible the work of Ancestry!!

  6. Betty Boyd

    I answered the ad asking if you are royalty and they only gave meaning for the last name Boyd I happen to know we are royalty and I am not sure why you ( doesn’t state that. Maybe because of exact lineage so I signed in to my account and still only got a definitions… Maybe you have to come from Charlamain s to be considered royalty?

  7. Shirley Edwards Butler

    I am new at ancestry so I need help if I can get someone to get me stared .I have done my DNA with ancestey. Com

  8. JR Clarke

    This was my favorite episode ever of “Who do you think you are”. While watching it, I almost fell out of my chair screaming because Courtney’s Virginia line of family intertwines with mine through the Ligon’s in her tree. I am still digging and matching, but it’s possible that Courtney may be a cousin. I had to pause the DVR and do a double take. Super exiting that an important part of my tree was essentially done for me. I have been working hard for a few years to see how far back I can go. This is my all-time favorite TV series. Thank you

    Kelly Jurgens….your Thomas Ligon was the brother of Martha Ligon? If so, Martha is my 6xG Grandmother. Her daughter married my 4xG Grandfather.

  9. Randi McMahon

    I’m also of Thomas Ligon line. His son William is my 10x great grandfather…..if I’ve done my work right.

  10. Barbara Kramer

    I am also a descendent of Thomas Ligon through his son, Richard (1657-1724), his son Matthew (1685-1764), his son William (1732-1828), his daughter Susannah (1770-1841) who married Hugh Robertson (1750-1833). They had eleven children, one of which was my third great-grandfather.

    It was very exciting to see the line carried back and confirming everything I had already discovered. Obviously Courtney Cox and I are cousins at some level. I would love to know where the separation occurs.

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