Notes on Robin Williams’s ancestry

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When public figures die, I sometimes undertake research on their ancestry as a kind of summing up. In the days since the death of comic and acting icon Robin Williams, for example, I have been thinking about his potential connection to three American presidents.

From most online biographies, one learns that Robin McLaurin Williams’s mother, Laurie McLaurin (Smith) Williams, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, was the great-granddaughter of Mississippi senator and governor Anselm J. McLaurin (1848–1909). However, while most online trees indicated Laurie was the daughter of Laura McLaurin Berry (daughter of Stella Mae McLaurin, daughter of Governor McLaurin), there is disagreement about Laurie’s father, with some identifying him as Robert Forest Smith and others as Robert Armistead Janin.

The obituary of Robin’s mother, there called Laurie McLaurin Janin Williams, identifies her as the daughter of Robert Armistead Janin and Laura McLaurin Berry Janin Smith. The 1930 census shows Robin’s mother, “Laura Smith,” age 7, born in Mississippi, with her father Robert F. Smith, age 41, married at age 33, and her mother Laura Smith, age 26, married at age 18, all living in New Orleans. Mississippi Marriages, 1776-1935, on, shows the marriage of Robert F. Smith and Lana [Laura] M. Berry, on 18 May 1929 in Walthall County.

One online tree indicates Laura Berry married Robert Janin in New Orleans on 6 December 1921 and then married Robert Smith on 2 September 1929 in Jackson, and that Robert Smith adopted his step-daughter. While I could not locate these records online, the data is consistent with Mrs. Williams’s obituary and census information. Robert Janin is living with his cousin in 1930 (listed as single), although in the 1940 census he is listed as divorced and living in New Orleans.

The Armisteads are a very early Virginia family, going back to Anthony Armistead and Frances Thompson of Kirkdeighton, Yorkshire, who married in 1608. Their son William Armistead was baptized at All Saints’ Church in Kirkdeighton 3 August 1610, married Ann Ellis in 1632, and by 1635 was living in Elizabeth City County, Virginia. The 1910 Armistead genealogy takes Robin’s Armistead line down to his great-great-great-grandfather, “Robert [Curle] Armistead, married ______, of New Orleans.” (p. 225).

A descendant of Robert’s daughter Kate, who married Leon Fergus Janin [Robin’s great-great-grandparents], appears in volume 26 of the Lineage Book for Daughters of American Colonists, as cited in an Armistead Genealogy Forum post by Douglas Brewster. The marriage of their son Herbert Lawrence Janin to Julia Louise Fassman appears in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on 7 February 1892, and the celebration of their son [Robin’s grandfather] Robert’s fourth birthday is reported in Biloxi Daily Herald on 28 September 1905.

William Armistead is also an ancestor of the Harrison presidents and President John Tyler. My preliminary chart outlines the kinship between Robin Williams and the three American presidents. The ancestors of Robert Curle Armistead’s mother, Elizabeth (Armistead) Armistead, likely go back to William Armistead as well (perhaps twice), but are not included in this chart. Additional documentation on this line would be welcome. The Armistead chart outlining the Harrison/Tyler kinship appears on page 471 in Gary Boyd Roberts, Ancestors of American Presidents, and a recent article in American Ancestors Journal identified the maiden name of Judith (Hone) Armistead.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

28 thoughts on “Notes on Robin Williams’s ancestry

  1. Thank you Christopher for carrying on the great WARGs tradition. So, Southern all the way through, eh?

  2. Did you look on the Williams side? I was wondering if he was related to the Williams family in early Deerfield, MA.

    1. Deborah – His Williams ancestors appear to be from the South, his father was born in Indiana, his father Kentucky, his father Tennessee, his father North Carolina, and his father Virginia (in the 18th century).

      1. Mary Williams, daughter of William Williams from Edgecombe, North Carolina married Joseph Dillard.

      2. I’m wondering where the German ancestry comes in … ? I have students working on German-American bio projects and his name comes, obviously he’s a popular choice, but students are having difficulty finding facts on RW’s German heritage – please advise if possible. Danke schön!

        1. The German most likely comes through the Fassmann/Fassman name. Julia Louise Fassmann is his great-grandmother. The family is from the New Orleans area. Her father is Edward Victor, or sometimes shown as Victor Edward Fassmann or Fassman. This seems to be a German name from ancestral searches. I cannot find the name of Edward’s (born 1835 Louisiana) father, but I believe it might be Henry Fassman/Fassmann who married Eliza Ann Choate. When I was looking at early Louisiana censuses, I found an H. Fassman. I have also seen a name of Eliza Fassman, who was born around the same time as Edward in Louisiana, could possibly be a sister.

          1. Interessant! Thanks so much – I will share (if I may) with my students who are interested in learning more about him. Vielen Dank!

  3. Robert – For the most part, the one possibility of northeastern ancestors is Mary Eugenia Chappell (wife of Robert Curle Armistead shown on the chart). She was born in New York City in 1821 and died in New Orleans in 1888. The 1880 census indicates her father was born in England and mother was born in New York, have not yet determined the names of her parents.

    1. The RECORD DB here gives about 100 hits for “Chappell” but no main article; just marrying-in names, and no Mary Eugenia. If an Armistead marries a NYC girl, suggests it is as much as for her mother’s social status as for her father’s money. If so, then likely Dutch family ties. Ask Henry H?

      Would like to suggest a 2X per year Celebrity Lines article for the Register, produced by the Research Staff with multi-author bylines. Fun in itself, good for national PR, and good for professional development. Not every such thing has to appear in the AA, tho that’s a good place for such pieces, too. (Move that WARG stuff into formal articles.)

    2. As part of that Douglas Brewster posting chain at, a John Armistead adds (September 06, 2002): “My only sources are Tyler’s Quarterly, Vol. 1, p 33 (which is a very confusing reference to follow) and W&M Quarterly, {series 1? asks RMG} Vol 1, p 150.”

      Kimball G. Everingham’s Gen DB at Roots Web has very specific dates for Marie Eugenia: “Birth: 21 SEP 1821 in New York City, New York. Death: 08 OCT 1868 in New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana.” But these are not sourced on her page nor on Robert’s.

      Ancestry links from there to New Orleans, Louisiana, Death Records Index, 1804-1949:
      Birth, Marriage & Death
      Name: Mary Eugenia Chappell
      Birth: abt 1821
      Death: 8 Oct 1888

      Obvious typo in Everingham’s DB but why use maiden name in Death record & not married name, even if widowed 21 years?

      Also, I can NOT find this couple together or individually in either the 1850 or 1860 censuses on Ancestry. Even tried Armstead. Nothing.

  4. Great post Chris – I will admit that I too I had wondered about Mr. William’s New England ancestry. I guess I was surprised to see that he didn’t have more – and that indeed it was as “southern” as it is. – It’s interesting, or even serendipitous, that Mr. Williams was such great friends with Christopher Reeve a man of such great N.E. lines. I appreciate you putting Robin’s lines together. Its an extremely nice tribute to the wonderful and shining light that he was in all of our lives. Good job, Chris!

  5. (What I meant was, I added your article as a reference on that page).

    The likely false (recent) genealogical connection between Lauren Bacall and Shimon Peres is also an interesting story.

  6. Robin Williams is also a descendant of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Queen Anne Boleyn, via the McLaurin line.

  7. Do you have more information on the McLaurin line? I’m distantly related to the Confederate General Mosby through his Virginia McLaurine great-grand parent.

      1. Could you summarize the lines here, a la GBR’s Nexus style, as it seems “godlike” is acting “goddish” by banning my ISP in no uncertain terms, and I really really really don’t want to join the site. Thanks!

        1. his mother–>Laura “Laurie” Williams (McLaurin)
          her mother –> Laura McLaurin Berry
          her mother –> Stella May McLaurin
          her father –> Anselm J. McLaurin, Governor, U.S. Senator
          her mother–> Ellen Caroline Tullos
          her mother –> Anna Mills Tullos
          her mother –> Rebecca Hicks Mills
          her father–> Thomas Hicks
          his father –> Thomas Hicks
          his father –> Daniel Hicks
          his mother –> Margaret West Hicks
          her father–> Zachariah West
          his mother–> Anne West, Baroness de la Warr
          her mother –> Catherine Carey, Chief Lady of the Bedchamber
          her mother –> Mary Boleyn, Mistress King Henry VIII

      2. I recently ( with Chris’s help!) found out that I have a strong connection to the Wests of Virginia also…if it isn’t a lot of trouble, could you let me know Mr. Williams’ connection? Much appreciated!

        Jeff Record

  8. He’s a mayflower descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins

    Father –> Robert Fitzgerald Williams (1906-1987)
    Grandmother –> Ellanora “Nellie” Fitzgerald (1877-1949)
    Great-Grandmother –> Sarah Melissa Whitlow (1840-1903)
    Great (x2)-Grandfather –> Thomas Whitlow (1794-1844)
    Great (x3)-Grandfather –> John Tompkins (1760-1834)
    Great (x4)-Grandfather –> Micah Tompkins (1722-1771)
    Great (x5)-Grandmother –> Sarah Coe (1685-1741)
    Great (x6)-Grandmother –> Sarah Peabody (1656-1740)
    Great (x7)-Grandmother –> Elizabeth Alden (1623-1717)

    Great (x8) Grandparents — John Alden and Priscilla Mullins

  9. Can you help me find any other information on Robert A. Janin? My grandmother was married to him for 2 years in 1928-30. This greatly influenced her life and therefore ours. There is no marriage record but I have her announcement in the Times Picayune. Her father had the marriage annulled. They eloped so there is no church record either. Anything you have would be incredibly helpful. All we know was that he was an alcoholic and had ‘orgies’ in her home. She left after two years.

    1. Hi Stephanie, it has been many years since I wrote this post and some additional material has been made available online.

      The 1922 marriage announcement of Robert A. Janin to Laura Berry is here –

      He is residing in New Orleans in 1924, possibly without his first wife and child. There are various references to him on, indicating he was living in New Orleans and would occasionally visit Jackson, Mississippi (which is where his first wife moved), he is either listed as “Robert A. Janin” or “R.A. Janin”

      There are several more mentions on, including a 1930 marriage announcement to Winifred Heath, an article in 1928 about an attempt to kidnap Laurie by an unknown assailant (where Laurie and her mother were helped by Robert Smith, who became Laura’s second husband), as well as Robert Janin’s death notice in 1965. I can email you additional information.

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