Notes on Robin Williams's ancestry

RobinWilliamsArmisteadChart_2 Click on the image to expand it.

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.

Christopher C. Child

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.View all posts by Christopher C. Child