Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category.

The legend of Mostyn de Vaux and the Edwards family of Chile

As I have written many times before, I am a member of the extended Edwards family of Chile on my mother’s side. My maternal grandmother was a direct patrilineal descendant of the founder of the family in Chile, Jorge (George) Edwards Brown.

The Edwards family of Chile is of British origin and has a long and illustrious presence in that country, its members having been integral parts of Chile’s history, affecting it along the way at critical junctures.

As with any family, there are many legends surrounding the Edwards. The most prominant legend of them all is the one that links the Edwards to the Mostyn de Vaux family.

The legend has been repeated from generation to generation for a very long time. I remember, as a kid, my mother recounting the story and I know that all the family members took this legend as gospel.

So, what does this legend say?

According to the legend, George Edwards, the founder of the family:[1]

  • Was not just any British immigrant to Chile with a story of rags to riches.
  • Was not the (illegitimate perhaps?) son of John Edwards and Elizabeth Brown, born in Shoreditch, London.
  • Was the 4th son of Lord Hugh Mostyn, Baron de Vaux and of Elizabeth O’Higgins

It appears that this story was first published in the book “Linajes vascos y montañeses en Chile” by Pedro Javier Fernández Pradel, published in 1930.[2] This same story is then repeated in the book “Un alma cumbre: Juana Ross de Edwards” by Blanca Subercaseaux de Valdés, published in 1944.

On page 16 of the book by Subercaseaux de Valdés, we find that there’s more to the story:[1]

A diferencia de sus hermanos, [Jorge] no siguió la carrera de las armas sino que, apasionado por las ciencias naturales, estudió medicina en Eton, llegando a graduarse de médico en el Real Colegio de Físicos de Londres.

Pero Jorge Mostyn no vivía sólo para el laboratorio. A pesar de la oposición de sus padres, se casó con una célebre belleza, bailarina, o actriz, renunciando por ella, en pública escritura, a sus apellidos adoptando los muy comunes que usó desde entonces.

Habiendo fallecido a los pocos meses la esposa causante de eso graves trastornos familiares, y queriendo el joven distraer su pena y desengaño, se contrató de médico a bordo de una fragata rusa. Naufragada la fragata en las costas de Alaska, Lord Hugo pensó que se encontraba su hijo entre las víctimas del naufragio y así lo deja declarado en su testamento.

or in English

As opposed to his brothers, [George] did not follow a military career but instead, as he was passionate about the natural sciences, studied medicine at Eton and graduating as a medical doctor from the Royal College of Physicians in London.

However, George Mostyn had a life beyond the laboratory. Over his parents’ objections, he married a celebrated beauty, ballerina or actress renouncing, for her, in writing and publicly his family name and adopting the common surname he used ever since.

A few months later, the wife that caused this family turmoil died and the young man wanting to distract himself from the grief, joined the crew of a Russian frigate. This frigate shipwrecked on the Alaskan coast and Lord Hugh believed that his son was among the victims and states it in his will.

The source of the text above is the previously cited book by Fernández Pradel and the footnote include the following:[1]

Da alguna luz sobre el linaje de don Jorge el oficio que, el 12 de Noviembre de 1806, redacta el doctor Hipólito de Villegas, subdelegado de Coquimbo, acusando al fisco (sic) inglés, Jorge Edwards de los Valles por creerlo, erradamente, comprometido en un contrabando cometido en Totoralillo. Es posible que en uno de los muchos interrogatorios a que fue sometido se le preguntara por su nombre y

contestara: ‘Jorge Edwards’ ¿que más? inquiriría el oficial, refiriéndose al apellido materno, según es costumbre entre nosotros, y entonces el interesado, acordándose de su apellido solariego, repondría: ‘de los Valles’. Ahora bien en ‘Burkes Peerage’, edición de 1914-1915, se hace mención de los Edwards de Vaux, (de los Valles, en francés) oriundo de Gales, rama filial de Mostyn

in English:

Some light is shed on the lineage of George the official document dated November 12, 1806 where Dr. Hipólito de Villegas, subdelegate of Coquimbo, accuses the British doctor, George Edwards “de los Valles” [from the valleys] of erroneously believing he was engaged in smuggling in Totralillo. It is possible that in one of the many interrogations he [George] was submitted to, he was asked for his name and he would respond: “George Edwards”. “What else?” would ask the official, referring to the maternal surname, as is customary among us, and he would respond, remembering his illustrious surname: “de los Valles”. As a matter of fact, in “Burke’s Peerage”, edition of 1914-1915, there is a listing for the Edwards de Vaux (“from the valleys” in French) originally from Wales, a branch of the Mostyn family


So, now we know what the legend says.

Let’s investigate at each part separately and see if there is any truth to it.

The obvious starting point is, naturally, also the most important: the title of “Baron de Vaux”.

In looking at the the series of volumes of Burke’s Peerage, we discover that the title of Baron de Vaux was in abeyance starting in 1662.[3] It isn’t until 1838 that the title is restored in the person of George Mostyn, resident of Harrowden (a town close to Bedford, about 100klm from London).[3]

Burke’s Peerage is also very helpful in this research as it lists the ancestry of George Mostyn. In this genealogical record, there isn’t a Hugh to be found in any of the generations listed, clearly contradicting what Subercaseaux de Valdés wrote in her book.[3]

The logical conclusion here is that the core of the legend is not true because simply, there was no “Baron de Vaux” during the majority of the lifetime of George Edwards! George was born circa 1780 (120 years after the title became dormant and 60 before it was restored) and died circa 1848 (only 10 years after the restoration of the title).[4]

At this point, we have enough evidence to tear down this whole myth. However, I enjoy the mental exercise so, let’s dig some more.

Let’s look at the source Subercaseaux de Valdés used, the book by Fernández Pradel. From here is the footnote in the former’s book that says that George Edwards responded “from the valleys”. Fernández Pradel concludes that this response can be nothing else by a reference to “de Vaux” since it is the French translation of the response.

Apparently, Fernández Pradel discounted the fact that George Edwards was British and his primary language was English and not French or Spanish.

Ask anyone from England or Wales what “from the valleys” means and they’ll tell you that it’s a reference to the valleys in the south of Wales. Coincidentally, this region is known for its coal mines, though a very respectable profession, not exactly a hallmark of nobility or aristocracy. Also, let’s not forget that “Edwards” is one of the more common surnames in Wales.

The myth now completely busted, it would be a good place to call it a day.

But, perhaps there are still some doubters out there. I mean, we’re talking about a family legend that people have sworn by for almost a century!

Therefore, my question is this: How come the Edwards family, that has counted among them some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs, most powerful politicians, most noted academics, most celebrated genealogists and most influential diplomats in the history of Chile never decided to look into this? How come a family with close, personal ties to the political leadership of the United Kingdom that sent its children to the UK to study and had its members as ambassadors of Chile to that country never took on this project?

Well…. they did!

Gonzalo Vial Correa in his celebrated biography of Agustín Edwards MacClure (founder of the largest newspaper of Chile “El Mercurio”, Foreign Minister of Chile and Interior Minister of Chile among other highlights) says on pages 19 and 20 that at the time of death of Alberto Edwards Vives (noted historian, Minister of Finance, then Education, then Foreign Relations and finally Justice of Chile), an unsigned document appeared among his personal documents that detailed the alleged link of George Edwards with the de Vaux family.[5]

A bit further down, Vial Correa adds:[5]

La viuda de Alberto Edwards [Vives] hizo llegar el papel a nuestro biografiado [Agustín Edwards MacClure] – embajador entonces ante Gran Bretaña – que encargó investigarlo a un genealogista de fama, aunque de nombre casi impronunciable: Hargreaves-Mawdsley, el cual mediante una veintena de libra esterlina dictaminaría el año 1936. Los resultados de su investigación, dio, eran ‘notables’ pero lo ‘uniformemente negativos’. El documento anónimo no contenía nada verdadero.

in English:

The widow of Alberto Edwards [Vives] sent the document to the subject of this biography [Agustín Edwards MacClure], at the time ambassador to Great Britan, who took it to a famous genealogist with an almost unpronounceable name: Hargreaves-Mawdsley, and was charged 20 pounds sterling in 1936. The results of his [Hargreaves-Mawdsley’s] investigation were “notable” but “uniformly negative”. The anonymous document did not contain any truth.

I think that the legend has now been checked from all possible angles and it is completely clear that the story of George Edwards being a “Mostyn de Vaux” is complete and utter fantasy!

I’ve wanted to publish my research here for the longest time and only recently did I find the time to put all my notes together into a cohesive and comprehensible article.

The true history of George Edwards, or as he was known in Chile: Jorge Edwards Brown, is much more interesting. His life is an example of human tenacity and demonstrates that any person, regardless of their past or heritage or social status, can become wildly successful and conquer the highest peaks. Denying him the recognition of his achievements is an affront to his legacy and to the honor of the Edwards family, my family.


  1. Subercaseaux de Valdés, Blanca (1944). Un alma cumbre: Juana Ross de Edwards. Padre Las Casas: San Francisco. p. 16
  2. Fernández Pradel, Pedro Javier (1930). Linajes vascos y montañeses en Chile. Santiago de Chile: San Rafael.
  3. Burke, John Bernard (1852). A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the British Empire (14 ed.). London: Colburn and Co. p. 1005.
  4. Barrios Barth, Juan (1993). “Extranjeros llegados a la Serena durante el siglo pasado (3a. Parte)”. Revista de Estudios Históricos 37: 274.
  5. Vial Correa, Gonzalo (2009). Agustin Edwards Mac Clure. Santiago de Chile: Aguilar Chilena De Ediciones (Mercurio Aguilar). pp. 19-20. ISBN 9789562396875.


Links of interest:



June 2011 issue of Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette

As announced by Michael Merrigan, General Secretary of the Genealogical Society of Ireland:

A Chairde,

The June 2011 issue of ‘Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette’ the monthly newsletter of the Genealogical Society of Ireland is available on and on the Society’s website

Featured in this issue:

  • “Is Féidir Linn” with Imagination, Innovation and Inclusivity.
  • Fiftieth Anniversary & No Redaction
  • Ireland 1815-1870 – Emancipation, Famine and Religion (review)
  • Summer Cemetery Project
  • GSI Lectures 2011
  • GSI Board News and Events
  • In Memoriam
  • James Scannel Reports…
    • World War 1 Veteran Dies
    • Looting of U-Boat Wreck
    • District Nurses
  • Préis of the May Lecture
  • GSI Membership Package
  • Diary Dates
  • ‘Raids and Rallies’
  • Launch of Munster Landed Estates Database
  • Medal Society of Ireland
  • Academic Books Wanted
  • Railway History

For further information on the Society please see

Mise le meas,


Michael Merrigan, MA, FGSI
General Secretary / Rúnaí Ginearálta
Cumann Geinealais na hÉireann
Genealogical Society of Ireland


Genealogical and heraldic formal education

Heraldic and genealogical studies have the distinction of requiring high academic standards in its research, to be taken seriously, but there is very little formal training and education available from traditional educational institutions. The vast majority of us in these fields are amateurs, in the original sense of the word (look it up).

Therefore, it is exciting to see that some universities take these fields seriously enough to establish some educational programs around them.

The list below is not intended to be comprehensive or all inclusive but, it will be an ever growing list (kind of like the list of heraldic artists I have):

  • University of Strathclyde: Offers a Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme offering postgraduate certificates and diplomas via distance education. Graduates of the Diploma program have the option to continue their education and receive a MSc.
  • University of Dundee: Offers a Heralrdy Course (only) that is part of its Postgraduate Certificate in Family and Local History, or as part of the University of Dundee’s Masters degree in Archives and Records Management.
  • Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED): A top Spanish university, offers three levels of education via distance education at a postgraduate level also that covers not only heraldry and genealogy but also nobiliary law. The levels are “Expert”, “Specialist” and “Master” in the mentioned areas. Naturally, the language of the program is Spanish.

At this point, I’d like to quote Martin Goldstraw from his excellent Cheshire Heraldry blog where he said:

Courses of this nature can’t be a bad thing however I can’t help but think that once universities get involved we are only one step away from the view often nowadays held by academics that unless one has a recognised qualification in a particular subject one can’t possibly know anything about it.

I agree with this sentiment and would hate for this happen.


Trust but verify

Many genealogists, both professional and amateur alike, tend to depend on publications to perform their research. There is nothing wrong with this and many times it is the only way to find any information on a particular family or person(s).

I am fortunate enough that half my family has had many genealogical studies made on them over the years by various serious and well respected genealogists, published in peer reviewed journals. Most of my genealogical research has been based on the works of others before me (apropos for genealogy I think) and it’s perfectly fine.

However, since these books are publishing second or third hand information and to “err is human” one should keep President Ronald Reagan in mind by always thinking “trust but verify“.

Case in point a recent discovery of mine in my Chilean genealogy.

According to all sources I could get my hand on, my great-great-grandmother Javiera Ortúzar Bulnes, who married Fernando Edwards Garriga, was the daughter of Ángel Ortúzar Montt and Elena Bulnes Pinto. I was happy with this information and confident it was correct. I mean, it was published in the official, peer reviewed journal of one of the most respected genealogical societies of the world: the Instituto Chileno de Investigaciones Genealógicas (ICHIG).

With President Reagan’s saying in mind, I’ve been collecting copies from the original sources by working with official government authorities or ecclesiastical sources.

In one of these documents I got my surprise: My great-great-grandmother was the daughter of Adolfo Ortúzar Gandarillas and Carmela Bulnes Pinto. Oddly enough, Adolfo was the half brother of Ángel and Carmela the full sister of Elena!

So, what does this mean? First of all, you can never trust the books 100%, though they may just be the best alternative, but always try to get original primary sources. Secondly, a big chunk of my family tree is not really mine!

This second part is the one that really hurts – it means that several generations of people from my tree belong to someone else! The time spent on that part of the tree will never come back… oh well… lesson learned and one to share with everyone doing any genealogical research.

Baron of Gavín

Arms of the current Baron of Gavín, emblazoned by Carlos Navarro Gazapo

For those who are not up to date with the comings and goings of the world of heraldry & nobility in Spain, there has been a lot of talk about the title of “Baron of Gavín”.

Before continuing, I would like to make it clear to anyone reading this that I’m not backing any horse in this race. My interest is the truth and the good reputation of the Spanish institutions.

First, some background info:

The current holder of the title of Baron of Gavín is a gentleman named Manuel Fuertes Rojo (later Manuel Fuertes de Gilbert y Rojo) who had applied to restore the barony to him in 1978 and finally got it approved in 1981.

Since then, the Baron has become a very much respected personality in the high social circles of Spain and particularly Madrid as well as a highly regarded contributor to the science of heraldry. Among the various august organizations he is a member of, one finds the following: Real Academia Matritense de Heráldica y Genealogia (Royal Academy of Heraldry & Genealogy of Madrid) as the current vice-director, Diputación y Consejo de la Grandeza de España (Delegation & Advisory Board of Grandees of Spain), Real Cuerpo de la Nobleza de Madrid (Royal Body of the Nobility of Madrid), Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George, etc.

Coat of arms of the Abarca, lineage of the Barons of Gavín

Now, the story:

A few years ago, some cracks had begun to appear surrounding Mr. Fuertes Rojo’s claim to the title.

Talk had been going on for several years but, the first really public question on the validity of the title appeared in the magazine Cuadernos de Ayala #39 (July-September 2009), on page 30.

As a result, new chatter appeared here and there about the title but, nothing much came out of it since.

However, just in November of 2010 Mr. Armand de Fluvià i Escorsa who, among other things, is the Asesor de Heráldica y Genealogía de Cataluña and also a long time member of the Royal Academy of Madrid published a book with the title “Historia de una Falsificación Nobiliaria: La baronía de Gavín, en Aragón” (History of a Nobiliary Falsification: The barony of Gavín, in Aragon).1

In the book, Mr. Fluvià i Escorsa demonstrates (very clearly in my opinion) in about 40 pages that the legitimate holder of the barony is the Duchess of Alba and directly accuses Mr. Fuertes Rojo to have deliberately falsified his petition to the title.

The allegation is that the fundamental document used by Mr. Fuertes Roja to substantiate his claim does not and never did exist! Naturally, the author elaborates on this and covers much more in the book.

As is to be expected when there is any confrontation between high profile persons, this has taken up a lot of time in the circles that care about these things – in this case heraldic and genealogical circles.

Because there is a direct and clear accusation against Mr. Fuertes Rojo and due to his very senior position in the Royal Academy of Madrid, the Federación Española de Genealogía y Heráldica y Ciencias Históricas (Spanish Federation of Genealogy, Heraldry and Historical Studies) issued a circular in January of 2011 decrying the issue as a scandal that must be addressed quickly and decisively in order to restore the dignity of the institution.2

If some of you are getting a feeling of déjà vu from this, you’re not alone.

I can’t help but ask myself: Could this be the MacCarthy Mór of Spain?

This whole thing is indeed starting to sound a lot like the whole MacCarthy Mór “scandal” from the 1990’s and 2000’s, though obviously not as egregious. The Baron of Gavín never claimed a font honorum and never created new or revived ancient orders. Not only that, at least Mr. Fuertes Rojo had some real genealogy to base his claim on (however fraudulent that claim is alleged to be).

It is a shame that a person who was considered one of the giants of Spanish heraldry to have come about his noble title with ignoble methods. It is particularly ironic considering that just in late 2010 he had authored a publication on nobiliary orders where, among other things, he decries all the “fake” orders of knighthood.

It would be in his best interest to speak up in his own defense but, as far as I know, he has not done so and his silence is not helping him.

It appears that both the Ministry of Justice of Spain and the House of Alba will not be taking any measures on this matter. Personally, I would prefer to see a statement from either or both and perhaps add some clarity or even closure.

Until the appropriate government authorities of the Kingdom of Spain step in, things will probably stay in a rather gray area. Though, it is absolutely certain that socially this is a devastating blow to Mr. Fuertes Rojo.

In any case, it is a very sad state of affairs that we all hope will come to a definitive conclusion soon enough. If the title was acquired with fraudulent means, it needs to be dealt with clearly and decisively, for the good of the institution in Spain.

Some further reading material (all in Spanish):


  1. Though I have access to the book by Mr. Fluvià i Escorsa, I cannot publish scans etc. for obvious copyright reasons. However, if anyone want to know the publishing details please feel free to contact me.
  2. I have a PDF of the circular mentioned above by the Federación Española de Genealogía y Heráldica y Ciencias Históricas – feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about it.