The Pensieve

An Academic Guide to Harry Potter

The Black Family Tapestry, or Six Degrees of Sirius Black

Written By: Dana Huff - Apr• 12•06

You may want to refer to this tapestry (replicated by the Lexicon) often for clarification as you read this article. Click for a larger version.

J. K. Rowling donated a hand-drawn family tree of the Black Family in support of Book Aid International. It was auctioned on February 22, 2006. Some interesting facts noted by the Lexicon:

  • For wizards, members of the Black Family have unusually short life-spans — much longer than Muggles, mind, but short for wizards.
  • Is it a mistake, or was Bellatrix’s father Cygnus really 13 when she was born? I’m opting for mistake.
  • Sirius points out Araminta Melliflua, whom he says is a cousin of his mother’s, but she is not on this hand-drawn tapestry.

The tapestry reveals that Phineas Nigellus had siblings Sirius, Elladora, and Isla (who was stricken from the tapestry for marrying Muggle Bob Hitchens). The siblings’ lines are not followed, and it is unknown who Elladora married, though she must be the Aunt Elladora who Sirius said started the practice of beheading house elves who had outlived their usefulness. There was some speculation at Diagon Alley that “Nigellus” was the surname of the family and that it had been Anglicized to Black. This makes sense in light of the fact that “Nigellus” means “little Black” in Latin. Wikipedia renders his full name as Phineas Nigellus Black, however, and this tapestry would seem to indicate that his surname is indeed Black.

Phineas Nigellus married Ursula Flint. The surname “Flint” is also associated with Slytherin Quidditch captain Marcus Flint. Given that Sirius points out that most of the pureblood families are related, it is safe to assume some the names that appear on the tapestry are associated with families in the series. Indeed, this is the sort of “Easter Egg” Jo seems to enjoy.

Phineas and Ursula had five children: Sirius, Phineas (stricken from the tapestry because he supported Muggle rights) Cygnus, Belvina, and Arcturus. Our Sirius descended from two of these lines — Sirius and Cygnus.

Sirius, son of Phineas, married Hesper Gamp. No other known references to the Gamp family occur. Sirius and Hesper had three children: Arcturus, Lycoris, and Regulus. The lines of Lycoris and Regulus are not followed. Arcturus married Melania McMillan, possibly connected to the McMillan family that produced Huffepuff Ernie McMillan. The name Arcturus recurring in this tapestry is interesting in light of the leak that R.A.B. might indeed be “Regulus Arcturus Black.”

Arcturus and Melania had two children: Lucretia and Orion. Lucretia married Ignatius Prewett. The Prewett family is connected to the Weasleys through Molly Weasley, whose maiden name was Prewett. Her brothers, Gideon and Fabian Prewett were killed in a fight with five Death Eaters, including Antonin Dolohov. Interestingly, Percy Weasley’s middle name is Ignatius. These Prewetts must be connected with Molly, as Sirius notes that he and Molly are cousins by marriage in OotP. However, we can’t assume that Lucretia is Molly’s mother, because then she and Sirius would be cousins by blood and not by marriage. If however, Lucretia was a second wife and was Molly’s stepmother, it might be possible for Ignatius to be her father. However, since Lucretia and Ignatius’s line is not followed, we can’t be sure. Orion Black married a cousin, Walburga, who descends from Phineas Nigellus’s son Cygnus (more on this later). Walburga is obviously the Mrs. Black of the infamous painting in 12 Grimmauld Place. Thus, it makes perfect sense that she refers to the Blacks as her family. They are — both by birth and marriage. Orion and Walburga had two sons: Sirius, stricken from the tapestry for running away, and Regulus.

Returning to the children of Phineas Nigellus, we will next explore the line descending from the second son, Cygnus. Cygnus married Violetta Bulstrode, no doubt a distant relation of hulking Slytherin girl Millicent Bulstrode. They had four children: Pollux, Cassiopeia, Marius, and Dorea.

Pollux Black married Irma Crabbe, undoubtedly connected to Death Eater Crabbe and his son Vincent. They are the parents of Walburga, aka Mrs. Black, Sirius’s mother. Thus, Mrs. Black’s maiden name was also Black. She would be her husband’s second cousin. Marrying second cousins was not all that uncommon in Muggle families (and indeed still is not in some parts of the world, though it has fallen out of favor in the West). It makes sense — marrying distant family relations keeps dowry funds and land in the family, so to speak. Almost anyone tracing their genealogy will find married cousins at some point, and it would be unusual indeed for no such marriages to have occurred. Pollux and Irma also had two sons Alphard and Cygnus, and we will return to them in a moment.

Cassiopeia Black’s line is not carried down, and it is not noted whether she married. Marius Black was stricken from the tapestry for being a squib.

Dorea Black married Charlus Potter. This is interesting. If these two are Harry’s ancestors (and it should be noted there is no way to tell either way), Harry would not only claim Potter ancestry, but also Black, Bulstrode, and Flint. This means he would be distantly connected to classmates Marcus Flint and Millicent Bulstrode as well as his godfather Sirius. Indeed, it would open up a lot of connections. Since the line begun (presumably) by Dorea and Charlus is not followed, we can’t know. All we know is that they had a son, thus the last name Potter was carried forth for at least one generation. It is possible that if Dorea and Charlus Potter are Harry’s grandparents. James, Harry’s father, was born in 1959 or 1960. It should be noted that the Lexicon points out that Charlus is probably not James’s father because “because Jo has told us that ‘James’s parents were elderly, were getting on a little when he was born, which explains the only child, very pampered, had-him-late-in-life-so-he’s-an-extra-treasure, as often happens, I think. They were old in wizarding terms, and they died.’” However, I think perhaps they were not considering the fact that Dorea and Charlus Potter would indeed have been older parents, having had James when they were about 40. By the time the Marauders were teenagers, they may have seemed somewhat elderly to a young Sirius Black. I’m voting for a connection because I like the idea, but I know it’s a stretch, especially in light of the fact that neither Sirius nor Harry remarks on the couple when they are examining the tapestry in OotP. If they were Harry’s grandparents, it is the kind of thing one would think Sirius would point out, knowing how much Harry likes to learn about his family. However, Jo has made continuity errors before.

Pollux and Irma’s son Alphard was stricken from the tapestry for giving gold to help the runaway Sirius. It was speculated early on that R.A.B. might be “Regulus Alphard Black.” He still may be, but in light of the repetition of the name Arcturus, that name would make more sense — many genealogists discover that names tend to repeat in families.

Pollux and Irma Black’s son Cygnus married Druella Rosier, no doubt connected to Death Eater Rosier and Snape’s school friend Evan Rosier. Cygnus and Druella had three children: Bellatrix, Andromeda, and Narcissa. Bellatrix married Rodolphus Lestrange; they had no children (most likely because they spent their child-bearing years locked up in Azkaban as Death Eaters). Andromeda was stricken from the tapestry for marrying Muggle Ted Tonks, who of course were the parents of Nymphadora Tonks, though due to Andromeda’s absence from the tapestry, the Tonks line is not carried forward. Narcissa Black married Lucius Malfoy, and they had a son, Draco.

We return now to Phineas and Ursula’s fourth child, Belvina, who married Herbert Burke, no doubt a connection of Caractacus Burke, one of the founders of Borgin and Burke’s. Belvina and Herbert were said to have had two sons and a daughter, but they are not named on the tapestry.

Phineas and Ursula’s fifth child Arcturus married Lysandra Yaxley. As far as I can recall, she’s the only Yaxley mentioned in the series. They had three children: Callidora, Cedrella, and and Charis. Callidora married Harfang Longbottom, no doubt a connection to Frank Longbottom and thus to Neville. It is tempting for me to guess that Harfang might be Neville’s grandfather, as Callidora was born in 1915. She would then be Neville’s grandmother with the red handbag and vulture hat. It would also make sense with dates, as she would most likely have had Neville’s dad some time between 1935 and 1945. While Jo never explicitly says, I had always understood that Neville’s parents were older than Harry’s. Also temptingly, while no dates are given for Harfang, Callidora is noted with a birthdate and no death date. All of this works, of course, until we recall that Neville’s gran is named “Augusta” and not Callidora. Oh well. It is noted that the Longbottoms had a son and a daughter. I don’t think we should rule out a close connection to Neville’s branch.

Arcturus and Lysandra’s second daughter was Cedrella, stricken from the tapestry for marrying Septimus Weasley. This means the Weasleys must have been blood-traitors fairly far back. Indeed, the painting of Mrs. Weasley seems to recognize the current Weasley clan as such. Rowling hedges her bets against a mistake when she has Sirius recall that he and Arthur Weasley are “something like” second cousins once-removed in OotP. If Sirius’s memory about this connection is to be relied upon, then Arthur must be the son of Cedrella and Septimus, as Cedrella is a cousin to Pollux Black, which makes their children Walburga and Arthur second cousins, therefore Sirius Arthur’s second cousin once removed. Given the fact that Arthur is older than the Marauders by a good ten years (he would be in the same generation age-wise as Lucius, Narcissa, and Bellatrix — family-wise, he is on the same level or generation as Bellatrix and Narcissa’s parents).

Finally Arcturus and Lysandra’s last daughter was Charis, who married Caspar Crouch. Of course, it is tempting to speculate that Caspar is the father of Bartemius Crouch, Sr., which would also mean a familial connection between Barty Crouch, Jr. and Sirius. Caspar and Charis had one son and two daughters, so it’s possible, and the Lexicon doesn’t discount the theory. In fact, as Dumbledore says that Barty Crouch, Jr. was the last Crouch, this theory makes much sense. It can only be discounted if the son of Charis and Caspar had no male children to carry on the Crouch line.

The tapestry is important for a number of reasons. First of all, it is interesting to see the connections between families. Second, it establishes as canon the dates the Lexicon has given for the series as well as the birthdates of the trio. Up until the release of the tapestry, the only canon date was Nearly-Headless Nick’s 500th Death Day Party on October 31, 1992 (we can assume, as he died in 1492). From that date the Lexicon extrapolated that Harry must have been born in 1980, making him 11 in PS/SS (as is noted) and 12 in CoS when the Death Day Party occurs. The reason the tapestry firms up this extrapolation is that Draco Malfoy is noted on the tapestry with the birth year 1980 as well, thus making it even more reasonable and canon that Harry, too, was born in 1980.

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  1. Riceman says:

    I suggest a title change: “Six Degrees of Sirius Black”

  2. Dana says:

    You’re right, and I’m going to add it as an alternate title.

  3. Noneofyourbusiness says:

    Yaxley was mentioned as a Death Eater at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

  4. [...] Genealogy buffs, check out Sylvie Augustus’s essay analyzing the relationship between Sirius Black and Arthur Weasley. However, I figured it out, and if Septimus Weasley is Arthur’s father, then Arthur and Sirius are second cousins, once removed, as Sirius said in OotP. [...]

  5. [...] For the most part, my various interests don’t intersect much.  Once, I dissected J.K. Rowling’s Black Family Tree (Sirius Black’s family) with all the zeal of the genealogist at my Harry Potter blog.  At my education blog, I shared a letter my great-great-grandmother Stella Bowling Cunningham, who taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the 1890’s, wrote to my great-uncle Alvin Cunningham about what school was like when she was a girl.  Occasionally, I urge readers of my personal blog to pop over here to read something I’m particularly proud of.  Aside from these rare instances, however, this blog remains separate from my others, and they, for they most part, remain separate from each other. [...]