We’re all related and quite possibly mad too: Counting ancestors!
This article was published in Generation Vol 7, No 1 (September) 1984 – thirty-five years ago. At this time, GSQ was based at Stones Corner and the President was Mr David Larkin. A single membership cost $20 while a family one could be had for the princely sum of $25.
This article illustrates the numerical challenges in researching all of our ancestors.
TO ALL FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCHERS AND OTHERS
by Jim Rogers
Dear Fellow Sufferer, I now don’t care when somebody tells me I am mad because it is a family matter and inherited and as we are all related so we are all mad. You don’t believe it?
Well then, try this: In searching for your ancestors have you ever counted up how many people you have taken an interest in? I mean really counted them? I know you have said sometime “Two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, etc. I am following up a lot of people”.
This is what I said too, so I took paper and pencil to try to find out just how many people I had become involved with. Imagine yourself on a diagram holding the strings attached to your ancestors. Two to your parents, four to your grandparents, etc. so that when you have connected up to ten generations back you are hanging on to the strings of 1024 ancestors in a direct line. Add a few more generations so that you have 14. Now you are holding 16,384 strings. If you have been able to trace further back to 20 generations add that extra six to the previous 14. Even if you haven’t been able to find them they are still there somewhere. You would now be holding the strings to 1,048,576 direct ancestors.
A generation is usually based on an average of 25 years and so our 20 generations above would take us back to the 15th century. Let us go back to that diagram with you holding all those strings and we put your son (or daughter) in the picture standing just behind you. Your son is holding a string to you and also one to your spouse and all of his/her ancestors, so he has doubled your number of people. 2,097,152 in fact. Now if that son (or daughter) was married and had a child and we put that child in the picture the total becomes 4,194,304. That is a lot of people and although I don’t know what the population statistics were for the 15th century, if those ancestors came from say, England, I would imagine you would be related to almost everyone who lived there at that time.
Of course, we must take into consideration that after a few generations the same ancestors appear more and more frequently in the lines of both parents so these have to be discounted as we cannot count them twice. Also now put my line parallel to yours over the same period and also in England and I would also have 1,048,576 direct ancestors. So too would 50 or 500 or 5000 other people.
We have to have common ancestors and we have to be related by blood even if we are 20th cousins. One other little point, was your grandfather or great grandfather or great great grandfather a sea-faring man? If so, in his travels did he visit China, Japan, India, South America, North America? HA! You could possibly have many thousands of cousins in any or all of these countries. In fact couldn’t we all!! So now it follows that if a lot of our grandfathers and great grandfathers did the same and we are related through our grandparents etc. then we must have many thousands of blood relatives in all those other countries.
In my own case, one line of ancestors goes back in England to circa 1250 which, being about 734 years is 29 generations. If from there I take 229, I find myself with 536,870,918 direct ancestors. Even allowing for discounting the doubles it looks as if there would be enough people to have overflowed from England to most of the known world. Who am I now not related to ? So you see we are all related and maybe we are all mad!
So long cousins – happy ancestor hunting.
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