Posted by: Jim | July 9, 2007

The Family of Man

The internet has made finding your ancestors much less tedious than it was only a decade ago. I have been chugging away at my genealogy, and learned that the further back you go, the more connections you begin to form with other people’s family trees. If you hook into a well-heeled line you’ll start pasting ancestors into your tree five generations at a time. It’s amazing.Along the way I came across the last name of “Plantagenet.” The person lived in the 14th century in England, so I knew this could possibly lead to something interesting. Sure enough … I soon spied “Edward I Plantagenet.” King Edward the First of England. Longshanks, as he was called in “Braveheart.” And his father King Henry the Third; his father King John, his father … blah blah … and William the Conqueror was thrown in there.

So I paused for thought. Surely this can’t be true that I am descended of royal blood. I mean … I knew I was special and all, but this was getting ridiculous. Then I paused again, and started doing some counting and calculations.

King Edward the First is, according to this hastily put-together tree, 26 generations into my past. So if you multiply each generation by two (two parents) you end up with 2 to the 26th power. Know what that is? About 33 million. That’s right, I had 33 million ancestors in the year 1300, when Longshanks was King. Actually, the number is slightly smaller than this because members of my family had a most unwise penchant for their cousins. Decrease the number further for those instances where people married their distant relatives as well. But still, the number of ancestors that any of us have is vast. The entire population of Europe in the year 1300 was about 60 million, so if you are of European descent, odds are slightly worse than 2 to 1 that King Edward I was your ancestor. If your of British descent specifically, your odds are looking good. Hell, don’t even bother doing the work; just run to CostCo and grab yourself a crown.

So shit … I’m not so special after all.

Thanks to the royal connection, I was able to find ancestors dating all the way back to Christ’s lifetime. But after considering the above math, it started feeling silly. I began getting this vague sense that we are all descended from everyone. Jesus was probably a distant cousin, divine pedigree notwithstanding. Further, everyone in the distant future will be descendants of all of us. My offspring will intermarry with the offspring of Karl Rove, who is probably related to me already.

And lastly, there is no English blood. England was “The New World” to the Vikings, and the Normans, and the Goths, all of those guys. And there is no Viking blood. Norway was “The New World” to our ancestors in the Indus Valley, who of course came from Africa. We’re all African. Every last one of us. When you can click back name after name, sixty-five generations to the time of Christ, you start to realize that it’s only a few hundred more clicks and you reach the dawn of civilization.

We tend to see history as expanding outward, and it is. But those of us alive are just the outer debris in the explosion.



  1. Ahh, we’re African. That explains it. It all makes sense now why we can’t pull our heads out of our asses and get along. I mean, look at Africa. If we’re all African, then Africa is a microcosm — a Petri dish, if you will — of the world at large (maybe even the entire universe — entropy and chaos theory and all that).

    And Africa is a fucking mess.

    Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not that simple — the train wreck of post-colonialism and so on — but if you think about it, colonialism is just another version of slavery, and slavery originated where? That’s right. AFRICA. By Africans, way before there were any Europeans. And since we’re all Africans, then we all started out from the very beginning cannibalizing each other, and that’s how we will surely meet our end. Ah, the perfect ironic symmetry of it all.

    But I digress. My actual point, if you want to call it that, is that it’s fascinating how we’ve deviated to varying degrees from our African origins and yet somehow remained firmly entrenched in them. For example, I’m still African enough to find my money-maykah uncontrollably shakin’ when a vintage James Brown lick echoes over the Safeway intercom. However, I’ve never in this particular lifetime been African enough to understand a word that brotha is saying.


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