Post 5.7 - Genealogy

One of my hobbies is genealogy, and I've actually become quite good at it. It's interesting the things that you learn, and even more intriguing to consider the kinds of lives that our ancestors may have lived.

I have been doing some level of research for most of my adult life, but really became more interested once the Internet Age began and it was possible to research online records in multiple countries and network with other family members, both known and discovered.

The furthest back I can go right now is 29 generations prior to myself - parents to 27th-great-grandparents. I actually have identified two of my 27th-great-grandfathers, but they were born about 75 years apart. How can this happen if they were in the same generation?

Well, it's actually pretty simple. There can be great discrepancies in age between spouses as well as spouses' parents. For example, my great-grandmother was the youngest of eight children born over a stretch of 23 years, while her husband was only the fourth child of six born over a period of 10 years. His parents were actually young enough to be contemporaries with her oldest sibling, rather than her own parents. The same is true for my grandparents - my paternal grandparents were 15 and 18 years older than my maternal grandfather, who himself was almost 7 years older than my maternal grandmother.

So do this a few generations in a row, and the gap just gets wider.

So, one 27th-great-grandfather, Eustace de Shelley, was born around 1100 AD, and the other, Ethelric Weld, was born around 1025 AD.

After doing this kind of research and to this distance in time, the question that arises is so what does it all actually mean?

If I were to identify, every 27th-great-grandparent in my ancestry - every male and female across all family lines - that would represent 536,870,912 people. This is mathematical truth - every one of us has two parents. Every person who has ever lived (with one reputed exception) has had a mother and a father, so every time you go back another generation, the number of new ancestors doubles, in this case, terminating at 229 ancestors. It is likely that there is a double-grandparent in there somewhere, which would indicate that cousins had married, but essentially, it's over a half billion people. And that's just that one generation. If I take this a step further, and identify every ancestor back to that generation - parents, grandparents, great-, 2nd-great, 3rd-great, etc. - the number swells to 1,073,741,822 people. This doesn't count my children, my siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins - just ancestors.

This means that each ancestor, ultimately, represents an ever decreasing fraction of my genetic make-up the further back you go. Kinda... useless.

On the other hand, there are some interesting facts to consider when you place your ancestral history against world history. For example, my research has indicated the following:
  • My ancestors did not often succumb to epidemics, such as the bubonic plague or influenza.
  • My English ancestors began inter-marrying with the Norman French about 100 years after the Norman Invasion.
  • My Irish ancestors did not leave Ireland during the great famines of the 19th Century. They did leave, obviously, but for other reasons and at other times - and went to Scotland.
  • My family has a very low infant mortality rate overall. It isn't to say that it didn't happen, or that I don't have female ancestors who died in childbirth, but looking at the bigger picture, having eight or more children who all live to adulthood was not at all unusual.
  • My family has been a group of consistent builders - settling new colonies, farming, mining needed minerals, creators of businesses, schools, communities, and ultimately large families. There have been some notable military and naval men in my lineage (like my 10th-great-grandfather, Captain Joseph Weld), but until the 20th Century, there was no consistent military involvement.
  • Some parts of my family think nothing of setting off on an adventure to a new place, even when such isn't done. I have a 3rd-great-aunt who left her family farm in a small village (now the capital of its oblast) called Bohoroczany in what was then the Galizien province of Austria-Hungary (and is now part of Ukraine), made her way to Hamburg (without speaking German), took a ship to New York (without speaking English), and established her own life for herself - at age 20. She eventually brought over various family members, once she became a US citizen, as their sponsor - and even arranged marriages.
Currently, I can identify everyone back to my 3rd-great-grandparents, and back to my 4th-greats on all but one line - the family of my great-great-great-grandmother, Margaret Fisher, who died shortly after giving birth to her last child. Her husband eventually re-married and had two additional children, but I have to say, I feel kinda bad for Margaret. She was 24 when she died, and no one seems to know anything about her, other than she got married at 17, had four children, and died. It was before the era of photographs or video, so she has become an historical footnote. Just doesn't seem fair.

So I encourage you all to be more than a name on a page. Become more than a birth and death date. Write down your stories. Tell your children. Explore as much of your own history as you can, and preserve it for future generations. Like my 3rd-great-aunt - never met her, but what a force of nature she sounds like.

At least I know it's genetic.

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