I recently read an article in the Green Valley News online, written by genealogist Betty Lou Malesky.  The article is different and sometimes amusing, with a dash of reality, as compared to the many articles written on the subject of ancestral search and why we do it.

People do have different reasons for taking up genealogy. If you’re like me you it’s because you want to become acquainted with your ancestors, what they did and how they fit into the fabric of history. If you’re a professional genealogist it may be because you like to solve mysteries for others in search of ancestors and enjoy working out puzzles.

If you’re lucky enough to go back 20 generations you “could find 2,097,152 ancestors. I’m inclined to agree that this is highly unlikely. Even with the best professionals working for you it would be impossible to find them all.

I consider myself lucky that I’ve found one of my family lines goes back to 1623 and three that go back to the 1700s. These finds do include documentation and do not count family legends.

According to the article, in a thousand years one might find “many persons duplicated many times in your ancestry. You would also realize how truly we are all members of “the family of man,” as we are all related to each other multiple times.” Although this may be true it’s way too complicated for me to visualize.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly recently, author Steve Olson quotes Joseph Chang, a Yale University statistician, who describes the mathematics of ancestry as “. . . exceedingly complex, because the number of our ancestors increases exponentially, not linearly.””

It was amusing to read that the sure fire way to have find out about your ancestry free of charge is to run for office, or that an incredible number of ancestors means we are “all descendants of Charlemagne, British royalty, Mayan princesses, Aristotle, and most any other ancient historic figure you’d like to be related to.” Most of us agree that this is ridiculous and don’t care about being descended from Charlemagne etc. (no disrespect intended).

As is the case with most other claims, “the key words to watch for are likely, perhaps, probably, possibly, may be, etc. These qualifiers always accompany dubious claims.”

Click on Green Valley News to read and enjoy the entire article.

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3 Comments on Genealogy the hobby that never ends with a dash of reality

  1. Chris Wook says:

    I enjoyed your comments and the article too. Keep up the good work.

  2. Tom Sullivan says:

    It was only recently I heard that I was related to Charlemagne and later discovered that I probably wasn’t but maybe to British royalty then maybe not after all. :-). Loved the article.

  3. Sheila M. says:

    Loved the picture. It’s a perfect example of those old photographs with a brown tint.

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