National Geographic

Charlemagne’s DNA and Our Universal Royalty

Nobody in my past was hugely famous, at least that I know of. I vaguely recall that an ancestor of mine who shipped over on the Mayflower distinguished himself by falling out of the ship and having to get fished out of the water. He might be notable, I guess, but hardly famous. It is much more fun to think that I am a bloodline descendant of Charlemagne. And in 1999, Joseph Chang gave me permission to think that way.

Chang was not a genealogist who had decided to make me his personal project. Instead, he is a statistician at Yale who likes to think of genealogy as a mathematical problem. When you draw your genealogy, you make two lines from yourself back to each of your parents. Then you have to draw two lines for each of them, back to your four grandparents. And then eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on. But not so on for very long. If you go back to the time of Charlemagne, forty generations or so, you should get to a generation of a trillion ancestors. That’s about two thousand times more people than existed on Earth when Charlemagne was alive.

The only way out of this paradox is to assume that our ancestors are not independent of one another. That is, if you trace their ancestry back, you loop back to a common ancestor. We’re not talking about first-cousin stuff here–more like twentieth-cousin. This means that instead of drawing a tree that fans out exponentially, we need to draw a web-like tapestry.

In a paper he published in 1999 [pdf], Chang analyzed this tapestry mathematically. If you look at the ancestry of a living population of people, he concluded, you’ll eventually find a common ancestor of all of them. That’s not to say that a single mythical woman somehow produced every European by magically laying a clutch of eggs. All this means is that as you move back through time, sooner or later some of the lines in the genealogy will cross, meeting at a single person.

As you go back further in time, more of those lines cross as you encounter more common ancestors of the living population. And then something really interesting happens. There comes a point at which, Chang wrote, “all individuals who have any descendants among the present-day individuals are actually ancestors of all present-day individuals.”

In 2002, the journalist Steven Olson wrote an article in the Atlantic about Chang’s work. To put some empirical meat on the abstract bones of Chang’s research, Olson considered a group of real people–living Europeans.

The most recent common ancestor of every European today (except for recent immigrants to the Continent) was someone who lived in Europe in the surprisingly recent past—only about 600 years ago. In other words, all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400. Before that date, according to Chang’s model, the number of ancestors common to all Europeans today increased, until, about a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today.

Suddenly, my pedigree looked classier: I am a descendant of Charlemagne. Of course, so is every other European. By the way, I’m also a descendant of Nefertiti. And so are you, and everyone else on Earth today. Chang figured that out by expanding his model from living Europeans to living humans, and getting an estimate of 3400 years instead of a thousand for the all-ancestor generation.

Things have changed a lot in the fourteen years since Chang published his first paper on ancestry. Scientists have amassed huge databases of genetic information about people all over the world. These may not be the same thing as a complete genealogy of the human race, but geneticists can still use them to tackle some of the same questions that intrigued Chang.

Recently, two geneticists, Peter Ralph of the University of Southern California and Graham Coop of the University of California at Davis, decided to look at the ancestry of Europe. They took advantage of a compilation of information about 2257 people from across the continent. Scientists had examined half a million sites in each person’s DNA, creating a distinctive list of genetic markers for each of them.

You can use this kind of genetic information to make some genealogical inferences, but you have to know what you’re dealing with. Your DNA is not a carbon copy of your parents’. Each time they made eggs or sperm, they shuffled the two copies of each of their chromosomes and put one in the cell. Just as a new deck gets more scrambled the more times you shuffle it, chromosomes get more shuffled from one generation to the next.

This means that if you compare two people’s DNA, you will find some chunks that are identical in sequence. The more closely related people are, the bigger the chunks you’ll find. This diagram shows how two first cousins share a piece of DNA that’s identical by descent (IBD for short).

Source: http://gcbias.org/european-genealogy-faq/

Source: http://gcbias.org/european-genealogy-faq/

Ralph and Coop identified 1.9 million of these long shared segments of DNA shared by at least two people in their study. They then used the length of each segment to estimate how long ago it arose from a common ancestor of the living Europeans.

Their results, published today in PLOS Biology, both confirm Chang’s mathematical approach and enrich it. Even within the past thousand years, Ralph and Coop found, people on opposite sides of the continent share a lot of segments in common–so many, in fact, that it’s statistically impossible for them to have gotten them all from a single ancestor. Instead, someone in Turkey and someone in England have to share a lot of ancestors. In fact, as Chang suspected, the only way to explain the DNA is to conclude that everyone who lived a thousand years ago who has any descendants today is an ancestor of every European. Charlemagne for everyone!

If you compare two people in Turkey, you’ll find bigger shared segments of DNA, which isn’t surprising. Since they live in the same country, chances are they have more recent ancestors, and more of them. But there is a rich, intriguing pattern to the number of shared segments among Europeans. People across Eastern Europe, for example, have a larger set of shared segments than people from within single countries in Western Europe. That difference may be the signature of a big expansion of the Slavs.

Ralph and Coop’s study may provide a new tool for reconstructing the history of humans on every continent, not just Europe. It will also probably keep people puzzling over the complexities of genealogy. If Europeans today share the same ancestors a thousand years ago, for example, why don’t they all look the same?

Fortunately, Ralph and Coop have written up a helpful FAQ for their paper, which you can find here.

[Update: Adjusted the estimated generations since Charlemagne to thirty. Corrected Ralph's affiliation.]

There are 83 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Robert Grumbine
    May 7, 2013

    Hi cousin Carl! Guess there’s more than an interest in science between us. In looking at my genealogy, by way of the net, it looks like 30 years is a better rough figure per generation than 20. Very great grandpa Chuck shows up in the 40th generation back of me (and you and I look to be the same generations).

    Fun stuff either way, and nice to have some real science to work with.

    [Greetings, cousin Robert. Looking at this paper on pre-industrial Finland, I'm going to agree with you and switch the figure from 20 years to 30 and adjust the story accordingly. The point remains the same: too many hypothetical ancestors.]

  2. Phil Kent
    May 7, 2013

    That is really interesting, but it doesn’t explain how all people on earth can have a common ancestor 3400 years ago when the populations are seperated by so much distance. It tooks tens of thousands of years for humans to get from Africa to South America via land bridges which no longer exist

    [CZ: The full details of the calculation are here: pdf.]

  3. Nathan Machula
    May 8, 2013

    Here’s a better paper on average generation length:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15795887

  4. mechtheist
    May 8, 2013

    Very cool, any idea of the percentage of folk today descended from that standard of mega-reproduction Genghis Khan?

  5. Colin Purrington
    May 8, 2013

    When ancestry testing becomes commonplace, I wonder if people along HMS Beagle’s route will find Darwin in their past.

  6. Marielle Kronberg
    May 8, 2013

    Dear Cousin Carl–From your description, I infer that your Mayflower ancestor was John Howland, who (a) fell off the boat (according to Wm Bradford’s journal); (b) got rescued (important); (c) married fellow Mayflower traveler Elizabeth Tilley; (d) signed the Mayflower Compact; and (e) fathered, with Elizabeth, a huge number of children, all of whom lived to grow up (quite a big deal in that time and place) and reproduce. And that is why you and I and thousands of other Americans exist today–among our relatives are FDR, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and Winston Churchill. Cheers!

  7. EliyahuO
    May 8, 2013

    Loved the thought of one day being the ancestor of all mankind .. gonna make a baby right now ;-)

  8. Roger Hicks
    May 8, 2013

    How could a European and an aboriginal Australian, for example, possible have a common ancestor who lived only 3400 years ago, our common ancestors having left Africa 50,000 odd years ago and gone in different directions to opposite sides of the world?

  9. psweet
    May 8, 2013

    Have to agree with Phil Kent — if the calculations are mathematically correct, then they must have made poor assumptions about mixing of populations around the world. There are populations that have been separated for too long for 3400 years to work for a most recent common ancestor.

  10. Steviepinhead
    May 8, 2013

    Except that the isolation of populations (which was always relative, that is, with some “leakage” of gene flow) would have decisively ended five hundred years ago. While, for many purposes, we may pretend that the age of “discovery” (widespread sea travel/trade, colonization, imperialism) never happened, for THIS purpose, it certainly did. There can be very few, if any, individuals left in the world who have a “pristine” indigenous ancestry as a result.

  11. penninx
    May 8, 2013

    Sorry Phil, the recent article is about Europe, see http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001555 . The article mentions the dependence of isolation and of population growth. The chances can not be reversed, the total set of my ancestors in the year 1000 was percentage X. The descendants of one ancestor in the year 1000 are now a percentage Y of the population. X is large, Y is small.

  12. Graham Coop
    May 8, 2013

    to psweet and Roger. Rohde, Olsen, and Chang in their earlier paper [linked to by Carl above] do a pretty thorough job of examining how little migration you would need to still have their result about world-wide relationships. Have a read of the paper, I think it is pretty convincing. The key to these counter intuitive results is that you number of ancestors grows very fast indeed (2^k, k generations ago). That means that even a very low rate of migrants will still guarantee that even seemingly very isolated groups will be able to trace their ancestry back to one of these very rare migrants, and hence the rest of the world.

  13. Graham Coop
    May 8, 2013

    @Nathan we used the Fenner reference of a ~30 year generation time in the paper. We found it through Nick Patterson, but in general many people are stuck on the 20 years number [for no obvious reason, other than reference inertia I suspect].

    @Stevie you are right. For many purposes, e.g. looking at average patterns of genetic relatedness, we can often ignore rare migrants, as they contribute little to no genetic material. However, as you note, when discussing the spread of genealogical ancestry these rare events matter a lot.

  14. Graham Coop
    May 8, 2013

    @penninx ” the total set of my ancestors in the year 1000 was percentage X. The descendants of one ancestor in the year 1000 are now a percentage Y of the population. X is large, Y is small.” – This is not quite correct, if I’m reading you right. Anyone around a thousand years ago in Europe, who left any descendant to the present day, is likely an ancestor to everyone in Europe (i.e. Y=~100%). This also follows from the fact that your family tree branches very rapidly backward in time, so [as laid out by Chang and others].

    In fact we can push this further, anyone who was alive 1000 years ago, and whose descendants hadn’t died out after ~10 generations is very likely to be an ancestor to the entire population. The theoretical argument for this is laid out in Barton and Etheridge [http://www.genetics.org/content/188/4/953.full.pdf].

  15. Graham Coop
    May 8, 2013

    @mechtheist It’s likely quite high, although that is true of many people who lived back then (at last those who left any descendants to the present day).

    so roughly ~9% of men in the area covered by the Mongolian empire have a very similar Y chromosome, and it is claimed that this could have been derived from Genghis Khan and his male descendants [http://www.cell.com/AJHG/retrieve/pii/S0002929707605874]. I’ve done some calculations about this, as I originally thought it an unlikely hypothesis. However, I quickly convinced myself that it was reasonably plausible claim. It isn’t plausible if we want to claim that it is simply due to the fact that Genghis Kahn himself had a lot of children, although this is necessary. However, if his sons and grandsons also had a lot of kids, and that this male line success to continue for a number of generations beyond that, then his Y chromosome could have spread that much. I also did a bunch of calculations about how much of a genetic contribution he alone made to the average modern person in that area, but that is much smaller on the autosomes [i.e. most of the genome], as mendelian segregation beats even the mighty Kahn.

    Putting the genetics aside, it is very likely, given that he lived ~800 years ago, that many people in that area [and indeed more widely] can trace their ancestry back to him [and in fact to many people alive at that time, for similar reasons as I outlined above].

    There’s more discussion of the Y chromosome result and other successful male lineages here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/08/1-in-200-men-direct-descendants-of-genghis-khan/#.UYrb5II8yNc

    Peter Ralph and I have discussed following up on his genetic impact through similar techniques to those used in our article. We’ve also wondered about publishing an accessible explanation of the math underlying these calculations, as many of these calculations are slightly tricky to get to [but quite easy to explain once you see the logic].

  16. Roger Hicks
    May 9, 2013

    Graham Coop, Thanks for your response. However, I can’t help feeling that the conclusion that everyone on the planet has a common ancestor who lived just 3400 years ago is concocted to support state ideology of race being just a “social construct” of no importance to anyone except evil “racists”.

    We have good depictions of the ancient Greeks from more than 2400 years ago, in which they are clearly recognisable as fair-skinned Europeans, as phenotypically distinct from other races from other continents are Europeans still are today, the importance of which lies in man’s inherent and intense tribal nature and need to identify with a particular tribe.

    Race and ethnic origins, I content, are central to any deep and meaningful sense of both personal and group, i.e. national, identity – which is, of course, why the state, which legitimises itself by claiming to be represent a single nation, is so intent on denying, demonising and suppressing, as “racist”, the natural, ethnic basis of national identity and nationhood.

  17. Robert Grumbine
    May 9, 2013

    Graham, thanks for stopping in, and for the interesting work. I’ll suggest that perhaps a program that people can modify themselves would be a way to go. I’ve thought about constructing one such myself.

    A different end of things I’ve wondered about is from the fact that we have so few genes. With ca. 23,000 genes, and only getting half from each parent, in only about 15 generations we are down to expecting less than one gene from any given ancestor in that generation. By the time we’re looking at very great grandpa Chuck, 40 generations back, absent his appearance multiple times, chances are excellent (about 32 million : 23,000 against) that we have none of his genes.

    Which leads to the peculiar conclusion that he’s our ancestor, but we probably have none of his genes. (Not just him, of course, but any one person that far back.)

  18. Alan D McIntire
    May 10, 2013

    In response to a European and Australian having a common ancestor, a man or woman in East Asia 4000 years ago might have had children who married and moved a few miles away. Their children in turn married and moved a few miles away- there is a small amount of marriage between two cultures with different languages living in contiguous areas- and given time, descendants would marry fishermen in Indonesia, who may have had affairs with indomesians, whose desendants in turn travelled the gap between New Guinea and Australia, and passed on their genes in affairs with Australian Aborigines.

  19. Bifford
    May 10, 2013

    Anyone who has read history knows that mere blood doesn’t give you a birthright. Bastard sons were not considered legitimate heirs. This allowed kings to rape their enemy’s women and have sex with mistresses and courtesans (as high status males are wont to do) without having several hundred heirs demanding a slice of his legacy.

  20. Andrew Turvey
    May 10, 2013

    I have recently been doing some work on the genealogy of British nobility on WeRelate and what is interesting is the large extent to which prominent people run in the family across so many fields – military, royal/noble, academic, political, literary etc. This really confirms the presence of a rigid class system which in turn undermines the random mixing assumption that underlies the mathematical modelling that has been done here.

  21. Graham Coop
    May 10, 2013

    In response to your comments Roger:

    I don’t want to get drawn into a debate over the meaning of race. I usually find such discussions unhelpful, because race means very different things to different people.

    However, to clarify our results and those of Rohde, Olsen, and Chang. Rohde et al’s result of ~3500 years, is the predicted time for ALL of humanity to be genealogically related. However, the rate of migration between most locations in Eurasia and Africa has been high enough that if we, for example, think about individuals drawn from across Africa, Asia, and Europe they share the majority of their ancestors even more recent than that. This is a very solid result, and reflects the huge number of ancestors you have 3500 years ago. Back then you have 2^116 ancestors that’s roughly: 30 million, billion, billion ancestors, its hard to imagine that those are not shared with the majority of people alive today.

    You (and some others) have taken this to imply that everyone should be nearly genetically identical (and indeed we are, relative to chimpanzees, but that’s another story). We address this concern in our FAQ, http://gcbias.org/european-genealogy-faq/#q5 , where we explain the somewhat counter intuitive result that populations can share all their ancestors and yet still have different genetic relationships to each other. In other words, populations are different, but related, and the boundaries are fuzzy.

    We are certainly not saying that all genetic differences between individuals have arisen in the past few thousand years (that simply is not true). Nor are we saying that there are no differences in traits at all between populations. I for one am fascinated by how adaptation has shaped phenotypic diversity and our genomes over the past 100,000 years as humans have spread around the world (and have worked on this topic extensively). However, that work is all against the backdrop that the majority of genetic variation, and indeed the majority of trait variation, is found within all human populations, and very little variation shows a hard-and-fast distinction between populations.

  22. Graham Coop
    May 11, 2013

    Robert thanks for your question. Yes you are right, being a genealogical ancestor is no guarantee of having contributed genomic material to a descendant. It’s actually even worse odds than your calculation implies. That’s because you inherit your genome from your parents in large chucks that are often ½ a chromosome in length, consisting of many genes. The breaks between these chunks are called recombination events. Looking back up your family tree that means that as we follow the chunks of your genome is spread across your ancestors in any one generation (see Figure 1 of our paper). The further back we go the smaller these chunks are, as they’ve been through more generations of recombination, but the number of genomic chunks increases only slowly compared to how quickly the number of your ancestors. One consequence of this is that we only have to go a few generations back to start having a low probability that you inherited any genetic material from a particular genealogical ancestor (these types of calculations are laid out in Donnelly 1983, the math in this paper is non-trivial, so you can also the discussion around Figure 1 in Huff et al).

    Our calculations in the paper are based on these types of calculations, for example we find that pairs of people as far apart as the UK and Turkey share a largish chunk of genomic material 20% of the time. Since the chance that two people inherit genetic material from any one shared ancestor from 1,000 years ago is incredibly unlikely (<10^(10)), to explain such sharing we need these pairs of individuals to share many ancestors. In fact, they need to share a number of ancestors that is far larger than the size of European population, indicating that any pair of individuals share as ancestors all of the individuals alive back at the time in Europe, each many times over.

    • Robert Grumbine
      May 17, 2013

      @Graham:
      The Huff link, unfortunately, was to a paper not available in full text. Fortunately, it did lead me to Bickeboeller and Thomas, “The Probility Distribution of the Amount of an Individual’s Genome Surviving to the following Generation”, 1996, which seems to cover much of the same ground and with somewhat easier (for me) mathematics. So, thanks, some pleasant vacation reading.

      @Clint
      I understand your skepticism since I shared it on first hearing the results. One portion of my learning to accept that it’s not unreasonable comes from my fooling around in my own genealogy. Nothing special to me of course. Consider a small town in which the parent generation is 128 (which means they’ve got some still-living parents, and they’ve got some descendents, so town has a population of a few hundred).

      Now consider that we arrange to have the most disparate possible set of descendents — person number 1 appears _only_ as the parent of people who are also descended from person #2, and so forth. In generation 2, the children of people 1 and 2 only mate with descendents of people 3 and 4 (if they don’t, then people 1 and 2 appear on even _more_ different lineages and the collapse to universal ancestry by someone is even faster). In the first descendent generation, we have 64 different ancestries (parents being 1,2 or 3,4, or 5,6, up to 127, 128). In the second descendent generation, there are only 32 possible ancestries. In generation 7, _everybody_ is descendent of _everybody_ in the original population. At 30 years per generation, this is only 210 years. Since I’m starting to advance in to ‘tough old bastard’-hood, this is slightly prior to the US Revolution, but still nowhere near Charlemagne (ca. 760, 40 generations). And, I remind you, this is the _longest_ span that this initial small town could avoid there being one person who was ancestral to everybody.

      Exponentials (true exponentials, not casual speech ‘exponential’, which only means really fast) are hard to deal with intuitively. In 7 generations, any small town that remained isolated would all be related to each other. (This has some relevance to my wife’s family tree. Some to mine as well — there’s an example where 3 brothers married 3 sisters, so the 3 resultant families only have 4 grandparents instead of the 12 you might have expected.)

      The exponential growth of ancestors mean that after 14 generations, call it 1600, you’d need a city of population well over 16,000 (2^14)to avoid everybody being related to everybody today. In 1600, a city of population 16,000 was not small.

      After 21 generations, say 1390, the smallest city/country, with the most divergent possible mating practices, that could avoid someone being ancestral to everybody is 2^21, or over 2 million. At that time in history, there are no cities this large, and quite a few countries are smaller.

      At 28 generations, still far short of Charlemagne (very great grandpa Chuck), say 1180, you have to have a population of over 256 million, and optimal divergent mating, in order to avoid there being somebody who was ancestral to everybody. World population _might_ have been rather larger than this, though not tremendously.

      Go back to 35 generations, call it 970 AD, ‘Dark Ages’ Europe, and the population (interbreeding with each other) required to avoid a common ancestry is another 128 times as large — 32 _Billion_ — far larger (about 100 times) than the population of that time, and even far larger than today’s.

      The only way to get a date of common ancestry as _large_ as 3400 years (over 100 generations) is if you do indeed have populations relatively isolated from each other for much of that time. The flip side of that is that the sub-populations (Europe, East Asia, the Americas, Africa, …) are even more strongly interrelated.

      Fascinating stuff.

  23. Steve Sailer
    May 11, 2013

    Genealogists dealt with this issue a couple of generations ago and came up with the very useful idea of “pedigree collapse:”

    http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/03/pedigree-collapse-due-to-inbreeding.html

  24. Steve Sailer
    May 11, 2013

    It’s a cute thing to focus on a single common ancestor, but the more important questions involve who is more related to whom.

  25. Steve Sailer
    May 11, 2013

    If you go back to ancestors alive 4,000 years ago, say, George W. Bush might indeed be descended by 1 path from n!Xao, a Bushman in the Kalahari, but he’d also be descended from Owen, a farmer in Essex, by 800,000,000 different paths. Add them all up and it’s reasonable to say that George W. Bush is a lot more British than Bushman. Nobody actually doubts that, but when journalists start talking about genealogy, they quickly get bogged down in essentially symbolic thinking, in which having one ancestor from ethnic group X is somehow just as important as having many millions from ethnic group Y.

  26. Roger Hicks
    May 11, 2013

    @Steve, Thanks for your comments and the link, which clarifies the issue nicely; although I still fail to comprehend how I could have ANY shared ancestors at all with an Aboriginal Australian more recent than about 50,000 years ago. Not that it really matters. I would have thought, however, that this issue could be resolved simply by comparing our DNA profiles.

  27. Roger Hicks
    May 11, 2013

    @ Graham. Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my posts. I understand your reluctance to get into a debate on race, being the very hot political potato it is. Notwithstanding this, it is a debate we urgently need to have (in a suitable forum, which prevents it descending into a shouting match), instead of allowing ourselves to be intimidated by the state and its ideology (not coincidentally, the exact but equally extreme opposite of Nazi racial ideology), which denies, demonises and suppresses as “racist” the importance of race and ethnic origins for both personal and group, i.e genuine national, identity, in order to prevent it undermining the states claim to nationhood, by means of which it legitimises itself, its political elite and the immense power they wield.

    Clearly, this is not the place for his debate, but it is a good place to draw attention to the urgent need for it, because geneticists clearly have an important contribution to make, and at the moment, like all academics, are under massive pressure to conform to state ideology and demands, least they undermine its authority, much as in medieval times, when it took huge courage on the part of a few academics to put the pursuit of truth before state demands to respect its ideology and authority.

    I’m not an academic myself and thus haven’t published any papers on this issue, but I have published a couple of blogs in which I elaborate on my ideas:

    On The Paradox of Race Does and Doesn’t Matter

    On The Perverted Darwinian Nature of Civilisation

  28. Sarah Wiggins
    May 11, 2013

    All has been said. My question is, what is next? Beyond all blathering, did your statistician or mathematician create an image of futures? What hypothetically can be suggested about our offspring 40 generations from now? Two, five, etc. this is an avenue suggested by wise men. We can control our destiny in a wise manner.

  29. Patrick May
    May 11, 2013

    You’re descended from John Howland? Nice to meet you, cousin!

  30. igor shackapopoulis
    May 12, 2013

    It’s not really geneology, it’s more like six degrees of kevin bacon. Not everyone is DESCENDED fron Charlemagne, they are RELATED to him. Ancestor is the wrong word.

  31. Roger Hicks
    May 14, 2013

    Sarah, I don’t believe that there can be a mathematical approach to answering your questions. Any approach to them, while based on science, must also be ethical and by extension political; only such an approach is barred to us by taboos relating to the misconceived notions of “social Darwinism” (man’s initial unhappy attempt to apply Darwinian logic to human society) and its brutally inhumane implementation, especially by the Nazis.

    Natural selection, which one might equally well call “natural eugenics”, is not just a mechanism by means of which, over very long periods of time, new species arise. Its much more immediate function is to maintain the general good health and adaptation to its environment of an existing population, by weeding out the unhealthy and less well adapted.

    It can be a very brutal affair, which human sensitivities balk at. It is difficult for us not empathising too much with some predator’s prey, especially when it’s another mammal we find cute. As an animal with a strong moral sense and an emerging consciousness, this presents us with a multitude of moral dilemmas, which “social Darwinists” went at with classic Victorian overconfidence, like a bull in a china shop, which did so much damage, especially after the Nazis abused their ideas to rationalise and justify their own, criminally insane racial ideology and eugenics programme, that a complete taboo was made of the whole issue of Darwinism as it relates to ourselves and our situation, as individuals, as a particular society and as a species.

    It is a taboo we urgently need to start breaking – but with great caution, least we tighten rather than loosen its grip over us. It will be difficult, painful and frightening, not least, because a state ideology has been largely based on it, much as in medieval times church/state ideology was based on the taboo against questioning the veracity of “sacred scripture” and its interpretation by the church, i.e. its priesthood, which modern, especially social science, academia, far more than is generally realised, is descended from.

  32. Clint
    May 14, 2013

    @igor – I agree with your assessment of the definitions here; “ancestor” is a misnomer and ‘relative’ is a better word when throwing out specific names like Charlemagne…less sensational, though.

    My non-expert/casual observer reading of the study is that if I, a random Euro guy, met a nice random European gal (hypothetically of course since I’m already married) and we wanted to make sure our kids wouldn’t be ‘inbred’, and we went about tracing our paternal/maternal family trees to make sure we didn’t share a “dad” or “mom” (and we’d have to trace each parents’ parent, thus quickly branching outward, we’d, sooner or later, find a person we could *both* call a father or mother in some respect to a mother or father of another mother or father, etc., and that person lived no more than 1,000 years ago (and if I met Euro gal B and did the same detective work we’d hit on a common ancestor, too, although the first hit might be a different ancestor than gal A, and then maybe only 400 years ago instead of 900, or whatever). Of course, *that* father or mother and his or her mate probably wouldn’t call the same person “mom” – they’d have to trace *their* ancestors back some indeterminate length of time before hitting on another common ancestor, etc., etc.

    At least, that’s what I’m taking away from skimming the actual research report and reading the article here, although I’m still a little confused and trying to come to grips because, although I know all humans are related (and really we’re related to cats and dogs, etc. – and didn’t we all come from singularity energy from the big bang explosion…all is one!), the relatively short time spans of 1,000 or 3,500 years is on the face of it hard to believe.

  33. H.H.Handley
    May 15, 2013

    Interested to know if there are any DNA studies of known descendants of Charlemagne?Actually that is not that hard to prove, just need a gateway ancestor like Ann Marbury Hutchinson or Catherine Hamby her daughter in law. I have Howlands, too…they just missed the boat and John was a brother but Richard Warren another ancestor made it aboard. While the math is interesting, I think the science aspect is even cooler.

  34. J E Boles
    May 15, 2013

    Rats. This means we have no hope of escaping the genetic roots of all our human fraticidal violance and other stupidities.

  35. 4u1e
    May 15, 2013

    “I still fail to comprehend how I could have ANY shared ancestors at all with an Aboriginal Australian more recent than about 50,000 years ago.”

    Well, on the one hand very, very easily if that Aboriginal Australian has any post-colonial European ancestry. And at a guess, given the relatively small numbers of Aboriginal Australians who survived colonisation, and the usual nature of colonisation, many Aboriginal Australians living today will have some modern European ancestry.

    And on the other hand, even before modern colonisation shared ancestry doesn’t require an individual to travel from Europe to Australia, only a chain of descent that leads back to a common ancestor. No population is hermetically sealed off from all others.

  36. a.b.wheeler
    May 15, 2013

    The reason Europeans’ ancestry suddenly pinches to a non-geometric regression at about 1400 is very simple. Most of the 1300s were characterized by waves of Plague/Black Death. 1/3 to 2/3 of the European population was decimated. Therefore, a very much more limited pool was available to reproduce thereafter. Too bad this wasn’t mentioned in the article.

  37. Bruce Benedict
    May 15, 2013

    Glad Grandpa John Howland hung on to that rope! Grandparents Desire and and John Gorham kept it going for me. Grandpas Chuck the Mag and Bill the Conquerer get honorable mention.

  38. Roger Hicks
    May 16, 2013

    Thanks, 4u1e. I was assuming that these studies related to populations prior to modern times.

    Although, as I’m already said, clarification should surely be possible by simply comparing DNA profiles. Perhaps one of the experts could respond to this suggestion.

  39. Roger Hicks
    May 16, 2013

    J E Boles, That is a very important point you make, which I wish you had formulated as a question.

    If we acknowledge and develop an understanding of our Darwinian nature, by which I mean ALL aspects of it (not just those which portray Darwinian nature as being ruthlessly “red in tooth and claw”, but also including our capacity for self-awareness, reason, cooperation and compassion – surely also aspects of our Darwinian nature), instead of effectively denying it, i.e. its implications for understanding human societies, populations and politics (except when titillating ourselves with studies of human sexuality), then I am sure that we can escape what you describe as our “our human fratricidal violence and other stupidities”.

    There will be no quick or easy fix, which will require the most fundamental revolution since that of agriculture, and we will have to pull it off over just a few decades, rather than over centuries or millennia. It’s a huge challenge, which we have yet even to recognise, let alone face up to.

    However, to achieve such an understanding, we must first overcome the taboos which have been in place since the defeat of Nazism. And before we can do that, we must understand, not just why they were initially put in place (in response to the horrors of Nazism, its criminally insane racial ideology and abuse of eugenics), but also the social and power-political forces keeping them in place, i.e. their use (or rather, abuse) as a means of claiming a spurious moral authority, which has been embraced by the state itself.

    I elaborate in these ideas in my blog on The Perverted Darwinian Nature of Civilisation.

  40. Deborah Hill
    May 16, 2013

    Like everyone else, I’m also one of Charlemagne’s many descentants with the surname French leading the way along with Clovis the Riparian, King of Colonge in the yr 420. We are of so many nationalities and I believe that beautiful African woman in Africa, is our very first Grandmother of all the past generations of everyone’s lives.

  41. Jean T.
    May 16, 2013

    Major historical and climate events have had a huge impact on the genetics of Europeans throughout its history. The last ice age forced the entire population into the Iberian Peninsula and Italy to survive the cold. Bubonic plague and its ensuing chaos decimated Europe’s population throughout the 1300′s, greatly reducing the usual, local mating options. A warming world from 900-1000 resulted in Scandinavian (Viking) expansion deep into Russia, North America, the British Isles, and the Mediterranean. The Crusades into the Middle East and constant battles between European kingdoms in the Middle Ages, when knights were often paid in rape & pillage rights, further distributed DNA far and wide.

    Bryan Sykes explained how Y-DNA testing proved that many people in Polynesia had European ancestry due to Europe’s trade expansion in the 1500′s. And from the 1600′s on, the African slave trade resulted again in European Y-DNA showing up in New World slave descendants.

    Spencer Wells, of the National Geographic’s Genome Project, predicted a decade ago that current global travel and mobility would mix almost all of the world’s DNA together in our descendants within the next 50 years. Is it any wonder?

  42. Deborah Sweet
    May 16, 2013

    All very interesting, but honestly I wonder why the need for complex mathmatical calculations, or for announcing this as though it is a new discovery. As a genealogist with over 40 years experience, and a direct descendant of Charlemagne, it took me less than a year of researching and documenting my direct ancestors to come to the realization that we are all related in one degree or the other. But I appreciate your efforts, anyway, and the interesting points of discussion this has brought to the fore. Cheers! Deborah

  43. Don Cordell
    May 20, 2013

    I actually know my ancestry to Charlemagne, and that Charlemagne is my ancestor 252 different ways, due to the intermarriage of so many in Royalty. So many of us, know our ancestry back to King Edward 1st, as many of his descendents were the early settlers of America when the British sent Puritans to control those who escaped from England. Can’t let those Pilgrims have religious freedom from the Church of England. So those upper class immigrants to New England were of so called Nobility. The NEHGS has books done on 600 Immigrants of Royal Ancestry by about 1700. The many thousands of descendents from these 600 alone, probably mathematically number in the Millions. I figure from what I know already of my early NE lines, I have to be related to about 30 million Americans. IF you start with each of my known 64 families in America by 1700, if each family only had 4 children that lived, and married and had 4 children, you are at 16 children already in the 2nd generation. Carry that out in math, and you soon see that 4 to the 10th power is huge.256,000 x 64 ancestors, = 16 million, and those families had more than 4 children, it’s all in the math, I had no birth children.

  44. arnie
    May 25, 2013

    lovely BUT am i really my own grandpa!

  45. Katherine Marvin
    May 30, 2013

    I’m a descend of the house of Stuart, the house of Bruce, King James and Robert,the house of York,Plantagent and the Normans.Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bava DeTours. Just most of the royals of Europe when my genealogy was done now for myself I would like to get the dna done.Who does that? I’m still looking K Marvin

  46. Dave Erbstoeszer
    June 7, 2013

    Many are missing the point of this article, with comments that all Europeans would have a common ancestor 1000 years ago, or all people in the world would have a common ancestor 3400 years ago. The point being made is much stronger than that: _ALL_ Europeans alive 1000 years ago, who have any descendants living today, are direct ancestors of _ALL_ Europeans living today. Briefly, one generation back, all of us have two parents; two generations back, all have four grandparents, etc. At first, the ancestors will be unique, but eventually 3rd and 4th cousins will start to marry, and we will get common ancestors. With each generation further back, the lines of descent will cross more frequently. At about 20 generations, or 600 years back, we will find one person who is a direct ancestor of every European in the current generation. At that point, all living Europeans are related as some degree of cousin, having a single common ancestor. As we go back more generations, there will be more people in each generation who are direct ancestors of everyone now living, until at 1000 years, or about 33 generations back, everyone who has any living descendants is a direct ancestor of everyone in the current generation.

    So @igor and @clint, no, it’s not just that we are related to Carolus Magnus (40 generations, or 1200 years back — crowned emperor in a surprise political move by the Bishop of Rome on Christmas day, 801 AD, founding the Holy Roman Empire, and establishing the Catholic church and the Pope as a temporal power). He is our direct lineal ancestor, along with everyone else of his generation who has any surviving descendants. We (Europeans, in which I include myself because all my great grandparents emigrated from Europe to the US in the 1880′s) are all related to each other; but people of Charlemagne’s generation are our direct ancestors, not just our relatives.

    A similar scenario applies to the population of the world; it would simply take more generations because the population is larger. About 2100 years, or 70 generations back, we would find a single individual who is a common ancestor of everyone now living. With each generation further back, we would find more common ancestors, until at about 3420 years, or 114 generations back, everyone who has any descendants now living would be the direct ancestor of everyone now living. If that seems unlikely, consider that 114 generations back, each of us requires 20 million billion billion billion ancestors, that is 2 * 10 ^ 34, or 2 followed by 34 zeroes. Since that number exceeds the population of the world in 1400 BC by around 20 orders of magnitude, each person then living would have to serve as one of our ancestors on the average of a million billion billion times — that is, we are descended from one individual through many (!) different lines of of ancestry. Of course, some people of that generation may be our ancestor through only one or a few paths, while others may be our ancestor through orders of magnitude more than a million billion billion paths. So although I am a direct descendant of many Asiatic, middle-eastern, African, and oriental people, the bulk of my genes come from northern European people, and I look quite Germanic.

    @Robert Grumbine, if Charlemagne (or anyone of his generation) is our ancestor through only one line of descent, then you are right, and we probably have no DNA from him. However, at 40 generations back, each of us requires 1 trillion ancestors. If there are 4 billion of us, then we would need 4 billion trillion ancestors in Charlemagne’s generation, which exceeds the population of the world in 800 AD by a factor of approximately 10 trillion; so each person then alive would have to serve as an ancestor for each of us on the average of 10 trillion times. If we inherit DNA from Charlemagne 10 trillion times, we have a much better chance of having some of his genes.

    On a similar topic, why aren’t we all alike, since we all have the same set of ancestors? First, consider siblings, who not only have the same set of ancestors, but also inherit from those ancestors by the exact same paths. The are not identical (except in the case of identical twins, which actually start out as one embryo) because the DNA gets shuffled differently for each zygote. Consider the number of possible variations. If there are 23,000 genes, and if each one has two possible states (I don’t know, I’m not a biologist, and claim no knowledge of genetics) then there are 2 ^ 23,000 possible gene combinations. In decimal, that’s approximately 5 followed by 6900 zeroes. Undoubtedly, some of these combinations are “illegal” because they would result in a non-viable fetus, but if even 1% of them are possible, that’s a mind-boggling number of different possible genetic codes. Don’t complain to me about “only” 23,000 genes.

    As to the difficult issue of how this can apply to isolated populations like Australian Aborigines — first of all, the math doesn’t guarantee that every person of generation 0 who has living descendants is a direct ancestor of everyone now living, it merely says that the probability that any individual in generation 0 is not a direct ancestor of every individual in generation 114 is vanishingly small. But how can that work? Consider that in smaller populations it takes fewer generations back before everyone is an ancestor of everyone now living. I don’t have population figures for Aborigines, so I am just going to take a SWAG (Scientific Wild-Ass Guess) that it would take 600 years, or 30 generations, for all people in generation 0 to be direct ancestors of everyone in generation 20. If after those 600 years an Aborigine emigrated from Australia — say, one eloped with one of the New Guinea adventurers proposed by @Alan D. McIntyre – she would carry with her a direct line of descent from every Aborigine of generation 0. If she started having progeny in the world outside of Australia, there would still be 2800 years for her descendants to carry that direct line of inheritance to you and me. Similarly, after 2800 years here in the main world, it would take only one New Guinea adventurer exploring into Australia to carry a direct line of descent for 99.9% of the world’s generation 0 population to the Aborigines. In the following 600 years, that individual would extend that lineage to every Aborigine now living in Australia. It only takes two individuals to propagate all or almost all of the generation 0 ancestry into and out of the “isolated” population. It doesn’t require the age of discovery, although that certainly speeds up the process.

    In a similar vein, @a. b. wheeler, the reason the black death wasn’t mentioned is that the math doesn’t depend on “bottleneck” events that dramatically cut down the reproducing population. The results would apply to a homogeneous population that never experienced wars, plagues, and natural disasters. The fact that in the real world we do experience extermination events such as the bubonic plague, the 30 years’ war, the hundred years’ war, the holocost, etc. reduces the number of generations needed, but the math predicts the generations required regardless of these events. The extermination events are not the reason for the effect, they simply accelerate it.

    Finally, @Roger Hicks, the conclusion isn’t that everyone has a common ancestor who lived 3400 years ago; the conclusion is that everyone has as a set of common ancestors _EVERYONE_ who lived 3400 years ago (except for those who have no surviving descendants in the current generation). And that’s not concocted, and not in support of any ideology, it just is. We’re all related, and we all have the same set of ancestors; not approximately the same set of ancestors, exactly the same set of ancestors. Where do ethnic characteristics come from? We inherit from our ancestors in different proportions. Europeans inherit predominately from Europeans, orientals predominately from orientals, Africans from Africans, etc. But make no mistake about it, we all have the exact same set of ancestors, in differing proportions.

    • Andrew Turvey
      June 30, 2013

      This mathematical approach has a fundamental flaw in that it assumes Europeans have bred with each other in a random way. They haven’t. A fairly rigid class system means the simplistic maths simply don’t hold true. My ancestors were consistently non-royal, non-noble. Whilst I can’t absolutely prove it (at the moment), its unlikely my family was descended from Charlemagne.

  47. J.Helyar
    June 8, 2013

    Having inputted my family tree data, I was going to print it out. The computer told me it would spread to 21metres in widthth (forget height). When I cut out all duplicate ancestors, it dropped it to 11 metres! And, yes, I have proof that Charlemagne was my ancestor through John of Gaunt, son of Edward III.

  48. Ryan L.
    June 16, 2013

    Does the thousand year rule extend to people of European descent living outside Europe (i.e. America)?

  49. Mark Larson
    June 19, 2013

    What if Charlemagne’s descendants are part of the 20% who died out? More importantly, the whole prospect of genealogy troubles me. It strikes me as incredibly self-indulgent and maybe even egotistical. I think we should all be more concerned about the content of our character than the content of our genes.

  50. Roger Hicks
    June 20, 2013

    Mark Larsen, That’s an interesting and very politically correct comment you make. But who is to say, with certainty, that our genes do not effect in some way the content of our character?

    What disturbs me about your comment, however, is its moral tone, the insinuation that taking an interest in one’s ethnic origins is self-indulgent and morally reprehensible, which, of course, reflects the state ideology I refer to in a previous comment (posted 11 May in response to Graham Coop), which it uses as a spurious source of moral authority, just as it once used church ideology to this same purpose.

    It is an ideology which purports to be anti-racist, i.e. anti-white supremacist (thus its strong associations with Nazism, Apartheid and Jim Crow) and thus morally superior, but thereby replacing “racial supremacism” with “moral supremacism”. It is how the state claims authority and legitimacy for itself, i.e. for its ruling/political elite, and for the power they wield over society at large.

    It used to be church ideology, with its notion of “original sin”, which only submission to church/state authority could save the individual (irrespective of social status) from eternal damnation for. Now, in our more secular times, it is post-racial multicultural ideology, with its notion of “racism” (= racial prejudice = the natural human inclination to identity with members of one’s own tribe, i.e. race or ethnic group) which only submission to state ideology and authority can save us from eternal damnation for – as “bigots” and “racists”.

  51. Chip Q
    June 28, 2013

    I have two questions:
    I am somewhat new to understanding this, so bear with me.

    1. Are you saying that people descended from Eastern Europeans (part of the Slav expansion) share more common DNA across Europe then specific countries, and if so, can they speculate why?

    2. Will commercial genetic testing ever get to the point of being able to determine being a descendent or related to someone like Charlemagne?

    [CZ: 1: If you pick two people in Eastern Europe, on average they will share more segments of DNA in common with each other than two people you pick from a country in Western Europe. 2: If Charlemagne's DNA was so well preserved that someone could sequence his genome with a high degree of accuracy, then I don't see why not. Otherwise, no. There's nothing special about Charlemagne in the context of the research I wrote about. He's special to us.]

  52. Don Coe
    June 29, 2013

    Katherine Marvin, try contacting FamilytreeDNA .I joined the Coe family DNA project a few years ago,and found more than a few notable cousins,Mayflower,twenty one presidents,Winston Churchill,Marilyn Monroe,Winchester,Colt and Remington,and Charlemagne! Barbara Bush’s grandmother and my paternal grandfather were first cousins.Marlyn’s ancestor Sarah Coe, was great grandaughter of John and Pricilla Alden of the Mayflower.

  53. Lynne
    June 29, 2013

    So this means we should all have acquired the hereditary royal blood disorders AIP Acute Intermittent Porphyria and HCP Hereitary CoProporphyria? According to my trees on ancestry.com, Charlemagne was my great through 3 of his kids.  
    Working on finding the source of my family’s AIP & HCP. Any ideas out there where this disorder may have originated? thanks!

    [CZ- Dear Lynne: No, it doesn't mean that we have acquired all the royal disorders. Take a look at the diagram I included in the post, and you can see how a person's DNA is fragmented and diminished through the generations. It's actually possible to be directly descended from people without carrying any of their DNA at all. Royal disorders only emerged after many generations of inbreeding among related royal families.]

  54. Ron Woods
    July 8, 2013

    This is all such heady stuff. Through genealogy I’ve learned that I really am a descendant of Charlemagne (having descended from European nobility) but I already know that and $2 might get me a cup of coffee.

    I do find it mind boggling that everyone is related. Surely we all want to be related to the famous in some way but somebody has to be descended from a serf instead, right? What if that common European descendant 1000-odd years ago was the plumber and not a king?

  55. Glenn
    July 18, 2013

    Has anyone seen any mathematical genealogical analysis on biblical lineages? Using one standard deviation from my genealogical database for the average interval between generations for which I have at least 30 samples, I find iterations to generally confirm the estimated birth of
    David about 1000-1040 BCE. The interval between Moses and David, however, would seem to support only a period of about 250 years. Does anyone know of any studies exploring these concepts?

  56. Nancy S
    August 28, 2013

    This would explain why my aunt looked like a dead ringer for Queen Liz II. Our common ancestor was probably the lord of the manor who fooled around with the kitchen maid to produce my particular line. I don’t require people to curtsy or bow. I love genealogy and just plain old history. Will you be hosting the next family reunion?

  57. Alex
    August 31, 2013

    >”Why don’t they all look the same?”
    Carl, I am not sure that they don’t. If you have the time to spend a deal of time traveling in obscure parts of Europe where there has not been much migration (as have I), you’ll routinely see that people in these places do look alike (eg. not Paris, London, Berlin). Local similarities are far beyond skin, eye and hair color, and may be seen in head shapes and facial features. Likely before great migrations to cities before the industrial revolution, WW1 population transfers, and WW2/post-WW2 upheavals local similarities were even more obvious than now. Local similarities are hard to see in big towns, and impossible to contemplate in multi-ethnic cities or all of north america. Come to think of it, if you look at back issues of your magazine featuring people in remote places, you will probably be able to see what I mean just from looking at old pictures. Regards.

  58. Durango
    September 5, 2013

    1 + 1 = 2 , but only if both ones are identical. If it is 1 piano + 1 pumpkin, then the answer isn’t 2 – or maybe the answer is 2 objects. But, what if it is 1 group of random letters cghwlqopce + 1 piano, then the answer isn’t even 2 objects.

    Queen Elizabeth II is the mother of Prince Charles. Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of Charlemagne and so are millions of other people. What is important is how closely a person is related to another person. If evey person on earth is related to every other person on earth, then it’s as if nobody is related to anybody. What is imporant is who you are married to, who your children are, not that you are related to everybody who ever lived. It’s possible that that is a scientific fact, but does that mean you are going to inherit wealth from Queen Elizabeth II? No. It’s not that 2 people get to the same destination, but the route each takes to get there. Why is Prince William going to inherit the throne of England and not Ingahoga McDoogdada from Cucamonga California?

    It’s like, everybody in the world has a dollar, but some people have a billion dollars. A billion dollars is worth more than one dollar – just by quantity. A billion dollars is not equal to one dollar, just because they are all dollars.

    So, maybe, If you take some DNA and some math, everybody is descended from King Tut. Everybody who ever lived who had sight has seen the same moon.

    You have an isolated island in some ocean. Nobody has ever come or gone from that island for 10,000 years. Are all the people living on the island descended from Charlegmane?

    Anybody can prove the world is flat if you ignore a lot of information.

  59. Krista M
    September 5, 2013

    Looks like my husband is related to you too, as I see some other folks who commented are. Hubby’s grandfather traced the family tree back to John Howland as well. We always joke that we’re glad he was pulled back onto the Mayflower after he fell off. Stumbled upon your story here when I Googled Charlemagne in conjunction with some ancestry research on his family tree. (After just seeing the episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” featuring Cindy Crawford, whose ancestry also traced back to Charlemagne.) This was a fascinating read…
    Your distant cousin by marriage,
    Krista

  60. donna
    September 14, 2013

    Charlemagne is my 33 great grandfather. On my Mom’s side. Oddly enough his grandfather ,Charles Martel is also my 33 great grandfather, but on my dad’s side.
    What I would like to know is as it goes down the line I have Edward III who is also a great grandfarther. What percent of the European descended population would also be able to claim king Edward III as an ancestor as well?

  61. Don Cordell
    September 28, 2013

    Not only am I descended from Charlemagne, but descended 252 different ways. Probably more ways as I continue to link my royalty lines in my file.

  62. Justine
    October 14, 2013

    Thank you everyone for such an interesting discussion. It’s answered many of the questions I have been pondering since I started my family history research in an easy to grasp way. Fascinating.

  63. Sky
    October 23, 2013

    Nobility isn’t some completely separate ‘breeding pool’. Sure, if you can trace your line back to nobility, it virtually guarantees you can trace your lineage back to Charlemagne in more ways than someone who can’t. But all it takes for his bloodline to enter the common folks’ bloodline is one child.

    It’s math, it doesn’t take into account geographical issues like the fact that Native Americans and Europeans didn’t really have any contact. Which ironically makes it even more likely that if you have ANY European ancestors, you’re descended from Charlemagne.

    You have 1,000,000,000,000 ancestors during this time frame. Charlemagne only had to be 1 of them.

  64. Susan Fenner Latshaw
    October 28, 2013

    My maiden name is Fenner and my genealogy does show Charlemagne as an ancestor. Am I correct that this study traced my family tree for 30 generations to establish the Fenner’s genetic connection to Charlemagne? I haven’t read the study yet, but was fascinated by everyone’s input. I couldn’t stop reading it. The Fenners are also connected to Alfred the Great and King Arthur. I can’t wait to read the paper!

  65. Hawkat
    November 6, 2013

    Hello cousin! I too am a descendant of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley–and love telling the story of how John fell overboard during the voyage of the Mayflower. This research I find wonderfully fascinating, and am not entirely surprised; having found Edward I in my ancestry (along with much of his genealogy). One thing that struck me was that many times I would look be looking at one of my ancestral couples and find that they shared a common ancestor 3, 4 or farther generations back. And it has happened since, I see it in the genealogy of my ancestors that migrated to the US. That came with the realization that I had fewer ancestors than I would have thought. Andy many time those ancestors had common ancestors…and that’s just one line from 23 generations back. And yes, Charlemagne is there.

  66. Alexander
    December 8, 2013

    This theory leaves out one important fact. Royalty and nobility did whatever they could to maintain bloodlines and keep them contained this marrying cousins and aunts/uncles etc. I come from Spanish nobility which traces back to Charlemagne. These lineages do not grow exponentially. In fact, procreation was a much crafted process. Charlemagne for example is a great (x -*) grandfather 22 times.

  67. Patrick Gerard
    December 12, 2013

    I would be curious about the implications of recent discovery on twins for the genetic side of this exploration:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10511087/Identical-twins-need-never-be-tried-for-same-crime-after-DNA-breakthrough.html

    Basically, monozygnotic twins (“identical twins”) are not identical because of post-conception mutations, possibly extending the course of their entire lives. The article cites cases of 5 mutations but I’ve seen other claims that boost that number to 300. Epigenetics boosts that number if it pans out.

    Now, the implications for this line of thinking on the genetic end are fascinating. It should mean that it takes more common genetic material to account for the matches observed, meaning we have common ancestors much more recent and that this math is highly conservative, I’d think,

    If parents and children and identical twins share less DNA than was previously supposed then either we share common mutations that bend us back towards the mean or we have more common ancestry. At least, those are the two explanations I can arrive at here.

  68. Daryl Litwin
    December 28, 2013

    The original letter to Nature by Rohde, Olson and Chang outlines a theoretical model that seems to be seriously lacking in empirical, real-world rigor.

    Conclusions predicted by the model seem implausible, and the model fails to account for social customs, laws, and cultural practices.

    It is, in effect, and perhaps contrary to the intentions of the authors, a straw argument for using empirical methods, genealogical records, history, social customs, laws and cultural practices when conducting genetic population studies.

  69. Alb
    December 31, 2013

    Being a descendant through French Canadian lines to Charlemagne I find this conversation very interesting and indeed there should be genetic material from Charlemagne residing within the Catholic Church as he is considered in France as a saint. Indeed I have touched his reliquary in the church in Toulouse. That said of course it could be that the bones contained are not actually his but perhaps that too could be somehow checked if someone could get the church to allow testing. A lot of what ifs but interesting none the less I would think from a genealogical genetic standpoint.

  70. Lisa
    January 7, 2014

    I read some but not all of this. I am a descendent of Charlemagne I am the 29th great great etc granddaughter on my fathers side. So it is slightly offensive to make such a general statement, but to that I will say as odd as it is there is truth to what you have said. I am married to a great great etc grandson of Charlemagne on his mothers side. It’s weird and I haven’t had the opportunity to see where else our lines cross, but I reckon’ if you go far enough back.

  71. monica
    January 7, 2014

    All continents were connected at one point as I understood, the tectonic plates shifted causing the continents to drift apart. This is why indigenous plants, ect are found on different continents.

  72. Michael Cooley
    January 23, 2014

    I’ve believed this since the late 70s. My introduction to genealogy included my own royal descent through early colonialist, Col St Leger Codd. I had access to a great collection and spent hours filling out hundreds of five-generation charts and found a mechanical method for determining the various lines of descent. I came up with more than 10,000.

    One poster was correct in saying that the royals kept their breeding within the family. But don’t forget all those royal richards who couldn’t keep their nickname in their pants. The number of illegitimate births is astounding. Charlemagne himself had more than 20 children. And many, many lineages fell in standing through the centuries. It’s niot surpring that commoners had royal descent.

    But the simple math of determining 1 trillion ancestors 30 generations back is a little deceiving. That’s assuming all generations were of equal length. For example, one of my Revolutionary ancestors is only seven generations back from me. Most of my other ancestors of the time would have been nine or more generations removed. Amplify that by a few centuries and you have huge discrepancies in lineage length and time. I have no idea how it can be figured out but I suspect the ending value would be much smaller than 1 trillion. Nevertheless, multiple marriages among cousins–royal cousins or not–also greatly impacts the numbers.

    Then, of course, there’s the factor of isolated pockets in Europe that may not have received such royal treatment, so to speak. But I have no doubt about the validity of the general statement that all Europeans have common ancestors back X centuries and that royals were among them.

    • durango
      January 25, 2014

      Kate Middleton, who’s ancestry has probably been more exactly studied than anyone who ever lived, has exactly 1 royal connection – Edward III. Everyone is supposed to be related, so why isn’t she descended from kings and queens of all the countries in Europe – I am. If Kate is not descended from any more than 1 king, then why should we believe everyone else is descended from royalty. Or have all these people who have been going over her ancestry obsessively just somehow missed a bunch of European roaylty somehow?

  73. Elaine Nelson
    February 25, 2014

    It’s one thing to mathematically arrive at having Charlemagne as an ancestor, and quite different to have names, dates of birth and location for every one of those directly back to Charlemagne. I have complete genealogy to Charlemagne, with all the names, DOB, and death listed. That beats math certainty.

  74. Joseph Padjan
    March 22, 2014

    Very interesting. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and A Tale of a Tub, and I are fourth cousins, twelve times removed (yeah, I know…but it’s still cool haha) I have our relationship documented. Like so many others, I am also a descendant of Charlemagne, and the descent is documented as well. But it makes me happier, I confess, to have documented my kinship with one of the greatest writers of all time, and my favorite, hands down, the great Jonathan Swift. I guess that means that I’m also not too distantly related to the great John Dryden, Swift’s cousin. Very cool. Dryden is also one of my favorite writers of all. Well I am in good company here. Perhaps you are as well… Cheers!

  75. Linda Turner
    April 3, 2014

    At times it is easier to trace ones past in the far past than just a few generations back. Especially in the Welsh lines where names have a tendency to repeat an awful lot. But I can’t seem to get my Grandmother’s people to a link with Charlemagne or any other except maybe King Arthur (depending on which version you believe)

  76. John Ghotier
    April 15, 2014

    @Durango – People can only study genealogies that are known and recorded. Everyone is descended from someone who was a king, but most people are unable to trace it. All it takes is one royal family member somewhere between 1000-1500 AD to have an illegitimate child with a commoner, and then it works its way out to the rest of the population. Most likely there are thousands of such unacknowledged children throughout history and our collective family trees.

  77. Daniel
    April 19, 2014

    Hi im also a descendant of Charlemagne , im related to Charles III and I have my familys complete Tree and took a DNA test to prove it, so I guess we are related.

  78. Michelle Wilson
    May 31, 2014

    The paragraph starting “The only way out of this paradox…” is poorly explained. The way out of the paradox is that while the locations on the pedigree double, the individual people do not. (Distant) cousin marriages result in the same ancestor appearing in multiple locations on the pedigree, insuring that the number of actual ancestors does not exceed population size. Eventually a point is reached where all the people in a population are one’s ancestors, or the ancestors of no one. As we go further back in time, larger and larger populations of one’s ancestors reach this point.

  79. David
    August 3, 2014

    A lot of genealogists and historians don’t seem to be aware that there was a practice in pre Christian times and in some places after the advent of Christianity in Europe of royalty and nobility raping peasants. In some places this practice was so prevalent that as many as half of the population in some areas all had the same father or grandfather. I think this accounts for much of why the above article is true and in fact I don’t think you have to go back 600 years as the author suggests.

  80. Martha
    August 10, 2014

    Greeting cuzs’ . I can trace my ancestors through Charlomaynes’ daughter that married Rorigon, Count of Maine(Rorgonides). My problem is dealing with ancient documents that may have been burnt during the French Revolution. The Counts’of Dol were very powerful and most were somehow connected to the Catholic church. Trying to find out who the sire of my familys’ ancestors married is a mystery. I too am H6a1b. I feel like a mongrel right now with all of the northern Europe mixes.

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