Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Crunching" Some Numbers About Genealogy--or, I Looked Some Stuff Up

Okay, I feel some bit silly going on with this is addictive, and the more you find ancestors, the more ancestors there are to find, which means this might never end unless I exercise some self-control (gasp!). Just how much self-control might I need? Well. Late last night I looked up how many ancestors a person is likely to have. Well, of course, from the beginning of time might be too mind-blowing, especially when you consider the numbers at the time of Charlemagne, who seems to be a person around whom genealogy sort of spins.
You know that little mathematical tidbit that adults use on kids, asking them whether they'd rather have $1,000,000 today or a penny the first day, and that amount doubled each day for a month? How many of us would choose $1,000,000? If I hadn't seen the numbers before, I might be opting for it. I cheated and googled it(1) to get the answer because of course I couldn't remember for sure what would come of doubling the amount starting with a penny for a month: $10,737,418.23 (Note: That math website was wrong...finally realizing that it had to end in an even number and was therefore wrong, I tried it the long manual way and it's actually $4,268,882.52. Ha! So, I'm revising my numbers...don't trust everything, maybe anything, on the a new level of skepticism added...) Math concepts can be amazing. The same concept works on generations and genealogy: each generation back doubles the previous one, so 30 generations brings you the same number as pennies doubled over a month. If there are enough names traced on the internet, I could be busy researching Gary's ancestors, all 426,888,252, forever. Thankfully, I don't think I enjoy it quite that much.
There was a website(2) that approximated how many ancestors a person born in 1975 would have by the time of Charlemagne: (according to their calculations) 1,099,511,627,776. I don't intend to find them all, let me tell you. Another site(3) made the case that while most Europeans are probably descended from Charlemagne, only a very few could truly document it, which casts further aspersions on my research. If you went back to Atilla the Hun (not an ancestor I really cared to find, but it might explain some things), they say you'd have 72,057,594,037,927,940 ancestors--total, not all in one generation (remember to be skeptical!). Which probably exceeds the number of all people of the world since that time, so who knows, we're probably almost all descended from him as well.
At least it gives a perspective of possibility to the idea that most people might find some royalty among their descendants. Royalty was no doubt more likely to track those things than pirates and horse theives might have done, so those lines that are traceable would tend to be the more reputable ones. I have found that there are a number of lines that just can't be tracked past a certain point. Whether there was something to cover up or the people were too busy surviving to keep track of who their grandparents were, or whether no one has expressed enough interest to hunt down the gravestones and church documents and post them on the internet, I have no way of finding out, but what remains "documented" has sparked up my interest in history.
I'm not sure how much I believe in my results, but they're definitely interesting, even though they're on Gary's side, not mine. I've always enjoyed history, especially learning about specific individuals along the way. For example, I've never quite gotten to studying Saxons vs. Normans, and last night I found that one of Gary's purported ancestors, Olaf Sitricsson King of Dublin, Mann & the Isles, died at the hand of Saxons while on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1034. There was another ancestor not so far removed, Aedwine, King of the East Saxons, and they were both great-great-grandparents of sweet little Owain Gwynedd ap Gruffydd (these names are Welsh, just so you know). So all this about Norman conquest over Saxony, you could say, was a family feud...only they didn't know they were to be related until little Odwain was born. How he came to exist? Maybe that stuff that comes along with know. Or maybe it was one of those Romeo and Juliet stories that didn't end up in double suicide. Can you see how interesting it is, and how a person can get hooked even if the actual lineage concept doesn't have so much credibility?
(1) "Doubling Pennies"
(2) "How many ancestors do I have?"
(3) "Are we related to Charlemagne?"

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