05 June 2013

We're still all related

Carl Zimmer, whose work I've enjoyed for years, recently had an article on how we're all (those of us with any European ancestry at all, which is more than you might think) related to Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, Very great grandpa Chuck) and each other.  I contributed a few comments, and the scientist author of the article 'cousin' Carl was writing about entered the discussion.  I took the chance to grill, er, ask a couple of questions. 

I've read many a book on historical geography -- the activity of trying to construct what the boundaries of the Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Burgundian States, Tang Dynasty, Inca culture, and so forth through many an example through all of time.  One of the few conclusions I can reach (and related to the above research) is that anyone who talks of being 'pure' anything, is ferociously ignorant of history. 

My English ancestors probably include some Vikings, Normans, and others in their history.  The Germanics probably had, well, pretty much anything from Spain through Russia, including the Balkans.  The Romanians probably included anything west to Spain, and east to Mongolia.  The Jewish ancestors probably tie me to anything from the Middle East through to the parts of the Holy Roman Empire that they emigrated to the US from.  And that's all just within the last 1000 years, from the parts I know about.  As I know less than 40% of my ancestry, I lay claim to the rest of the world from the 60% I don't know.

In any case, take a look at the Charlemagne article for some insight to why it is we're probably all related to each other from not more than about 3400 years back, and far less than that if you have some European ancestors.


Anonymous said...

There was a TV programme on UK TV (I think BBC, but could be wrong) that looked into the genealogy of several British nationalists and discovered that most of them had very, very mixed ancestry - even fairly recently. It was interesting seeing the reactions - I believe one of them even tried to get an injunction on the programme.

I first read about this in Steve Olson's book, Mapping Human History, which I recommend, even though it is a little old now.



Robert Grumbine said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. Or curses -- as it sounds good (I followed the link) and I already have many books on my 'to read' list :-)

The UK show was, I think, called "Who do you think you are", or maybe that was the name for a short-lived spin off in the US.

For my own part, I don't see getting too upset about who it turns out your ancestors were. I don't take credit for the good they did, nor will I take blame for the bad. Probably just as well, because, particularly if you count uncles, I've had ancestors on both sides of any war (for instance) that they _could_ have been involved in.

Anonymous said...

"Who Do You Think You Are" is a series where celebrities trace their family history - usually with a specific hook, rather than a general mapping.

This was a one-off programme, called "100% English". Sorry, I should have searched for it before, as it was easy to find. The wikipedia entry doesn't do the programme justice - though my memory may also be flattering it.


There have been some recent one-offs, including an Eddie Izzard and Richard Dawkins ones (the latter as part of a wider subject) and both were very interested and pleased with the results.

I think it's good thing to get into stuff like that, as many people still have no idea how related we all are.