Not another famous ancestor!

For some unknown reason, in the genealogical world, it seems that some famous person is always doing the rounds. When I see someone claiming some famous ancestor, my first thought and question normally is, prove it, show me your sources and records.

Robert the Bruce – a long distant relative? What are the chances?

Robert the Bruce – a long distant relative? What are the chances?

Last month it seemed everyone was claiming Robert the Bruce and William Wallace as an ancestor. The month before it was King Richard I and Niall of the Nine Hostages. Who knows who will be next, we will just have to wait and see who the new flavor of the month gets to be, but this month it is Charlemagne.

Charlemagne - King of the Franks and Christian Emperor of the West.

Charlemagne – King of the Franks and Christian Emperor of the West.

After seeing so many people in the past couple of weeks claim Charlemagne as a ancestor, this really started getting me fired up. Why? Because it was a mathematical formula that put the idea out there that 80% of Europeans are related to Charlemagne. Joseph Chang, who came up with this formula, was not a genealogist, instead he is a statistician at Yale who likes to think of genealogy as a mathematical problem.

Well Mr Chang, I’m no mathematician, but I think that you should go find something else to count, and leave real Genealogy to real Genealogists. As you, Mr Chang, are the person who is responsible for single handly turning amateur Genealogists into fruit loops. We now have all these delusional people claiming ancestors who they believe to be related to, yet can’t provide one bit of evidence, let alone being able to say how they are related. This is all because you wrote a mathematical formula, and that formula has been shot to pieces by other experts!

When you read the report he published in 1999, 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.

Having said that, I ask the question then, why then is it this person Charlemagne, aka… Charles I, byname Charles the Great, French Charles le Grand, Latin Carolus Magnus, German Karl der Grosse, you say Mr Chang that we are all related too. Why not somebody else?

I, for one, can honestly say I am not part of the 80% of population that can apparently claim Charlemagne as an ancestor. How am I so sure about this? Well, I decided that if we can all go around claiming whomever we like with no genealogical proof, then I may as well join what seems to be the in thing at present to do in Genealogy.

So, no, I am not related to Charlemagne. I am actually a decendant of Charlemagne’s next door neighbor, ÆThelstan, son of Ecgwynn and
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Thelstan, unlike his pain in the arse snobby noble neighbour, was very poor, and struggled to feed his family and wife Eadflæd. ÆThelstan and Eadflæd married when she became pregnant at age 15 only because they both would of been strung up if they didn’t. Eadflæd, who on the best of days, was a real bitch to her husband, and was forever publicly bossing him around. He resented her a lot for being called, and known about town, as a mummies boy.

They had only two children, a son Otto and a daughter Eadgifu. Otto loved getting drunk, and ended up fathering no less than eight bartard children with eight different chicks of the town. Eadgifu didn’t have many prospects, as she was considered ugly, so her parents decided to sell her into prostitution and count their losses. But, as it turns out, she was actually very good at her job, and before she died at age 26 from the pox, she was actually able to pay for an actual wooden box to be buried in. However, her one son, who’s father is unknown, decided it was a waste of good wood and instead used it to fix his mates broken fence. It is through Eadgifu son that I am a decendant, however I don’t have a clue as to what his name was.

Now, I could go on and on about my wonderfully new claimed ancestors, but like everyone else, I don’t exactly know the next fifteen generations. Although, I’m sure I will find them on Ancestry.com very soon, and have my family tree finish by this time tomorrow! But, then again, if everyone else is claiming the over rated noble arse of a neighbor, I may not find it on Ancestry.com and therefore won’t be able to just copy and paste. Darn it;
better give me till the end of the weekend to find that missing fifteen generations!

So, Mr Chang, who needs Charlemagne as an ancestor when you can have his next door neighbor, or any other nobody, and all you need to do to claim them as your own is simply put it on the internet. Because everything on there has to be right. Right? WRONG!

The invention of the internet has been a blessing and a pain in the arse for Genealogy. On one hand, we can now do a lot of the research of our family’s history without ever leaving our own lounge rooms. But on the other hand, it is a trap of misleading information and is full of errors that a lot of people fail to see, with many taking everything they see and read as gospel.

We see this happening all the time in genealogy, especially with people assuming that they have famous ancestors. But start asking them, HOW they are related to this famous person, and to provide documentation for each and every generation from themself to the person they are claiming they are related to, and they simply can’t. 99% of the time these people can not back up their claims with original primary documented proof.

Now, one would think that it would be a relatively simple task explaining the basic golden rules of Genealogy to these delusional people, and that they would then snap out of it, fully seeing that their claims are simply worthless, wishful thinking. Well, think again! Most will swear, blue blind, that they are correct and believe me nothing at all will convince them other wise.

So, what are these few simple golden rules that some people think that they are exempt from following, seen they are of famous decent?

Well, the first rule has to be, don’t believe everything that is online.
Internet data, like any other published sources should be viewed with caution. All information you find may seem the perfect match to your own family tree, but don’t take anything for granted. Just because a family genealogy or a record transcription has been written down or published does not necessarily mean that it is correct. It is important to not just assume the quality of the research done by others is gospel or even correct. Everyone, from professional genealogists to your own family members, can make mistakes. The internet is full of family histories that people just copied and pasted from other people who have not listed any reference to any reliable sources that are needed to verify their research. Even if a primary or secondary source is given, you still need to verifying everything you find yourself. No proof. No famous ancestor.

2. Start at the beginning. Don’t begin your research at the wrong end of your family tree! You need to start with yourself and work your way back to that “famous” ancestor. It simply doesn’t work starting with anyone other than you.

3. Don’t assume and jump to conclusions. Genealogy is all about facts, not fiction, eg: if an ancestor all of a sudden disappears from the next census don’t just assume they died, as there may be many other reasons for this. They may of just moved into that famous ancestor’s estate they just inherited.

4. Skipping a generation or fifteen. By skipping just one generation you now can’t claim that famous ancestor. You need each generation from yourself to them with documented proof. Skipping even 20 years or 1 ancestor breaks your connection.

5. Keep track of where you find all of your information. Document and cite EVERYTHING. Write down the source for every bit of information you collect. Whether it be from a family member, Web sites, newspapers, archive records, manuscripts, book, photograph, tombstone or any other possible source. Be sure to include the location for the source so that you or other family historians can reference it again if need be. Documenting your research makes verifying your claims so much easier when people like me question your claims of being delusional.

How I’ve only listed five of the most basic, as I can obviously understand that some of you have difficulty even understanding how Genealogy works. So, if you work at mastering these first ones, I may still be able to make an amateur genealogist out of you all yet.

I would like to think, that one day we will all only claim ancestors that we can prove as ours, famous or not. As Genealogy isn’t about how many famous names you can enter or import into your family tree, or about how far back you’ve traced your family. Genealogy to me is preserving our ancestors lives and, well, their life stories. Our ancestors were real people with real lives, and if that’s not a good enough reason to bring you back to reality and stop being delusional, then I for one am so glad that I’m not a part of your family, as fruit loop I hear, is hereditary.

Leanne Ferguson
Dead Man Hunting Genealogy.
Genealogist for Clan Fergus(s)on Society
I specialise in Scottish Genealogy, Surname meanings, and Gaelic Records.

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9 thoughts on “Not another famous ancestor!

  1. rodgermoffet

    A good mate of mine who is an esteemed genealogist described it to me like this: “Genealogy is similar to Ginger Rodgers dancing with Fred Astaire. Fred was good but Ginger did the same thing except in heels and backwards”

    Reply
  2. Alex Forman

    I have had signifigant proof of relation to Robert the Bruce for five months now from a professional expert Genealogist lab, and furthermore he is actually a direct relative, and I am his ancestor (great grandson) of about 18 generations. I never knew that so many people thought that he was their ancestor, and most people are wrong, as I have Genealogy charts with none of their “ancestors” on it.

    Reply
  3. RobSchellinger

    I’ve hit a dead end on my mom’s side in 18th century South Carolina and my dad’s side when they left Germany. Nobody famous that I know of.

    I watched the Smithsonian doco on finding the body of Richard III. They were only able to find one living direct relative. If you had asked me, I would’ve guessed there’s probably several that had branched out over the past few hundred years. The fact that there was only one I found surprising.

    Reply
  4. Mamie10

    Bravo! I have a co-worker that got interested in her ancestry after she saw me working on mine. Within 2 weeks she had taken her story back to Adam…..yes, that’s right….Adam of the Garden Adams. Every time I think of it, I chuckle.

    Reply
  5. Joe

    Let’s say the time since Charlemagne was about 1200 years. Let’s also assume that a generation is, on average, 25 years. That means that, between now and Charlemagne, there have been approximately 1200/25=48 generations. This means that, going back to the time of Charlemagne, we have approximately 2^48 ancestors. This is approximately 2.81*10^14, or 281 trillion. The population of the world in 800 AD is estimated at between 220 and 270 million. This would mean that any European can be statistically expected to be directly descended from Charlemagne through several different routes.

    Reply

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