August 13th, 2013

We’re All Kings and Queens – According to Charlemagne!

I’m not sure if you know who Charlemagne is, I vaguely remember him being some French King I learned about in history class. That was a long time ago however, so I had to do a bit of research to rekindle my memories of why he was important enough to teach me about! Turns out he was the King of France, the King of Italy, and the first Holy Roman Emperor. It is particularly interesting that Charlemagne was known as the “Father of Europe”. Under his rule Western Europe became united for the first time since the age of the Roman Empire. Both the German and French monarchies considered themselves to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire, but more interestingly, you and I could be related to him as well!

Incredibly enough it was a statistician, not a well known genealogist who established this theory. Joseph Chang was said statistician, and he conducted his genealogical research from Yale University. Chang approaches genealogy as a mathematical problem, and it is not unreasonable to do so. Think about it. When we trace our ancestry we draw a line to each of our parents, and then from each of our parents a line to each of their parents and so on. That’s why it is called lineage by the way! If you trace your lineage back to forty or so generations, we get a generation of a trillion ancestors. That’s thousands of time more people than were in existence during the tine of Charlemagne!

This is quite a paradox, and the only way around it is to assume our relatives are not independent of each other. In other words, when you trace your ancestry back, you inevitably loop back to a common ancestor. This creates a type of genealogical chart that resembles a web-like tapestry rather than the typical fan or tree shaped chart. It incorporates much more than first-cousin genealogy, more like 21st century cousin! Joseph Chang published a paper back in 1999 that analysed the mathematical aspect of such a genealogical tapestry.

Chang’s Conclusion

After analyzing the mathematics behind his genealogical tapestry, Chang concluded that; if you study the ancestry of a living population, a common ancestor will eventually be found for all of them. It might sound like the “Adam and Eve” theory, where we all eventually trace back to two original progenitors of the human race, but it’s more than a theory. Chang proved mathematically that if you trace back through time, sooner or later some of our genealogical paths will cross and end at a single person. The further back in time you go, the more lines will cross, and you encounter more ancestors in common. Then something amazing happens. Chang discovered a particular point at which, in his words; “all individuals who have any descendants among the present-day individuals are actually ancestors of all present-day individuals.”

This is not theory remember, this is mathematical calculation applied to genealogy. Chang’s work got the attention of the Atlantic, a popular news magazine. A journalist by the name of Steven Olson studied Chang’s work, and to see if his “theory” rang true, applied it to a particular group of people living in Europe. He later wrote an article that revealed some very interesting things! Olson discovered, using Chang’s mathematics that; the group of living people in Europe, except for recent immigrants, was a person who lived relatively recently, at least in the last 600 years.

Chang’s work was later taken up by two geneticists, Graham Coop of the University of California at Davis and Peter Ralph of the University of Southern California, who decided to analyze the ancestry of Europe. Their results not only confirmed Chang’s mathematical approach but enriched it! They found that a significant number of people on opposite sides of the continent share a large number of DNA segments.

The number is so high, in fact, that it’s statistically impossible for them to have received them all from a single ancestor. Rather, they would have had to share many ancestors, and concluded, as Chang had, that “everyone who lived a thousand years ago who has any descendants today is an ancestor of every European.” That not only includes Charlemagne, but a number of regal and royal personalities from across Europe.

If you thought genealogy might be boring, hopefully this information has changed your mind. Why not begin tracing your family tree today, and see if you can connect to Charlemagne, Marie Antoinette, Admiral Nelson, or even Jack the Ripper! Download one of our Free Printable Family Tree Charts, and see where the trail leads you!