Pinpoint ancestry in genealogy: and why it doesn’t matter
I am greatly annoyed at the gall of some people – let me relate to you a simple story.
Once there was a heathen, he had been a student of science for many years and had a working knowledge of genetics. Our heathen then met many other heathens once he discovered the wonders of Heathenry and Asatru, but he was quite dumbfounded you see, as many of his new acquaintances claimed that they were directly descended from one or another great Viking-Age hero like Egil Skallagrimson, the Hundingsbane, and Svein Forkbeard. Our heathen cried “What absolute tosh!” To which was replied “How dare you! We know this as fact!” Our heathen replied “Proof – where is it?” The answer mumbled back was “Eeeerrrrrmmmmm… my mommy told me”.
But you see, this is not a heathen-specific issue. I have seen this happen amongst other Pagans as well – all talk and no proof (genetic or otherwise) to back up their grandiose claims of extreme and in their eyes, important, heritage.
What annoys me even more, is that people just blindly accept the claims that these individuals make, to which I say “Tosh! Question everything or fall for anything!”.
It is a conundrum, that is for sure, that so many people can claim their direct inheritance as far back as the Viking Age (+- 750 – 1000 A.C.E.) or to the pagans of pre-Christian Europe (+- 350 A.C.E.) considering that the most trustworthy of written genealogical records in Europe only go as far back as the early 16th century – 400 years after the Christianization of Iceland and a millennia after the conversion of mainland Europe. Even the genealogies in the Norse sagas, most notably Ynglingasaga, (see http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/NORWAY.htm for a dissertation on why it is an invalid genealogical account) are not entirely trustworthy and present many a problem for one researching their possible past. The only existing Viking-related genealogy that can prove of some help is that of Rollo of Normandy (see http://www.geni.com/people/Gangu-Hr%C3%B3lfr-Rollo-Ragnvaldsson-de-Normandie/2915061 for a modern project to determine his living ancestors).
“But Karl, how can you say this? I know in my heart-of-hearts that I am related to X, Y and Z” you may scream whilst cradling yourself in the fetal position. Nay, not all hope is lost my friend, but the sword cuts both ways and indiscriminately.
Let us use that great pagan-murdering zealot Charlemagne (Charles the Great) as an example, as it turns out, dear reader (especially after reading the following http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2009/10/are-you-descedant-of-charlemagne.html ) that you may be related to that famous person from the past, but it does not matter half as much as you think it does – since given that the average generation is 30 years (2), if you go back to the year 800, that leaves about 40 generations. Potentially you have 2(40) ancestors. That’s more than 1 trillion POTENTIAL ancestors alive in 800 ( not counting a phenomenon called “pedigree collapse”) – meaning you may be related to Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Charlemagne, Genghis Kahn, a boatload of Vikings, Celts, Jutes, Lombards, etc. – LIKE EVERYONE ELSE WITH EU ANCESTRY. The population of Europe in 800 was about 25 million so it’s not surprising that you are related to many famous figures who struggled to control their libido, mainly through unintentional interbreeding (also see; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15457259 and http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/02/16/146981369/the-charlemagne-riddle to make sense of the mind-numbing mathematics involved, as well as an explanation of “pedigree collapse”).
So the sad part is yes, you may be directly related to X, Y and Z, but so are the rest of us.
So if you want to be truly unique, then the mathematical distinction would be to not have X, Y or Z as a direct ancestor. You would actually be the luckiest guy in the room if you can say “Guess what? You can shake my family tree till everybody falls out, and I’m the only one here who is NOT RELATED to X, Y and Z”.
The ONLY way that you can claim any special kind of relation to any historic figure, is to have a genetic test done if that ancestors DNA is actually still extant (extremely unlikely) so you’ll have to settle for genetic anthropology (general area where your ancestors originated from) even that won’t give you a straight answer half of the time but it is a good start.
See the following articles for more information on genetic testing for ancestry…
If you don’t have concrete proof, then it didn’t happen!
This begs a far more important question;
Why would you want to be distantly related to someone from the far past?
To be better than your fellow Heathen / Pagan?
To show some kind of misguided superiority over your kin?
What do you have to gain?
I will leave you to ponder these.