Treebeard's Stumper Answer
Too Many Ancestors
I have two parents, and so do they. That gives me four grandparents and eight great-grandparents. Details get fuzzy after that, but I'm sure my family tree keeps doubling every generation: 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and so on. After 10 generations, I'm back to the founding of our country with 1,024 of my ancestors on the loose. After 20 generations, I have over a million ancestors. After 30 generations, I have a billion ancestors. But that's far more than the (then) population of the world! That's impossible! How does my family tree narrow down?
Everyone has two parents, but we soon find too many ancestors! The answer must be that our ancestors are not all distinct. I might be descended from more than one child of a couple. The same person may turn up twice in my family tree by remarrying. People do sometimes marry "distant cousins," and I'm sure this was more common in the past when people were more tied to small town life with limited populations and social opportunities. There must be many such duplications to prune down every family tree. Perhaps we really are all related?
I think we're all cousins on this bus...
Ancestors pile up quickly as we go back in time. Figuring 25 years per generation (20 or even 15 years might be a better guess as we go further back), I get:
Generation My Ancestors Date Me - 1950 My parents 2 1925 My grandparents 4 1900 3rd generation 8 1875 4th generation 16 1850 5th generation 32 1825 6th generation 64 1800 7th generation 128 1775 8th generation 256 1750 9th generation 1,024 1725 10th generation 2,048 1700 11th generation 4,096 1675 12th generation 8,192 1650 13th generation 16,384 1625 14th generation 32,768 1600 15th generation 65,536 1575 16th generation 131,072 1550 17th generation 262,144 1525 18th generation 524,288 1500 19th generation 1,048,576 1475 20th generation 2,097,152 1450 21th generation 4,194,304 1425 22th generation 8,388,608 1400 23th generation 16,777,216 1375 24th generation 33,554,432 1350 25th generation 67,108,864 1325 26th generation 134,217,728 1300 27th generation 268,435,456 1275 28th generation 536,870,912 1250 29th generation 1,073,741,824 1225
Graybear gives this elegant answer:We will find, as we fill in our trees, that we are soon able to trace back to a particular ancestor by more than one path. A friend of mine has traced her geneology back to Pocahontas in three different ways. In other words, our ancestors are cousins. If you go back far enough, each path will connect through Noah and his wife, and we will realize we are all (distant) cousins. This is one of the reasons that people who claim to believe the Biblical account of the flood have no excuse for prejudism. (The other reason is the second greatest commandment - Love your neighbor as yourself.) When we entered the space-age, we became aware that we are all neighbors on little blue-green island in the Milky Way. Maybe we should invite all of our neighbors for a world party...
Whether we trace our roots back to Adam or Lucy, I think the results are the same. Every duplication prunes the tree. In the end, we're all cousins, and our family trees will show it if we look close enough.
The first story I ever read by R.A. Lafferty was his "Nine Hundred Grandmothers" in his 1970 ACE story collection of the same name. Nobody tells a tale like R.A. Lafferty! In this story, explorers find the planet Proavitus where the inhabitants are immortal. But they get smaller and smaller as they grow older, and mostly sleep. They live on shelves in the basement:Smaller and older the creatures had been getting... The wren-sized grandmother talked and laughed and nodded that there were those far older than herself, and in doing so she nodded herself back to sleep... What was that sound - too slight, too scattered to be a noise? It was like a billion microbes laughing. It was the hilarity of little things waking up to a high time...Imagine all your ancestors in one place, and you can ask them questions! Read this story to find what the oldest grandmother says! There's a web site dedicated to R.A. Lafferty's great stories. Many of his books are now out of print, but try an author search at Amazon.Com.
This stumper has been discussed on the Web, and there are many geneology sites:
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