I saw a little advertisement graphic from Ancestry.com today. It listed the breakdown of exactly how many ancestors a person has at each generational step. For example, each human mathematically has 32 Great-great-great grandparents. The graphic carried the formula out to 10 Great grandparents, at which point, the total was 4,098 ancestors per human.
Just as everything involving humanity, the math might dictate one thing, but Reality almost always diverges from the path. One factor in everyone's ancestry eventually is "pedigree collapse". Instead of consisting of all unique individuals, a tree may have multiple places occupied by a single individual. This typically happens when the parents of an ancestor are related to each other (sometimes unbeknownst to themselves). Since we are ALL eventually related to each other, our ancestor total does not keep growing exponentially.
Pedigree collapse is not my focus, although I do know of at least one case, within five generations in my tree. This is actually fairly common.
After reading the Ancestry graphic, I engaged in a little genealogical memory exercise. I decided to try and recall as many of my 32 Third Great grandparents as I could. I knew going into this exercise that I would not be able to list them all. I was able to come up with 22 names, several almost stumped me, and one is actually questionable as to whether she belongs.
It was no surprise that 16 of those names represent all of my 3rd Greats from my paternal line. That line has been carefully tended, and centrally located in one geographic area for generations, creating a living repository from their descendants. We know each other, and our shared heritage.
Over the past 10 years or so, research into my maternal line has brought with it stories, rumors, and mysteries that cast doubt on my written pedigree. With DNA testing, I have been able to confirm the veracity of those stories, and now have 10 Third Great grandparents whose names I know only from my recent record searches and online family trees built by people I do not know.
DNA testing affected my paternal line as well, but in different ways. My grandmother and her siblings have searched for years for a SOLID link to the genealogy of their paternal grandfather John Patrick. We have submitted both autosomal and YDNA tests from the remaining siblings. (Autosomal tests for all ancestry. Y-DNA tests a male along his direct paternal line). So far, no immediate close matches have resulted.
As with pedigree collapse, finding a different name than your own tied to your YDNA is fairly common. It's really to be expected. People change their names, children are born and raised by families other than their genetic parents, and yes, sometimes people lie about paternity. In actuality, patrilineal naming patterns are a recent practice as world history goes, and mostly Anglocentric. If your ancestry takes you back to anywhere outside of the United Kingdom, your Family Name will have any number of origins. Even with the many varied reasons behind such differences, people are often upset by these changes to the family narrative.
Ethnic heritage is another factor of DNA testing that can cause consternation. My own ethnicity estimate includes the surprise slivers of heritage from Africa and Polynesia. For me, this is fascinating. I have a friend however, who is still trying to process the fact that her ethnic heritage is different than the 75% Irish, 25% Italian she has embraced as a hard and fast truth all her life.
Of the 22 Third Greats I was able to recall by name, there are only 14 who I could tell you anything about. And for half of those, I barely know anything, though I'm sure resources are available to me. only about 8 are familiar enough to me that they come close to feeling real. They are the Known. So many are silently Unknown.
John Bastin Thomas David Evans
Ann Jaggers Priscilla Merriman
Frances Potter (connection unsure) William Cox
William Morgan White Rebecca Fox
Eliza Maria Sawyer Jonathan C. Harrington, Sr.
Jens Hansen Julia Ann Clark
Maren Kirsten Nielsdatter John B. Patrick
Michel Rasmusen Charles Hulet
Elle Sorensdatter Mary Lawson
Ambrose H. Pierce Charles Morris
Elizabeth McCorkle Ann Ellwood
George W. WIlliams Isaac Garner Shepherd
Catherine Bolinger Josephine Nielsen
James Fulton Porterfield Alma Cox
Orpha C Donnell Emily Page
Mary E. ________
Finally, for all of my disappointment that I know little about so many, I am dearly aware that genealogy for so many opens doors to secrets and mysteries that may not be welcome. I have encountered this myself, as I try and connect to the living cousins who never knew about our shared lineage. For some this is a search tied to years of doubt, fear, and anxiety. I still believe that for most, Truth can be healing, and DNA can help in that process.