The New York Times recently published a story about about President Obama’s likely descent from the first recorded slave in the North American colonies. The keyword here is "likely." The claim is lacking definitive proof and simply says, "evidence strongly suggests.” In fact, this isn't news. If you go back enough years, everyone is descended from most everyone.
After all, you have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on in a straight mathematical progression. If you go back 300 years, you have about 4,000 ancestors, assuming no duplicates. If you go back a thousand years, and each of us theoretically has more than a trillion direct ancestors, again assuming no duplicates. Of course, all of us have duplicates.
Now add in an unknown number of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and you have perhaps hundreds of thousands of relatives. There's bound to be somebody famous or infamous in a group of that size!
This latest claim about Obama's possible ancestry is similar to the claim that some people have royal ancestry. Indeed, most of us do have multiple kings and queens in our family trees, although proving the connections may be a bit of a challenge.
Here is a quote from Steve Olson, published in Atlantic Magazine in 2002:
"The idea that virtually anyone with a European ancestor descends from English royalty seems bizarre, but it accords perfectly with some recent research done by Joseph Chang, a statistician at Yale University. The mathematics of our ancestry is exceedingly complex, because the number of our ancestors increases exponentially, not linearly. These numbers are manageable in the first few generations—two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents—but they quickly spiral out of control. Go back forty generations, or about a thousand years, and each of us theoretically has more than a trillion direct ancestors—a figure that far exceeds the total number of human beings who have ever lived."
Here is another quote from the same article:
"Whenever a reliable family tree was available, almost anyone of European ancestry turned out to be descended from English royalty—even such unlikely people as Hermann Göring and Daniel Boone. Humphrys began to think that such descent was the rule rather than the exception in the Western world, even if relatively few people had the documents to demonstrate it."
You can read the full article at http://goo.gl/lU1B9.
In short, I would suggest that we not pay attention to these stories that "some famous person is descended from some other famous person" or that "one famous person is distantly related to some other famous person." There's nothing unusual about that. In fact, we ALL are related to and descended from famous people. The challenge is to find YOUR connections to others.
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