Thursday, October 15, 2009

Are You a Descendant of Charlemagne?


Thousands of amateur genealogists have contributed to a huge database of family relationships, including genetic analyses. What does this teach us about human populations and evolution?

It may seem like a ridiculous question to ask whether you are a descendant of Charlemagne, who was crowned Emperor on December 25, 800. If you live in Asia or Africa, or your ancestors are from Asia or Africa, then you are probably not a descendant of Charlemagne.

But if any of your ancestors lived in Europe, especially western Europe, then it's almost certain that Charlemagne is one of your ancestors. No matter where your ancestors are from they probably share a common ancestor with everyone else from that region. What's surprising is that many of those common ancestors lived only 1200 years ago.

I'm talking about big regions here, like most of Europe or Asia, or Africa. There's a remarkable amount of inbreeding among human populations at that scale. It's a good example of how evolution works. It's populations that evolve.

With only a few exceptions, species are subdivided into numerous populations with restricted gene flow between them. The sub divisions range from very large group called races, or subspecies, to progressively smaller populations down to local demes or extended families. In small populations, alleles can become rapidly fixed by random genetic drift but the existence of these populations means that it is much more difficult for these alleles to spread to the rest of the species. What we expect to see under those conditions is races or demes that differ substantially in their allele frequencies.

The explosion in amateur genealogy in recent years has highlighted these kinds of population structures in our own species. More and more people are putting their genealogical research on publicly accessible databases such as ancestry.com and many others. The collective result of these, mostly amateur, investigations is remarkable. It means that every one of us can make a family tree.

Well, perhaps not everyone. There's a huge bias towards Caucasians in the genealogy databases. There are many reasons for this bias but we won't go into them in this posting. The important result is that we can all learn something about human populations from this data even if it doesn't include your own ancestors.

The other recent development is the increasing number of people who are having their DNA analyzed and posting the results online. This is much more important since people all over the world are participating and we will soon have a good picture of the genetic structure of today's populations. This complements the family tree data in the same way that gene phylogenies complement the fossil record.

What about Charlemagne? Amateur European genealogists have to do a lot of work to document their ancestors back four or five generations. This takes them to the 1800s (30 years per generation).1 At that point in time they have 16 or 32 direct ancestors and chances are they'll be able to hook up with others who share these ancestors. The farther back you go on your own, the greater the chances that someone will have researched your ancestor.

The idea that many of us are related to Charlemagne is not new. Here's what they say on the Genealogy of Presidents website.

Genealogists have mathematically demonstrated how all Americans of European descent must be related to Charlemagne. In this regard, genealogists have established the exact lines of descent from Charlemagne for 14 U.S. Presidents. Two of these are President George W. Bush and his father President George H.W. Bush. Other Presidents whose descent from Charlemagne have been traced include: George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Gerald Ford. To demonstrate how we are all related, the New England Historical Society has researched the genealogy of Barack Obama and determined that on his mother's side he is related to six other previous presidents: George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, and James Madison. Presumably, if Barack Obama's ancestry on his mother's side could be traced far enough back, he also would be shown to be descended from Charlemagne. Meanwhile, on his father's side, we are all related to President Barack Obama since anthropologists have determined that all modern humans are descended from a common African ancestor.

If you examine the List of United States Presidents by genealogical relationship you'll see that 19 US Presidents are descendants of British royalty and therefore, almost certainly, descendants of Charlemagne. Note that US Presidents are not royalty, they are, to all intents and purposes, ordinary citizens, just like you and me.

It's almost trivial to find connections to the US Presidents if you have ancestors who settled in the British colonies in the 1600s. I'm related to George Bush, for example, through the Shermans of Rhode Island and Connecticut. The good news is that I'm also related to Winston Churchill though the same family.

The amazing thing about genealogy is how closely related everyone is once you start looking. This isn't so amazing to population geneticists.

It's not so hard for North Americans to find European ancestors but many lineages terminate because parish records have not been preserved and because there are no other sources for the ancestors of average citizens. But every now and then you'll stumble upon lineages that have been well researched. Among my own ancestors for example there are half a dozen lineages that reach back to the 1400s and beyond. All I did was find the connections to those lineages.

The history of European nobility is well known. Chances are, you have at least one ancestor who connects to the various Dukes, barons, Counts, and Knights and their spouses in medieval times . A large percentage of the nobility of the European nobility can claim descent from Charlemagne. He had 20 children.

With a little effort, almost everyone of European descent can find the path to Charlemagne. If your ancestors are from England or Scotland your connection often runs through William of Normandy and a bunch of other tourists from France who visited England in 1066. Be careful, though, because there are many incorrect genealogies on the web and you'll need to do some fact checking. I found three different connections to nobility but two of them were figments of someone's overactive imagination. [See My Family and Other Emperors for my relationship to Charelmeange.]

Expert genealogists, as opposed to amateurs, are very frustrated by these errors on the internet. Because of the nature of the databases, it's very hard to remove errors once they start being incorporated into various genealogies. [See An Open Letter from Michael Wood for one example of this problem.]

The fact that all Europeans have several recent common ancestors tells us a lot about the genetic makeup of this population. It is quite homogeneous and there's a lot of inbreeding. It seems to be extremely rare to discover a non-European ancestor once one goes back a few hundred years. (It's much more common in recent times.) I presume this lack of outbreeding also applies to Asians, Africans, and all other groups.

Given that the average generation is 30 years2, if you go back to 800 that's about 40 generations. Potentially you have 240 ancestors. That's more than 1 trillion ancestors alive in 800. I don't know what the population of Europe was in 800 but I strongly suspect it wasn't even close to one trillion people. I suspect it was only about 25 million. It's not surprising that you are related to many of them.

It would be interesting to know how many people who were alive in 800 have direct descendants who are alive today. Maybe there's a way of calculating this?


1. In my case it was my mother who did/does all the work. I just surfed the internet using her data.

2. The actual calculated value for my ancestors is 29 years per generation.

93 comments:

  1. Actually, there are probably quite a few African-Americans and Canadians around who are descended from Charlemagne. Ditto for descendants of slaves in most of Europe. Just about any descendant of slaves who lived in North America or Europe for generations has some European ancestry.

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  2. Romeo Vitelli,
    There are probably a whole lot of "white" people in Europe who have African ancestry and there are definitely a lot of "white" people in North America who have slave ancestry. The phenomenon being discussed probably has less to do with differences in genetic distribution and more to do with differences in the retention of artifacts and documentation.
    Which would people save the document that says they are related to royalty or the one that says they are related to a slave? It's why more people believe they are the reincarnated Cleopatra than someone less famous and undocumented.

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    1. That was a jackass thing to say. I have traced my ancestry back to Charlemagne and I have also saved the few documents I've been able to find of slaves. The reason people in 2013 have multitudes of documentation of their royal lineage is because in 213 when most people couldn't read or write, their leader's family records were first and most important to be preserved. Just as if America could pick only one family's lineage to record it would be Barack Obama's because he's our nobility.

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    2. Where does the Constitution for the united States of America consider the occupant of the office of President as royalty. In light of the constitution, cearly its an impossible condition where public servants for the republic, could possibly hold the people that granted their office as subjects... just the facts

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  3. I would wager that someone with mostly European ancestors would be on average related to somewhat less than half of the people who were alive circa 800 AD and and also circa 500 AD and so on. I think in stable populations, half of the people tend to have their lines die out.

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  4. there isn't a symmetry between african americans and european americans. the median amount of european in african americans is 20%, and 10% are more than half european. though many white americans (especially old settler stock) have native and possibly african ancestors genealogically, the contribution in terms of genetic qanta is low enough that it is hard to detect in most.

    i also am skeptical about larry's assertion that people in europe would have no asian or africa ancestors centuries ago. if we're talking *genealogy*, there's plenty of it. if we're talking genetics, no nearly as much. hundreds of thousands of *moriscos* in spain converted to christianity, and some component of their ancestry was moorish.similarly, large numbers of kipchak turks settled in hungary and melted away into the population after the mongol euruption. polish tatars still exist as an ethnic group, but a large number of turks in eastern europe were slavicized through the expansion of the russian empire during the 17th and 18th centuries.

    britain might be a bit different because it is an island.

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  5. Romeo Vitelli says,

    Actually, there are probably quite a few African-Americans and Canadians around who are descended from Charlemagne. Ditto for descendants of slaves in most of Europe. Just about any descendant of slaves who lived in North America or Europe for generations has some European ancestry.

    What you say is true but it's not particularly relevant. I try very hard to not make the false assumption that all Africans live in North America or Europe.

    The ones that actually live in Africa probably have as few ancestors from other races as the Europeans and Asians. In other words, there is some gene flow but it's quite restricted.

    As for some of the other comments in this thread, nobody, including me, claims that every European, Asian, or African is "pure." Of course there's gene flow from other races. That's why they are races.

    The point I'm making is that Europeans are remarkably interrelated as shown by the genealogical studies.

    Look at the big picture rather than focusing on the exceptions to the rule.

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  6. I believe I understood your point, but I want to restate it:
    “It is probably true that (according to genealogical studies) a large percentage of people with European ancestry will have at least one famous ancestor in common in a few generations.”

    My points are:
    1.The reason why they have the famous ancestor in common is they are equally likely to have a less famous ancestor in common.
    2.Genetic information may have an equal chance of being distributed, even when genealogical information is not equally preserved. (For example, English nobility are more likely to have preserved family trees than English peasants.)
    3.Just because “gene flow” doesn't get documented, or gets recorded incorrectly, doesn't mean it didn't happen. (For example, the number of people of African descent who identify themselves on the basis of their European descent. Assuming they even get a choice. How many people on the entire planet even know who all their ancestors where beyond a handful of generations?)
    4.Every person of African descent need who has one ancestor (no matter how many generations in the past) who has Charlemagne as an ancestor, also has Charlemagne as an ancestor.
    5.Human genes have always moved around a lot. Human beings travel between populations to migrate, trade, and fight wars. No matter how difficult it is for one parent to travel or settle in a new area, it is always easier for their genetic information to be preserved and spread in whatever population the other “more settled” parent is from.

    I'm not missing the big picture because I'm focusing on exceptions. To the contrary, I too am saying that so many people sharing common ancestors is the rule. I'm just pointing out that your choice of ancestor was arbitrary and no matter which ancestor you choose it would not result exclusively to European descendants (providing a complete historical record existed).

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  7. I'm sorry, but the last line from the Genealogy of Presidents quote just bugged me:

    Meanwhile, on his father's side, we are all related to President Barack Obama since anthropologists have determined that all modern humans are descended from a common African ancestor.

    By that logic, we're all related to him on both sides, not just on his father's, because his mother's side, even if it's proximally European, shares the same ultimate African descent.

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    1. We are all related if you use that logic. We are also related to primates and some type of primitive mole. Reversing the thoguht process. Even if Charlemagne had 20 children, there will still another 24,999,900+ people living at his time that weren't directly related to him. Does that mean that mean we are all realted to Attila the Hun as well?

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    2. If Attila has modern descendents, then it's almost certain that we are all not just related, but directly descended from Attila. The same applies to all ancient people living at or before 800CE. If they have descendents living today, we are almost certainly their descendents and they are our 40x (or more) great grandparents.

      This is simply a matter of mathematics and probability - the more descendants a person has, the more likely they are to intermarry with everyone else. At a certain point (and mathematicians have shown that that point is around 1200 years ago for people of European descent, the probability becomes a virtual certainty - that means that everyone living now is related to everyone living then.

      For people in smaller geographical areas, the point at which we share a common ancestor is likely to be closer in time to today, so English people are all almost certainly descended from Alfred the Great.

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  8. Christopher Taylor writes,

    I'm sorry, but the last line from the Genealogy of Presidents quote just bugged me:

    Meanwhile, on his father's side, we are all related to President Barack Obama since anthropologists have determined that all modern humans are descended from a common African ancestor.


    It bugs me too.

    It's an example of the kind of politically correct statement you have to throw in whenever you discuss race. The purpose is to show that you are not a racist.

    However, in this case showing that you are not a racist reveals something else about you. While it's true that we all descend from a population of Africans, it's not necessarily true that all modern humans share a single common ancestor from this group.

    It's possible—even probable provided you go back far enough—but it doesn't necessarily follow from the statement. The author is mixing up populations and individual ancestors.

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  9. dubiosist says,

    My points are:
    1.The reason why they have the famous ancestor in common is they are equally likely to have a less famous ancestor in common.


    My point as well.

    2.Genetic information may have an equal chance of being distributed, even when genealogical information is not equally preserved. (For example, English nobility are more likely to have preserved family trees than English peasants.)

    I also made this point in my posting.

    3.Just because “gene flow” doesn't get documented, or gets recorded incorrectly, doesn't mean it didn't happen.


    That's correct, but there's more to it than that. Everyone who has tried to trace their ancestors in Europe soon realizes that most lineages were geographically restricted. People tended to marry their neighbors and their cousins for hundreds of years. There doesn't seem to be much genes flow in those cases.

    It's only when Europeans began settling in the colonies that we see some mixing.

    4.Every person of African descent need who has one ancestor (no matter how many generations in the past) who has Charlemagne as an ancestor, also has Charlemagne as an ancestor.

    That's correct. I don't know how anyone could have gotten the impression that I disagree with this.

    5.Human genes have always moved around a lot.

    I disagree. My point is the exact opposite. I'm trying to convince you that gene flow in the past was not as great as you might have imagined from looking at modern societies in ethnically diverse parts of the world.

    I'm sorry you didn't appreciate my effort.

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  10. For people with Asian ancestor, this is not about Charlemagne, but rather Genghis Khan :
    http://darwin2009.blog.lemonde.fr/2009/02/03/descendez-vous-de-genghis-khan/

    (this is in French, but the publication referred is in English
    Zerjal et al. Am. J. Hum. Genet., The Genetic legacy of the Mongols, 72:717-721, 2003

    )

    What is more interesting in this case is that this is a study of the direct line (the Y chromosome), and the data suggests that there might have been a "social" selection (the frequency of the Y chromosome is much higher than what would be expected by simple drift).

    "It would be interesting to know how many people who were alive in 800 have direct descendants who are alive today. Maybe there's a way of calculating this?"

    I suspect this is relatively standard in population genetics; this is related to what are called "coalescence models" (see for instance Durret, Probability Models for DNA Sequence Evolution), basically, the number of direct lines decays in time, and the time for all the lines to "coalesce" is proportional to log(N) where N is the population.

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  11. "it's not necessarily true that all modern humans share a single common ancestor from this group. "

    Well, you can not argue with the fact that at some point, all humans descend from two single individuals in direct line (one male and one female); for instance, we are all direct descendants of some rodent living 60 millions years ago. The question is to know when the last common ancestor lived. I do not remember for males (this is not necessary the same time), but for females, the estimate is 150 000 years ago (this is what we call the mitochondrial Eve). Given this estimate, it is almost certain that this Eve was living in some homo sapiens tribe in Africa (actually, we have even clues on which part of Africa).

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    1. Eve would have been 6,000 yrs. ago going according to biblical linage account 2000 yrs before flood and 2000 after flood to christ was born then two thousand yrs since christ birth. Wala 6,000 yrs. More people should used what has been handed down to us, our own written linage and start with that, not Darwin. Makes no since to take a former christian turned atheist, as the foundation for how we got here when we have a written account at hand. It is the history of a people our own cousins, since we are all related, so our own beginnings to boot.

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    2. Why would people do that when we know the Earth isn't 6000 years old? Science is your friend.

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  12. Larry Moran says,

    “It's an example of the kind of politically correct statement you have to throw in whenever you discuss race.“

    My interest isn't in being politically correct. My interest is in being SCIENTIFICLY correct.


    Acceptance of a theory that “races” exist isn't necessary to show that the theory of evolution is valid. Moreover, it would be equally valid to be politically and/or philosophically opposed to “racism” (theories of racial supremacy and the advocation of racial discrimination) if races really did exist.


    There are just too many problems with "race" to cover in a few words, so I suggest you try this thought experiment instead:

    Take all the arguments in favor of the existence of "race" and replace it with the word "God" then make the same switch for arguments in favor the existence of God.

    It might help you sympathize with my dilemma.

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  13. As regards how many people from 800 have left descendants, see this paper which doesn't specifically answer that question but does touch on the general issue:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15457259

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  14. It is difficult to trace one's genealogy. I live in a different country to the one where my maternal and paternal lines originate. I had a genealogist trace my paternal line via marriage records to my fourteen generations from me to a marriage that occurred in 1557. Judging from the names of the brides and their parents, they all originated in the same country and did not include any foreigners let alone people of different race or geographic origin point. I think that makes me 100% European in my paternal line and the lines of the brides that married into it. In this country if you were a Black slave or a convert from Judaism or Islam or some other religion it would be noted on the marriage documents. Slavery of various people of various religions and geographic origins was not uncommon in this country as in Europe as a whole.

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    1. You forget........although i am responding a few yrs in the future from you post, I will still respond, because i think this is a very important point,-- you forget that people change names, and certainly if you are talking about a country, (which you don't name), that has any history to do with spain, moriscos, and muslims who have been living there on and off for more than a thousand years-and denying their heritage out of fear of, expulsion, exclusion, risk of being burned at the stake and many other awful practices, you can tell very little from a name in many cases. For instance in the US, with blacks, they had african names when they were kidnapped, and often given english or dutch or spanish or french names when they were sold, some kept a version of an african name, but as time passed on many if not most of their descendants wound up with names of the predominating ethnicity, whatever that was. There are blacks to-day named Francois, and Antonio, William and Trevor, and Emil, and Dirk, it does not mean they have no african descent. So one has to really look deeply into the context of the names one finds when doing ancestry research. Another reason this becomes important is health issues; there are many hispanics in both North and South America who are descendants of jews and/or muslims who have no traceable documentation for hundreds of years now, and yet, .........they are still indeed the descendants of those ethnic groups out of Spain from long ago. Cancer, and sickle cell anaemia are terrible diseases that cannot be discounted just because someone thinks they had no names of a certain ethnicity.........DNA is helpful to these descendants, and it is vital one keeps an open mind, so that you find out what you *need* to know, not necessarily what you *want* to know.

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  15. Obama's descent from Charlemagne is listed here:
    http://genealogy.wikia.com/wiki/Descendants_of_Charlemagne/Descent_of_President_Obama

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  16. I am descended from Guillaume Pepin of Trois Rivieres in 1640. As a child I was told we are descended from Charlemagne. After researching, I find that my husband is the one descended from Charlemagne through the Plantagenets and Dudleys. No one can even determine the parents of Guillaume in France, although he was well to do in Quebec, a mayor, judge and signiore. I would like to think, as you say, that almost all Europeans have Charlemagne in their history, although it seems to me it could just as easily be my Pepins took the names as serfs or servants. What are your comments on this? Thanks, Paula

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  17. My own genealogy indicates 37 generations back to Charlemagne (x Hildegarde of Souabia). This lineage is from Louis le Débonnaire through the Counts of Flanders into the 12ième c. My great uncle Charles Terlinden (a historian) told us that his second wife's children were also descended from Charlemagne, but through the Ducs de Brabant. And that if you simply keep multiplying by 2 the number of of ascendants in each generation,:"on arrive à un tel nombre de progéniteurs que, comme l'a dit, 'tout roi a un berger parmi ses ancêtres; tout berger a un roi parmi les sien.' "

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  18. This statement should be modified:"If you live in Asia or Africa, or your ancestors are from Asia or Africa, then you are not a descendant of Charlemagne." I am an African-American and descendant of Charlemagne. It is more than plausible that there are more like me!

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  19. Cassandra said - This statement should be modified:"If you live in Asia or Africa, or your ancestors are from Asia or Africa, then you are not a descendant of Charlemagne." I am an African-American and descendant of Charlemagne. It is more than plausible that there are more like me!

    The statement does not need to be modified in the way that you think, perhaps. It should be clarified to indicate if you are now living in Africa or Asia -- you are technically from America, although you are right to call yourself African-American. The author is trying to refer to Africans and Asians who still live in Africa and Asia and who have a history there. Although I'm sure there are Africans and Asians who have mixed with Europeans who visited their continents, and thus could claim the lineage to Charlemagne.

    The point is that people in general tend to settle. However, the author should try to acknowledge this is not always so - - human evolution is also very much about migration, although the aim is to settle wherever possible, it would seem.

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  20. duboisist said...
    5.Human genes have always moved around a lot.

    * * *

    I don't agree in terms of the African American gene pool. There were two important factors.

    A. Between 1820 and 1920 (possibly 1970) you had very little African immigration to the United States. Unlike European ancestry, most African Americans are the descendants of people that have been here prior to 1820.

    B. As a cultural (and, yes, a legal) matter, if you had one African decent parent, you were regarded as African American (or what ever the term was at the time) until about the 1960-70. You basically had to procreate within that community. Sally Hemmings' children are a good example. They were considered "African" even though 7 of their 8 great grandparents (I think) were of European ancestry.

    If a descendant of Charlemagne was born into the African American community in 1750, it is very likely that he, all of his descendants were going to stay in the African American community for the next 200 years.

    Since there are still some cultural biases against interracial relationships, it's likely that, even today, most descendants of Charlemagne, though an African American ancestor will be identified (and self identified) as African American.

    Genetics and genealogy meets culture.

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  21. I have been working on my family bloodline for over 20 years and trace back with hard facts I have traced my bloodline to Charlemagne he is my 37th Great Grandfather.

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  22. From what I have found online so far, my 42nd Great Grandfather was Charlemagne. I just found this connection and haven't been able to research the proof yet but it makes it fun when you find cool connections. Kings, Dukes, Knights.. it's all fun to find.

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  23. Another descendant of Charlemagne here. He seems to have been one of my 38th great grandfathers. In honor of Father's Day I would like to say thanks for the DNA, and the opportunity of lording it (temporarily) over my husband, until he traces his lineage there too!

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  24. I agree that the statements made about the math of all of this (and gene flow) need to be taken into account in your blog. I too would wager that someone with entirely European ancestry would be related to only a percentage (possibly half or less than half) of the people living in 800. First, you've got the fact that entire lines have died out (in wars, plagues, etc. - and you can research this on professional genealogy sites or in any good history book; happens all the time).

    Second, noble families were tremendously interrelated and, from our modern viewpoint, inbred. Thirdly, you can find genealogies for many us that go all the way back - and some lines to Charlemagne and some lines do not. A whole lot of Danes and Swedes for example descend from Rollo and Poppa and only some of them end up intersecting.

    Just as you end up calculating an impossible number for those living in the year 800, you also failed to factor in the thousands (hundreds of thousands) of persons who are known to have died without issue.

    If we are each descended from a very small number of people (and yet in potentia have trillions of ancestors), what is going on? Your conclusion that we are all related to every one of the people living in 800 (and therefore to Charlemagne) is not borne out by actual historical and autosomal genetic analysis. Yes, we are closely related - but as others have pointed out, genes from elsewhere (particularly North Africa and the Middle East) continually flowed into Europe, while Charlemagne's descendants (some of them) could have moved out.

    Many of Charlemagne's lines did die out. To test your hypothesis and come up with a reasonable number about how many relatives one might have from that period (and how inbred some lines are), you might look at the very well known lines of nobility still in Europe and see whether you can find a descendancy from Charlemagne in *all* of them (some of the Danish lines and German lines are Charlemagne-free - and very well researched). This lets you know right away that not everyone is descended from everyone (which seems to be how you establish that everyone is descended from Charlemagne).

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    1. I agree with you about lines that die out, particularly in europe there are scads that died out due to plague, famine, wars, but does that not make it even more plausible that the remaining inhabitants become ever more related, down the generations? You may have many royal lines that are grossly inbred, but you forget about all that unmarital 'out-breeding', and boy did it go on in a big way. Ever hear of "droit a seigneur"? It is simply put, the lord's right to both the spoils of whatever regal title he has, and......the right of first sexual encounter with any females who married on his land. Then you simply can't forget the spoils of war, which as a practice and ritual included rape, (it's called rape and pillaging in the Bible), but that accounts for a whole lot of outbreeding even since the 20th century all over europe, I heard many horror stories from people who were subjected to this, when i was growing up. Likewise, there are whole villages in England and other european towns where after a while everyone is a descendant of some of the many children fathered by the duke or whoever was in charge and took his liberties with the local lassies-in the same way that plantation owners kept up the tradition with their female slaves. So...........yes, there are many many reasons to assume that after 1,200 yrs most of the inhabitants of europe are just going to be related, and have multiple common ancestors. That is really the bottom line on this whole Charlemagne business-it's not about him per se, but about a multitude of commonality in the gene-pool due to proximity limiting your reproductive partner choice, and extra-marital coitus, (for any number of unfortunate reasons)..

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  25. And yes, ultimately, everyone is descended (on both sides) from a common male ancestor who is now believed to have lived around 50,000 years ago, and everyone with blue eyes (or with an ancestor with blue eyes) is descended from one person who lived about 5-8,000 years ago - but that still doesn't allow us to all be descended from one person (out of a world population of 300,000,000 - source Brian Fagan, UCSB, at 800 A.D.).

    Check out the known descendants of Charlemagne sometime and you'll see how it works.

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  26. I for one know that Charlemagne was my 40th generation great grandfather based on my research. I can imagine a lot of people who could say they are somehow related but not as many can say they are direct descendants. If he only had 20 children then its their bloodlines and branches of family that kept going. Needless to say that is a lot. However, he ruled Europe and what of those people in the villages? were they his family? what about the thousands if not millions of people whose family lines kept going? They were not related to King Charlemagne. What about their descendants? It seems ignorant for people to estimate that most people with European heritage can trace back to Charlemagne. He wasn't Adam and Eve....One man in history cannot be the sole person that all European genealogy goes back to. I can see though that ROYALs can claim this as ONLY ROYALS mixed with ROYALS of all countries.....

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  27. In Spain we say that the daughter of my daughter is my granddaughter, but... you can imagine that a lot of these bloodlines get truncated during the centuries. We don't know who slept with whom, during the centuries, but we can have fun SURMISING. As a descendant of the Schenck van Nydeck family, I can pretty well trace my Charlemagne ancestry. I even traced it back to the Kings of old Israel, but I think you have to take this "cum grano salis."

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  28. What a good discussion! My research shows that Charlemagne was my 40th great-grandfather (through Hildegard and Louis I "The Pious"), but I take this with an almost lethal dose of salt. My research also indicates that I come from a long line of younger sons and throwaway daughters... the ones who ended up in minor marriages and lesser professions and thereby -- having failed to inherit the wealth and titles -- ended up unrecorded as they populated most of Europe. The European nobility is made up of first sons (the heirs) and the most prized daughters (the heiresses) of the royalty and nobility. The rest of us have the same bloodlines but lacked the benefit of good timing.

    The issue of inbreeding also can't be stated to strongly. It isn't inbreeding as we may think of it today, but take Charlemagne's offspring as an example. If he had 20 children, let's say 14 of them reproduced. Then, a generation or two later, there are maybe 40 distant cousins with the same claim to fame, so they intermarry. Not close enough to be non-canonical, but close enough to solidify properties and family ties. Carry that phenomenon down the generations, as each family branch breaks up into related "houses." In my case, once the younger sons and throwaway daughters settled into a location, they tended to stay there. The cousins and neighbors and so on intermarried for years. That is why we don't have 2 to the 40th power individual ancestors. In my research, I've found that my sons are something like 16th cousins four times removed from their own father. This is what's fun about genealogy.

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    1. My husband is his own 4th cousin. LUckily for a good tree program.

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  29. I really enjoyed finding this blog first as I investigated this. I too was not surprised to find a direct link from myself and my mother to Charlemagne...the hard work was taking a link back to the Jamestown colonists, who demand very good paperwork for verification (not the Latter Day Saints' database, which is riddled with errors.) I have been "cleaning up" the family tree by scrupulously using only contemporary sources, so it is a provable delight to see so many stories come to life in my own blood. The best thing is the amazing history you learn doing genealogy...I've learned more about the colonization of Jamestown, the Civil War in England, the Anarchy, the White Ship, the Norman Invasion and the history of Europe in the last few years than in all my years of school. It is also interesting to see the "loops" in a tree, when it circles back around between dozens of generations (as it often will if you are related to Ida de Tosny or Richard the Fearless.)

    I'd also like to add that the percentage of recorded family trees is still tiny...even going beyond Charlemagne to near the end of the Roman Empire in Byzantium, I have only about 800 verifiable direct ancestors...a very tiny portion of the 140 trillion couples who make up a full lineage going back just 50 generations.

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  30. I’ve been fascinated by the question of descent for many years, and Charlemagne (like Henry II of England, Byzantine Emperor Alexis Komnenos, and the Prophet Muhammed) are good examples to pick for people with any European heritage because these people had lots of children and grandchildren. This is the crux of the matter because the number of children and grandchildren is a very good indicator of whether the bloodline has become extinct. There’s a threshold, no doubt subject so some regional and historical variation (e.g. during plague eras) over which somebody’s likelihood of having at least one living descendant shoots up to be almost certainty. At any point in history you can divide all those alive at the time into two groups; Group A: Those with any descendants alive today, and Group B: Those with no descendants alive today. There is a point at which the definition of Group A changes to become Group A: Those who are ancestors of EVERYBODY alive today. For the whole World, this “coalescing time” is quite far back as it needs to pull in relatively isolated groups such as the native Australian and Amazonian peoples, as well as tribes such as the Kalahari Bushmen. For those groups of people who can prove that we have European descent going back at least 3 generations, my own feeling is that the probability of descent from Charlemagne, Henry II, Mohammed, Emperor Alexis etc. is as close to certainty as makes no odds, and this is because these people definitely have descendants alive today and these descendants moved about extensively even in the first few generations after their notable ancestor. My own descent is very Anglo Saxon (I am from England) with one Irish and one French great-grandparent, and one Romany grandparent. I may not be able to ever trace the actual line of descent, but given the numbers of generations we’re talking about (somewhere from 30-45), each of my ancestors around at the time of the famous person would have to be my ancestors on rather a large number of branches of my family tree (about 20 on average for 1100 AD, and a few thousand times each going back to Charlemagne...2 to the power 40 is a very large number, after all). This makes the likelihood that Charlemagne is NOT my ancestor less than the chance of me winning the lottery this week..and next week too.

    I have read the objections that some have written that populations didn’t really mix as much as we think, and I disagree that this really has as big an effect as many may think. It only needed a single descendant to move a significant distance (something that Royalty, Soldiers and Sailors very much did) to mix gene lines. I would bet that a very large proportion of Native American and Mexican people are descendants of Charlemagne via the Spanish invaders, and also that the probability of any random European being descended from Genghis Khan is very likely.

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  31. I too have an Issue with thinking everyone decended from Charlemagne,not only did some People die without issue,But ill bet some couldn"t have children at all, some decendants may not have married,,some may have been killed in battle,or wars without having children,not to mention Be headings and hangings,and back then royals didn"t always run around having children with commoners,they kept it in the family so to speak,,baronesses barons, etc, so that would lessen the odds considerably would it not.

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  32. for any randomnly chosen individual, you're entirely correct "Anonymous"...but we're talking about Charlemagne...who had hundreds of known descendants within a couple of hundred years of his death. His genes have been thoroughly mixed with the "commoners" in Europe...you only have to see how many people here claim his as an ancestor to see that. Charlemagne's descendants included non-royals long before even 1000AD...and these people moved about. It really is quite an amazing thing...and difficult to accept...because it all seems so improbable, but the maths shows the entirely opposite is true. The probablity of him NOT being an ancestor is incredibly small...but only IF you come from teh right population...for white Europeans, it's next to impossible that he is NOT your ancestor, but for Australian aborigines, or Kalahari bushmen, or Amazonian natives, the probability may be the opposite.

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  33. I know that this is an old thread, but still this statement caught my eye:

    Charles Paxton Martinj: "As a descendant of the Schenck van Nydeck family"

    Hello Cousin! Turns out we're not all really related to Charlemagne, it's just that everyone's a Schenck!

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  34. About the Charlemange thing yes i am a decendant of Charlemange my mom did a geneology check and it traced back to William the Conqurer. (William of normandy)the one who won the battle of Hastings. and from Williams decendants was Charlamange

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  35. I am a descendant of Charlemagne. I have papers to prove it. Michael DeVille is another descendant of Charlemagne that is well known.

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  36. According to Ancestry.co.uk I have 2 separate descents from Charlemagne,being 37th & 40th great grandson,with many other interesting forbears. It is a fascinating study - but one has to be wary.I am always careful to cross-reference to sources as well as other people's submissions,and to ignore fantasies. Of course,one cannot be sure to have eliminated such.Equally,there are transcrition errors in all types of documentation - writing 3 for 5 for example,but references to proper sources deals with that. Even bearing in mind that the population of Europe was almost halved by the Black Death and that other plagues disturbed the evolution of the peoples,enough remained,even as New people,due to rising to fill the gaps left by the dead,do not appear to have any recorded ancestry :it does not signify. Lack of recording does not mean that something never happened,but it does inhibit paper proof.

    I confess to being uneasy with sweeping mathematical statements.Of course,their logic is simplicity itself, but it cannot statisticise the inbreeding of cousins and of "socialy suitable" folk.The Norman caste kept much to itself in general,for example,in England,for 150-200 years.I accept that perhaps 25-30% of people of European descent may well descend from Big C,but until his DNA is published like a barcode on line for comparison, we shall never know.

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  37. Fred Rapsey,

    the mathematics is only sweeping because the chances of it being otherwise are nigh-on impossible. People, and the nobility included, ddin't bree din isolation and then successfully forbid their descendants from ever mixing with the "common folk". Charlemagne had plenty of illegitimate children, and it's proven that within just a few generations, he had plenty of descendants who were no better off than peasants...it only took a single descendant of the hundreds he had to do this and then the maths is unavoidable. I do understand that it is hard to understand, that it seems to be very unintuitive, but that doesnt take away from the truth of it. The likelihood of him NOT being the ancestor of any randomly chosen white european is smaller than your chance of winning the state lottery two weeks running. I dont state this as dogma, I'm a statistician, I have worked on stuff like this for a long time. Charlemagne lived beyond that point (sometime in the 10th century AD) where every alive before then, who has any descendants at all alive today, is the ancestor of EVERYONE alive today (possible exeptions could be very isolated populations such as the Kalahari bushemn, amazon tribes etc.).

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  38. Are any of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower descendants of Charlemagne? I have a genealogy of Thomas Rogers which shows he was. What about John Howland or John Tilley?
    Lori Lofgren

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    1. It wouldn't surprise anyone. FYI I am a verified direct descendant of Rev. John Youngs, founder of the English settlement of New York, and I am -- if you believe my sources -- a direct descendant of Charlemagne via Hugh Capet, 1st King of the Franks.

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    2. I think that Hugh Capet's line (through his paternal grandmother, right?) is flawed. I have that line, and according to genealogics.org, her father was not the one usually claimed, thus, Hugh Capet was not descended from Charlemagne through that line. (I have other lines back to Charlemagne, though.)

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    3. Yes, John Howland is descended from Charlemagne though Eleanor of Aquitaine and a whole bunch of Williams (of Aquitaine) through Poitou and finally to Hildegard (Charlemagne's granddaughter) and Louis the Pious (Charlemagne's son.)

      If Hugh Capet is related that is another line to Charlemagne.

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    4. Oh, just so you know, the Williams are actually Guillaume (French) and Poitou is also Poitiers.

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    5. Oh, and if you are descended through Howland...hi cousin. :)

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    6. I have to change that. The granddaughter was Rotrude, married to Count Gerard of Auvergne.

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  39. I'm not sure if someone already mentioned this or not, but in regards to royals/nobility only mixing with royals/nobility... in the case of Charlemagne this would most definitely have not been true because of his interesting way of dealing with his daughters. He was determined to keep all of his dominions under his family control and so only let his sons marry - with the belief that by putting his sons in charge of different territories, they would all remain loyal to him. He didn't want to take a chance on any daughters marrying men and producing heirs who would remain loyal to their other family branch.... so he forbade his daughters to marry and made them live their lives in his own castle. He did however, let them take whichever lovers they chose and raised all the children born from those liasons in his castle as well. Girls being much the same, whatever the century, I am sure many of those lovers and children were not so much noble stock as the medieval version of the Cabana boy or stable worker.... lol.
    Signed, yet another Great Granddaughter of Charlemagne

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    1. Hello, I am too Charlemagne's great grand daughter (just saying).

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  40. Me too Cousin! I think I got that gene! This was so cool to know about, I do not think the daughters minded it too much. They were well educated and enjoyed so much more freedom than their contemporaries who were either wives or nuns. When you go back just a bit from Great X (however many, I havn't counted yet) grandfather Charlemagne, you find his father was not a king at all, he was a majordomo who just sort of took over the kingdom when the kingly line got too fat, inbred and lazy to rule.

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  41. If you can believe my sources, I just traced my family back to my 31st great grandfather Hugh Capet (939-996), first King of the Franks. Hugh Capet was the great-great-great-great-great grandson of Charlemagne through Pepin of Italy. So, assuming my sources are correct, I am a direct descendant of Charlemagne.

    Bow before me, you commoners.

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  42. I have at least six lines back to Charlemagne. Since I have a son with Autism and I am sure it is genetic, I am questioning all the interbreeding. Sometimes, they even went against the church doctrine and married anyway! (Which of course, is the reason I am questioning if there is a link with autism. I just wish someone would research this subject.)

    I am going to go back and check my Rev. Yonges' line from Southampton, Long Island, not sure I have that line proven back very far.

    As to the person who asked about Mayflower connection, I am sure that there probably are several. I have three ancestors who were on the Mayflower(Richard Warren, Stephen and Constantine Hopkins. Stephen Hopkins was also an early Jamestown settler returned to England and came back on the Mayflower.)

    Additionally, anyone who is a descendant of Anne Marbury Hutchinson and Mary Barrett Dyer,the former a great Quaker heroine, the latter a Quaker martyr also is a descendant of Charlemagne, too.

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  43. "Meanwhile, ON HIS FATHER'S SIDE, we are all related to President Barack Obama since anthropologists have determined that all modern humans are descended from a common African ancestor."

    ?????
    Helllooo from Africa! Please tell me that y'all are not so blinded by your own Political Correctness that in an (otherwise enjoyable) article about statistical genealogy, you don't notice when your foot is so far into your mouth that your brain has been turned off?!

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  44. I am coming late to the party here but I have recently traced my ancestry back to guess who, Charlemagne. And hundreds of other Norman and Viking ancestors, kings, queens and others. I am also related to King David, Solomon and Abraham through a single ancestor who married into the Iceni tribe. Oh Bouddicca is also my greatgrandmother from way back. I am also related to Bush, Clinton and Obama who has Irish ancestry, and John Kerry. I am wondering how well these things are documented but seems to me they are pretty well documented as genealogist have been putting these trees on the internet for the last twenty years or so.

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    1. Hello cousin. I am also a descendant of Bouddicca. LOL. I have traced my line back on several lines. I am also apparently descended from William of Normandy as well as a very ancient Hungarian king. It is a labor of love for me to trace the ancestry of my family. I have learned so much about the history of Europe & early America. It's like reading a riveting novel in which I get to play a very minor role. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to trace our roots back into the ancient past must acknowledge it is due to good record keeping. I hope all of the hours I am putting in to tracing my roots will make it easier for future generations. Those of us who take on the role of family historian/genealogist will be leaving our legacy which will survive for future generations.

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  45. I found this link http://charlemagne.org/ui155.htm. It has lineages for many of the gateway ancestors- gateway being early colonists. This may be helpful to many people.

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  46. Also for the first families of Virginia
    http://espl-genealogy.org/MilesFiles/index.htm

    There might be material for the Mayflower families also.

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  47. Many of us are chasing our paternal, "one-name" lineages. That changes things dramatically. In the Sinclair DNA study - http://www.StClairResearch.com - we've found we have 12 distinct lineages who don't share a common ancestor for at least 2,000 years. This rules out Charlemagne as our common ancestor. It also rules out William the Conqueror, which our cherished genealogies, written in the 1700s, tell us. I strongly recommend those doing this kind of genealogy work take a DNA test and then (a must) take a series of SNP tests to learn more about your connections. I think we'll find that there are far fewer direct paternal descendants of Charlemagne.

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    1. I don't think that research means what you think it means. Different parts of your genome will coalesce at different times. Just because some of them date back to a common ancestor 2,000 years ago doesn't mean that other parts of your genome do the same.

      However, the real problem is that it's almost impossible for you to have any significant amount of your genome that was identical to that of Charlemagne. Genetics isn't going to prove or disprove that Charlemagne (or William) was your ancestor.

      The other problem is that nobody ever said that we are all "paternal" descendants of Charlemagne. That's obviously absurd.

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    2. Hiwhen you have DNA E1B1 are not the descendants of CHarlemagne are lying.

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    3. Hi,when you have DNA R1b1 are not the descendants of CHarlemagne are lying.

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    4. There are no direct male descendants of Charlemagne anywhere in the world; his direct Y-Chromosome line died out nearly a thousand years ago. All descendants of Charlemagne are indirect and thus unrelated to y-chromosome research, and this indirect descent is what includes all Europeans.

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    5. Charlemagne's direct male line died out nearly a thousand years ago. Nobody claims direct descent from him, that is impossible. But indirectly, through female lines, all Europeans are descended from him.

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    6. It doesn't matter whether the descendants of Charlemagne were make or female. If you descend from them, then it's direct descent. Since when does a woman make a line "indirect"? Do you think that you are "indirectly" descended from your maternal grandparents but "directly" descended from your paternal grandparents?

      Have you mentioned this to your mother's parents? :-)

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    7. "Indirect," in terms of being invisible to Y-Chromosome research (or Mitochondrial, for that matter. There is no Carolingian Y-Chromosome to find, so Steve's comment, as you said, doesn't mean what he think it means.

      Indeed, in terms of genealogy, it doesn't matter if nobody has any genes in common with Charlemagne due to the genetic shuffle; he's still their ancestor.

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  48. I believe I am a direct decedent. I am also the 39th great granddaughter of Eardwulf of Northumbria (King) who married an illegitimate daughter of Charlemagne. Eardwulf's line is the Bradley (my mother's maiden name) line who arrived in the 1600s to USA. They are lesser royalty, and sought to make their fortune in Connecticut, and subsequently Albany NY, then Chicago area. My Great Uncle is Joseph P. Bradley (Supreme Court Justice). I am related to several US presidents. My father's side is HOLMES / PACKARD/ NEWHALL... Massachusetts early settlers and sea captains. If you need DNA, I also have my brothers that can contribute. See: http://home.comcast.net/~michael_b_60031/ancestry/d1.htm

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  49. My father is half French, half Belgian. My mother is quarter Dutch and Belgian. And yet about 10 generations back, they share common ancestors. My father descends from this couple's 2 daughters and my mother, from their son. Even more, 2 generations later, my father descends from the grand'son of that son. So, I descend from this one couple through 5 different lines.
    Incidentally, this couple goes back to the dukes of Brabant, which are descended from Charlemagne.

    It doesn't take long to find common ancestors.

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  50. Mr. Moran, I was fascinated by your text, as well as by the number of the repliers descended from Charlemagne.I guess I'm coming to the party tad late, but I'm still interested, what can be said about the people from Eastern regions of Europe, e.g. from the Balkans (where I am from), regarding the potential Charlemagne lineage?

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  51. I see a contradiction.It says"If your ancestors are from asia or Africa then you probably arent a descendant of Charlemagne." But further down it says "we are all related to Obama since anthropologists have determined that all modern humans are descended from a common African ancestor." If the latter statement is true then everyone is related to Charlemagne through that common African descendant. However, I dont believe we all came from a common African descendant because if that was true wouldnt we all be one race?I think how the races originated is more complicated than that and anthropogists cant figure it out.

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    1. All human beings share a direct male ancestor about 50,000 years ago, whatever their racial heritage since then. We are one species, after all.

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    2. The common male ancestor lived a lot more than 50,000 years ago.

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    3. Granted, I was just saying that number off the top of my head. It's between 237,000 and 581,000 since the most recent direct male ancestor of all men, and the most recent direct female ancestor was about 200,000 years ago. Doesn't take away from the main point. And anyways, the most recent common ancestor of everybody, in indirect terms, is way, way more recent than 50,000 years ago; between 2 and 4 thousand years, by some estimates.

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  52. I started working on my family tree three years ago and my family still thinks I'm crazy when I say we are descendants of Charlemagne. My father is a Stewart and we were always told as children that Mary, Queen of Scots was our ancestor. This was a great post, I'm glad I found it.

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  53. I'm also related to Charlemagne..but because of my powell and cheever bloodline I'm related to every royal family ever,and ones that are today. I really enjoyed this post..

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  55. My point after reading all the post Is he (Charlemagne)is he the only person in Europe living. I know and understand how his family tree grew more and more with each generation. But at the same time so did every one else that was living at the time most people of the era had huge families.But with all these thousands of people no one is related or linked back to any other person.It's just bit confusing how everyone in the modern world could be linked back to Charlemagne..

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  56. Oh by the way I am so descendant of Charlemagne ..LOL forgot to mention thIS on the last comment..

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  57. Charlemagne, had descendants. Louis The Bearded, Louis The Springer-same person. Got his nickname by jumping out of a castle watchtower. Louis the Springer (German: Ludwig the Springer), sometimes called Louis the Jumper,[1] also known as Louis of Schauenburg (1042 – 1123 in Reinhardsbrunn) was a German nobleman. He was the ruling count of Thuringia from 1056 until his death. Little is known about him, although he is mentioned in many legends. They were the last of the Carolingian Empire, Descendants of 1st Empire, or ancient Rome. This is his family tree of direct descendants. http://www.thecolefamily.com/hobby/springer.htm They moved to Sweden and eventually settled in Crane Hook On The Delaware, there is a book by the same title documenting my family's early days in what was to become the United States Of America, Infarct Delaware is the first state of the Union. The Cole family is related through Ezekial, However William was the eldest. From William to George Springer formerly of Arcade, NY prior to his passing he was the Oldest Hereditary Heir to the Carolingian Empire. I am Georges Great Grandson. The Royal bloodline dictates that to be Emperor you must be within 3 Generations of the Patriarch, and I am and have claimed the Dominion., This is how the Hapsburgs, had also come to power prior to their decline following WWII. I am proud to claim Imperial Rome, by hereditary birthright. You my friend are also correct in that almost all Europeans are somehow related to me.

    Jeremy Sharer

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  59. Me and my Dad have French and Italian an ect back ground and we found out we have kings, queens, a saint, dukes, barons, counts, princesses, a lord and much, much more. And King Charlemagne is my 31 great grandfather and my Dad's 30 or 31great grandfather.

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  60. I found out that Charmlemagne is my 42nd great grandfather via ancestry.com

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  61. I also found, through my fathers mother, lots of lines to Charlemagne, Alfred the Great and William of Normandy. Nobody else in my family cares btw, but I like to think we are all related and that such famous people are part of my family :)

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    1. Ina: I found the same thing, as I commented elsewhere, along with the Plantagenets, Duncan of Scotland (the king killed by MacBeth), and various Vikings-turned-Scottish / Orkney nobles. Chances are you've got Duncan and the other Scots in there somewhere too with William as an ancestor. :)

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  62. All I care about is that musically, I am a descendant of Johann Sebastian Bach. I studied with a student of the great Leschetizky, who studied with Carl Czerny, who studied with Beethoven, who studied with Haydn, who studied with J.C. Bach, who studied with the MASTER, Johann Sebastian Bach.

    Yeah, me and about 9 billion other pianists.

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  63. According to medieval records...which are notoriously tricky, since so many nobles wanted to claim descent from Charlemagne, et. al....I am descended from Charlemagne, along with Alfred the Great. But then they also claim I'm descended from a Late Roman family named Ferreolus, who lived in Gaul and supposedly were the ancestors of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I don't suppose there's ever any way of proving any of this one way or another, but it is fun to think about.

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  64. I actually just found out the I am Charlemagne's 30th great-granddaughter. I couldn't believe how many European royals I am related to.

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  65. Thanks for this post. I first want to say your post has helped me deal with shedding my kingdom robes and returning to life as a serf. I, a Warren, traced my dads line all the way straight up to Hamelin de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. This is where the name ended as for males. His grandfather was King Fulk. Now I stopped there and went up Isabelle's line directly from her father to trace the origin of the name and it ended on William Warren, who's father was a St. Martin.. from there is went straight to Charlemagne having only turned up the woman's side once at Isabel. The path was well trodded. But most of the stops I made a long the way out of curiosity were not as well explored as the path I went down. This makes me believe something is very wrong as it would seem more likely that I would of ended up on a farm in Scotland, which would of been the case maybe had I followed the other lines. Anyway, I don't feel all that special anymore being a great-grandson of Charlemagne. I'm opting to believe royalty wanted to boast of this because being on the "Dragon Tree", Charlemagne offered hope by his quest of giving it fruit with the Seed of David. Therefore, they all wanted to claim a path to him. I have to believe, even as sad as it is, it's all a farce and the records are just wrong. Maybe this was the argument Hamelin Plantagenet made that prompted Thomas Becket to call him a liar. In anycase, I learned a lot of history in a short time, but will look not much further into this. Thank you for this post. I suppose I can give up on finding out who spent my inheritance. :D Humbly yours, Matthew De'CrossRoads

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