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Thread: So you’re related to Charlemagne? You and every other living European

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    So you’re related to Charlemagne? You and every other living European

    So you’re related to Charlemagne? You and every other living European…
    Adam Rutherford | June 2, 2015 | Guardian

    Sometimes I get asked if I’m related to the great physicist Ernest Rutherford. His discoveries about the atomic nucleus gave birth to physics in the 20th century. He is the father of nuclear physics, with labs and atoms named after him.

    I’m not related to him. I can reveal however that I am a direct descendent of someone of similar greatness: Charlemagne, Carolingian King of the Franks, Holy Roman Emperor, the great European conciliator. Quelle surprise!

    But we are all special, which means none of us are. If you’re vaguely of European extraction, you are also the fruits of Charlemagne’s prodigious loins. A fecund ruler, he sired at least 18 children by motley wives and concubines, including Charles the Younger, Pippin the Hunchback, Drogo of Metz, Hruodrud, Ruodhaid, and not forgetting Hugh.

    This is merely a numbers game. You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. But this ancestral expansion is not borne back ceaselessly into the past. If it were, your family tree when Charlemagne was Le Grand Fromage would harbour more than a billion ancestors – more people than were alive then. What this means is that pedigrees begin to fold in on themselves a few generations back, and become less arboreal, and more web-like. In 2013, geneticists Peter Ralph and Graham Coop showed that all Europeans are descended from exactly the same people. Basically, everyone alive in the ninth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne, Drogo, Pippin and Hugh. Quel dommage.

    With the advent of cheap genetic sequencing, the deep, intimate history of everyone can be revealed. We carry the traces of our ancestors in our cells, and now, for the price of a secondhand copy of Burke’s Peerage, you can have your illustrious past unscrambled. Plenty of companies have emerged that provide this service, such as 23andMe and Ancestry DNA. Spit in a test tube, and they will match parts of your DNA with people from all over the world. The results are beguiling, but don’t necessarily show your geographical origins in the past. They show with whom you have common ancestry today.



    People love discovering that they’re a bit Viking, or a bit Saracen. This is big business nowadays, and some companies spin fabulous yarns about your forebears as marketing devices. I’ve been making a documentary for Radio 4 on what genetics can and can’t tell you about ancestry, and examining some of the more outlandish claims that some ancestry businesses make. One company offered a service whereby it would tell you the precise village location of your genetic ancestry 1,000 years ago. It’s a peculiar thing to claim, as you will have thousands of ancestors 1,000 years ago, and I’m pretty sure they won’t have all come from the same village. Their algorithm clearly needed some work: it placed the genetic origin of one paying customer in the depths of the Humber estuary.

    The truth is that we all are a bit of everything, and we come from all over. If you’re white, you’re a bit Viking. And a bit Celt. And a bit Anglo-Saxon. And a bit Charlemagne. This is not to disparage genetic genealogy and ancestry. Done right, it is an immensely powerful tool for studying families and human migrations. DNA can disclose unknown cousins or parents. Further back, the past becomes dimmer, but not invisible. A dazzling, detailed analysis of the British genome last month scrutinised the history of immigration over the past 10,000 years. Expect many more studies like this from all over the world revealing all manner of dalliances from the foggy past.

    Often genetic ancestry relies on the Y chromosome, which is inherited only via the paternal line, or mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed on from mothers. These make for persuasive – but often simplistic – analyses of ancestry. These two chunks of DNA make up 2% of your genome. But the other 98% has to come from somewhere too, and that is a pick-and-mix from all the rest of your ancestors.

    Each subsequent generation, the contribution from an individual from your lineage becomes less. Professor Mark Thomas from University College London describes this dilution as “homeopathic”. After a few rounds of preparation, homeopathic dilutions contain no molecules of whatever the active ingredient is imagined to be. Genetic inheritance works in a similar way. Half of your genome comes from your mother and half from your father, a quarter from each of your grandparents. But because of the way the DNA deck is shuffled every time a sperm or egg is made, it doesn’t keep halving perfectly as you meander up through your family tree. If you’re fully outbred (which you aren’t), you should have 256 great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. But their genetic contribution to you is not equal. Before long, you will find ancestors from whom you bear no DNA. They are your family, your blood, but their genes have been diluted out of your bloodline. Even though you are directly descended from Charlemagne, you may well carry none of his DNA.

    So what does this all mean? Ancestry is messy. Genetics is messy, but powerful. People are horny. Life is complex. Anyone who says differently is selling something. A secret history is hidden in the mosaics of our genomes, but caveat emptor. If you want to spend your cash on someone in a white coat telling you that you’re descended from Vikings or Saxons or Charlemagne or even Drogo of Metz, help yourself. I, or hundreds of geneticists around the world, will shrug and do it for free, and you don’t even need to spit in a tube.

    The Business of Genetic Ancestry is on BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 26 May at 11am
    http://www.theguardian.com/science/c...dam-rutherford

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    When I followed one of my lines back to Charlemagne, I realized that I probably no longer had his DNA at this point. But it does make my family tree a bit more decorated than if I just settled for my relatively recent hum drum ancestors, ha ha.

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    how do you know you descend from him

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    Quote Originally Posted by crossover View Post
    how do you know you descend from him
    Well, I don't really know. I just followed the Ancestry.com trail starting from a maternal line connected to the second colonial governor of Maryland. It gets massively complex back there. It looks like that branch connects to Charlemagne to two of his sons; Louis and Lothair (separate lines), if I'm remembering it right.

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    He was, afterall, a great European monarch...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Baltimore1937 View Post
    Well, I don't really know. I just followed the Ancestry.com trail starting from a maternal line connected to the second colonial governor of Maryland. It gets massively complex back there. It looks like that branch connects to Charlemagne to two of his sons; Louis and Lothair (separate lines), if I'm remembering it right.
    I found an Ancestry.com trail for my wife to Charlemagne after watching the Valerie Bertinelli episode of "Who do you think you are?" Ms. Bertinelli was a descendant of a Claypoole of New England, as is my wife. The show followed the line through someone's step-mother to Edward the Longshanks, while the true mother's line went to Charlemagne, Hengist, Witte, and ultimately - the Saxon god, Woden?

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    I have a line which traces back to him as my 41x great grandfather via Pepin of Italy that goes through my Hesketh and Towneley ancestors down to my paternal grandmother's mother's family. It's likely much rarer to not be descended from him than it is to be descended from him.

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    I am not convinced that all Europeans descended from Charlemagne or anyone else who had children in the ninth century!

    Because, it's not just a numbers game.
    We must consider the spatial dimension and the social environment.

    I note it, almost systematically, in my genealogy: marriages in the past were done between people with the same social condition and in a geographical sphere limited.

    My 2500 ancestors found since the fifteenth century are in a radius of only 100 kms.
    if I could go up to the ninth century, it would only 300 kms!

    So I descend, probably, hundreds of billion times from a person living in the ninth century and probably 0 times of a person living in the east
    of France in the ninth century.

    My genealogy may seem rather exceptional, but I am sure that tens of millions of Europeans, from the countryside like me, have the same kind of genealogy.
    Ancestors who have not known the rural exodus..
    Y haplogroup: R1b: L21 --> DF13 --> BY145002
    The oldest L21 known are I2457 et I2565 from Stonehenge (Beaker Culture, 2400-1900 BC)

    MTDNA: U4c1
    The oldest U4c1 known are "poz224", Yamnaya culture (2882-2698 BC), and 2 Bell-Beaker in Germany (Karsdorf, 2314-2042 BC)

    Paternal MTDNA: K1b2b
    The oldest K1b2 are Eastern European Mesolithic: Kunda Donkalnis5 (Lithuania), 6000 BC and Meso-Ene Lepenski Vir Lepe28 in Serbia, 5900 BC.
    The oldest K1b2b is Alt-3, Corded-Ware Germany (2500 BC)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tolan View Post
    I am not convinced that all Europeans descended from Charlemagne or anyone else who had children in the ninth century!

    Because, it's not just a numbers game.
    We must consider the spatial dimension and the social environment.

    I note it, almost systematically, in my genealogy: marriages in the past were done between people with the same social condition and in a geographical sphere limited.

    My 2500 ancestors found since the fifteenth century are in a radius of only 100 kms.
    if I could go up to the ninth century, it would only 300 kms!

    So I descend, probably, hundreds of billion times from a person living in the ninth century and probably 0 times of a person living in the east
    of France in the ninth century.

    My genealogy may seem rather exceptional, but I am sure that tens of millions of Europeans, from the countryside like me, have the same kind of genealogy.
    Ancestors who have not known the rural exodus..
    I agree. I do think that they are over simplifying the situation and they don't have concrete proof of all of the conclusions. Luckily, the article doesn't seem to have had the impact it wanted.

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    It's a matter of plausibility. If you can't connect with the Esquire class or higher back in the UK, then you probably can't connect to Charlemagne or William-the-Conqueror, et al. Most of European history has to do with social classes and thus social barriers.
    Last edited by Baltimore1937; 09-04-2015 at 09:58 PM.

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