are we all descended from Charlemagne?

Started by Kitty Munson Cooper on Wednesday, December 28, 2011
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12/28/2011 at 12:33 PM

Perhaps this has been discussed elsewhere on geni but:


"Yale statistician Joseph Chang wrote a 1999 paper entitled “Recent Common Ancestors of All Present-Day Individuals.” If his many pages of equations, theorems, and proofs are to be believed—and even Chang says his figures probably don’t account for all the facts—we could have a most recent common ancestor who lived as recently as A.D. 1200. More recent research and computer simulations have pushed that date back to perhaps A.D. 300, but that’s still a far cry from 60,000 years ago.
Chang’s paper proves something much more surprising. According to his calculations, there was a date in the not-too-distant past at which all individuals were either ancestors of everyone alive today, or ancestors of no one alive today. This date varies depending on what portion of the population you look at, but for Europe, it would seem to be in the neighborhood of A.D. 800—the year Charlemagne, king of the Franks, became emperor of Rome. And because Charlemagne is known to be the ancestor of some people alive today, that must mean he was the ancestor of all people of European descent. Of course, we pick on Charlemagne because he’s so well known, but he doesn’t have any special status as a common ancestor. In reality, about 80% of the people living in Europe at Charlemagne’s time were also ancestors of everyone from the West".

and another online blog post at
discusses how all north europeans are descended from Charlemagne and Mohammed

"But of course, this leads to fun with math. It only takes 15 generations -- about 300 years' time -- to get you to 32,768 ancestors in that generation. 30 generations -- 600 years' time -- and you have 230 ancestors, or 1,073,741,824. Go back to 1 C.E. and you've got 2100 ancestors in that generation, or roughly 1.2 nonillion ancestors.

Of course, that's roughly 500 billion billion times the number of people who have ever lived"

and from

"Now let's go back to someone's claim to be descended from Charlemagne. Charlemagne lived about 1200 years ago, which turns out to be about 40 generations back in most lineages. 240 is a little over one trillion. This means that, if our claimant filled out an ancestry chart back the forty generations to about 800AD, he or she would have to list a trillion names in that fortieth generation back.

If you've been following the math, you'll have noticed a problem. The present total human population of the world is about six billion. Scholars estimate that world population in 800AD was a lot lower, around 300 million. Even if we're generous by a factor of more than three and assume world population in 800 AD was a billion, that would only be one-thousandth of the people needed to fill in the trillion spaces in the ancestry chart. The name of each person alive in 800AD would have to appear, on average, one thousand times in the fortieth generation of our claimant's chart.

If we're more realistic about where people's ancestors lived and how much they crossed geographic barriers, populations of potential ancestors get even smaller. If world population in 800AD was 300 million, most people are probably descended from a pool that was at most a third of the world's population, or about 100 million in 800 AD. With that in mind, the number of potential ancestors is only one ten-thousandth of the number of spaces in the chart forty generations back.

This tremendous shortfall of potential ancestors implies that almost anyone alive and reproducing in our area of geographic interest in 800AD had a high probability of being an ancestor, that persons descended from one geographic area have to have many ancestors in common, and that, among any one person's ancestors, intermarriage of cousins was almost inevitable. The three apparent improbabilities discussed at the beginning of this essay (famous ancestry, extensive cousinhood, and self-cousinhood) now seem like inevitabilities."

12/28/2011 at 7:39 PM

There was a thinning of the herd through disease, mishap and mayhem. Take your figures on compounding Charlemagne and subtract the western population to find the net result of those who didn't make it.

12/29/2011 at 9:36 AM

yes, I am in anyway

I love that idea that we are so closely related in the western world of today!

12/29/2011 at 9:59 AM

ja, är det ej

Private User
12/29/2011 at 11:34 AM

You should all go to Europe and visit Achen in Germany where his coffin is in the Dom. Achen has been beautifully restaured. In the Dom many Kings have been crowned sitting on a seat with marble slabs from the Holy land. You can also visit the termen (hot springs).

1/17/2012 at 8:37 AM

Kitty Munson couldn´t be more right in her essay. I made an excel exercise some time ago in which I worked the geometrical progression:(1) 4 grandfathers, (2) 8 greatgrandfathers (3) 16 Greatgreat grandfathers (4) 32 GGGrandfathers and so on.... When you get to the number (20), (40) those numbers exceed the population of the world by those times. That leads to the conclusion, again speaking of the western world, that somehow one ancestor can be simultaneously your 21st Ggrandfather, 22nd Great Uncle, etc., etc. As it happens in my case where Eleanor of Aquitaine is on my father's side my 23rd Ggrandmother, and on my mother's side 24Th or so. Charlemagne happens to be one of my ggrandfathers on both sides, and so are many celebrities of the past that we all share as ancestors. I believe that is the way it has to be, I am a Venezuelan architect, married to a wonderful colombian wife who is a direct descendant of the Manrique de Lara Spanish family, and with the restrictions and differences there are with the Europeans and North Americans, we somehow have the same lifestyle, our languages are strongly influenced by Latin and Greek, our grammar is very much alike, and our hopes and dreams go towards the same fundamental christian values. By the way and commenting the recommendation of André van Amstel, when I studied in Germany, I went often to Brussels to visit some relatives and more than once I stopped in Aachen (Aix La Chapelle) where our common ancestor is buried. I did´t know it then. I do believe for certain that this new knowledge must make as think how close we are and regardless of the concept that we are attending a fair of ancestors, we at least are very lucky to be able to trace in detail our lines, since our parents, greatgrandparents have cared to register our ancestry. I always tell my sons and daughters that it is not your ancestry and names that confer importance to you, it is our behaviour and attitude what make us worthy of our ancestry. Geni has put all that at our prompt reach and that is priceless.

1/21/2012 at 10:50 AM

We should find a way to present this information to Geni's general audience. Maybe a project or a wiki article. Talk about geometric progression, cousin marriages, and why everyone in Europe must be descended from Charlemagne. It's central to Geni's narrative, isn't it? We're all related ... Seems like this should be a centerpiece of Geni's presentation. We have half a dozen curators who lovet this stuff and who could easily work together to create something.

1/22/2012 at 1:42 AM

hello. My charlemagne ancestors comes partly from a man in sweden called Birger Jarl Magnusson and his great grand mother Ingegerd Knutsdotter and further back it is louis de piox or something. Birger was of royal blood and has both royal ancestors and descendants, the king in sweden is too his descendant aswell, as the royal family of england. even Henry VIII was a descendant of him. åsa

I also have like Åsa the Birger jarl connection and a connection through the danish nobel family Gyldenstierne aswell!

Private User
1/22/2012 at 5:12 AM

Maybe we could present geni in Aachen in a permanent way (for example in a documentation centre) to show how many documented lines we already have established of living decendants. As a start we should be able to organize a meeting or workshop during the coming Geneaology conference in Maastricht in 2012

1/23/2012 at 11:18 PM

A good suggestion 18th cousin @Justin Swanström - any ideas?

One thing I am learning through adding my ancestors to geni and hooking up to the research of others who have gone further back than my cousin and I had gone, is that is is definitely a family braid, not a tree. I am descended from the Rieber (Riber) family more than once - my 7th g-grandmother - @Katrina Helvik Lauritsdtr. Riber - and also the Munk family many times- my 12th g-grandfather - @Henning Munk - and both families are Charlemagne descendants (Ribers are descended from the Munks). And most everyone I meet here from Norway seems to be some kind of cousin whether 6th, 10th, or 16th which perhaps indicates that many of us of Norwegian descent have recent common ancestors or is it just those of us with a gene for loving genealogy and family history?
So @Steve Palmqvist and @Åsa Alderlöf you may have many pathways to Charlemagne - as a pro member it is fun to use the pin to the right of an ancestor's name to see relationships from different ancestors - Steve we are related via @Peder Erlandsson (Bååt) (Charlemagen is his 29th g-grandfather) and Asa we are also related via the Bååt family so many pathways ... but @Andre van Amstel who is not Norwegian, is a mere 28th cousin via @Berengario II di Ivrea, Re d'Italia

1/23/2012 at 11:22 PM

and very well said @Gustavo Ferrero Gómez - my 23rd cousin via @Afonso I Henriques, rei de Portugal

1/26/2012 at 3:55 AM

yes, I know kitty, I prefare this in private, so please send a mail private . , yes, I know we are related in many ways.åsa

8/11/2013 at 12:55 AM

We can all use an occasional reminder:

Researcher uses DNA to demonstrate just how closely everyone on Earth is related to everyone else:

Genes show one big European family:

8/11/2013 at 3:09 AM

Please add those to Chuckie's profile Justin Swanstrom- so worthwhile having there as good reads on the subject

8/11/2013 at 3:11 AM

Sorry - should also have said "Great points initiated by @Kitty"

9/3/2013 at 6:48 PM


1/6/2016 at 6:50 PM

he is still my 33rd great grandfather

Private User
10/3/2016 at 4:49 PM

He's my 28th great grandfather.

10/11/2016 at 7:34 AM

He is my 34th Great Grandfather. Hello cousins!

2/8/2017 at 11:36 PM

Now I was thinking that the guy just got around an awfully lot!

7/22/2018 at 9:41 PM

Yes! I just found my connection to him tonight.. he is my 39th Great grandfather.

Private User
8/26/2018 at 1:00 AM

He is also my 39th great grandfather. He had rather a lot of children. I just wish there was more on the women of the era.

Private User
8/26/2018 at 5:46 AM

He is my 33rd great grandfather, hello everyone.

Private User
8/26/2018 at 8:22 AM

He is also my 39th great grandfather. He had rather a lot of children. I just wish there was more on the women of the era. I am Kim's cousin so he must be my 32nd great grandfather. I guess I had better stop using pop geneology information which says that Charlemagne was William's 11th great grandfather. Kim- we have our work cut out for us.

Private User
3/18/2019 at 12:45 PM

To add to a comment above the more i study from whom I have descended the more I can recognize many similarities in values and choices I'v made, which proves to me at least that that has more to do with the values of our societies than just our heredity. Also the more I go into genealogy the more I realise that we are all related at about the 20th or 21st generation. or so it seems Charlemagne is a GGF around 33rd or 32nd for my maternal line and a few farther back for my Paternal line. The other most important discovery for me was that I've always believed that race was a man made distinction and not a genetic distinction. It is a human conception not a reality. There is no race other than the human race. We look different because of out evolutionary adaptions to our environment the color of our skin is because our bodies over time changed because of the effect of the sun on our bodies and the need to reduce the effect of harmful sun's rays. Thus those of who's evolution took place mainly in northern climes have fair skin and those in equatorial climes are darker with more melatonine to protect them from ultra violet rays. Race is not a reality it is a man made pejorative to allow one group of entitled individuals to claim superiority over another group of individuals.

Private User
5/28/2019 at 11:48 PM

Either way it's still fun seeing him and other royalty listed as a great grandfather, even if it means very little.

9/16/2019 at 11:23 AM

Louis I, The Pious (778 - 840) is my 32nd Great Grandfather. My 7th Great Grandmother Catherine Gaines (Madison) is one of Charlemagne's descendants.

1/15/2021 at 3:53 AM

I have a hard time beleiving we "all" descend from Charlemagne, all I know is that he is my 32nd great grandfather and in over 30 years of ancestry, I have only come across a "handfull" of people that I know share him in their familytree, but then again, I live in Sweden and the interest is not that great to do research so far back.
Marianne Silfverlåås

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