Thursday, September 09, 2010

Family Trees

I've always been interested in tracing my family tree. My parents have tried with some success, but in the pre-internet age (which obviously covers every single generation before mine), records are obviously spotty and you get a lot of dead ends. In two hundred years, it's likely that my descendents…well, not mine, I'll never get to have any…but my family's descendents will be able to look me up with relative ease. There'll be a lot more information too.

From personal experience, once you go back seven or eight generations, the best you can realistically expect to find today is names and dates.

With today's tech that doesn't apply…and even though I seriously doubt it'll still be online in 200 years, this blog is one hell of a personal time capsule.

Imagine that for a second. Your Great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren won't just be able to look up your date of birth and know what your profession was, but they'll actually be able to get to know you a little. I'm picturing those great (x5) grandchildren jumping on the 2210 version of the internet Wayback Machine and looking through my Facebook profile, reading my blog…and this is a real kick in the pants…listening to my podcast.

Sure, it's highly unlikely that Facebook or blogger or any of my other online 'identities' will still be around in 200 years, but it's possible. Fifteen years ago, 1.44mb of storage on a disc was considered a lot. Today, I have over a terabyte of storage (over a million megabytes) which was completely unthinkable just fifteen years ago in 1995. In 2210 maybe you'll have the equivalent of a USB memory stick that can store the entirety of today's internet. If that's the case, I can easily see historians wanting to keep everything.

Can you imagine what that would be like?

But do you know what really blows my mind about genealogy? The numbers involved.

The simple fact that we're here today means that we can pick any point in history and we'll have an ancestor who lived at that time. The jaw-dropping numbers come in when you start to work out how big your extended family is.

For example, if you start at the year 0000 AD, and assume that each of your ancestors had at least two children who reached child bearing age and reproduced and also had two children…that means that each of us currently has nearly 30,000 living family members who descended from that original ancestor. Given that to get a real snapshot of your complete family tree you'd have to go back hundreds of thousands of years, it's likely that just about everyone on the planet shares a common ancestor.

If you don't find that mindblowing, you haven't understood it properly…which is understandable, I've come to expect that from your side of the family.


1 comment:

MC Etcher said...

All true, and very cool.

I usually imagine that I am descended from a long line of farmers, miners, and army infantry. I have no illusions about grand heritage.