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Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Real Line on Royalty

Connecting to a royal line has always been either a stated or unstated goal of genealogy. Historically, aspiring kings and queens turned to hired genealogists to provide them with the legitimacy of nobility or royalty. The reality is that a legitimate connection to a royal or noble line involves the same careful, documented and substantiated genealogical research as any other ancestral connection. As I have said and written many times, kings and queens and those claiming noble birth had children just like all of your ancestors and because of inexorable pedigree collapse, you just might have an ancestor with royal or noble blood.

First of all some definitions. Guess what royalty is one of the vaguest terms you can use in genealogy. In essence, it simply means that you have "royal blood" which generally accepted a being able to trace your ancestry to a king or queen. Nobility, on the other hand, is even vaguer. A noble is anyone of a group of people belonging to the noble class in a country, especially those with a hereditary or honorary title. Proving that you have a noble ancestor may be somehow satisfying or increase your sense of self-importance, but unless your research shows that you are actually entitled to inherit the title, it is pretty meaningless.

There are long-running genealogy-oriented websites that promote the idea of being related to famous people, including royalty. For some, this may be a major motivation for doing genealogical research. In fact, there are several programs online that use family tree programs to show how you may be related to royalty. In my experience, these connections are more wishful thinking than well-documented reality.

If having a king, queen or noble in your family line seems important to you, go for it. But spend the time to do a careful, accurate and documented job of discovering your ancestry. Don't just assume that your assumptions, hopes or family traditions are correct.

The question of the existence of a royal or noble ancestral connection is actually almost inevitable. You have mathematics in your favor. Back in January 1977, the Ensign magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints featured some prominent genealogists in the Church answering questions about coats of arms and nobility in an article entitled, "I Have a Question." Before you buy into the idea of royal ancestors, you need to read through the answers to these two questions:
1. I just got a brochure from a company offering to find out—for a fee—if my family is entitled to a coat of arms. Are these coats of arms authentic? The answer to this question was provided by Henry E. Christiansen, temple ordinance coordinator for the Genealogical Department of the Church
2. “In my family records I found an interesting genealogy that ties us into one line of European royalty going through Charlemagne back to one Antenor, King of the Cimmerians, then to Judah, and thence through Abraham and Noah to Adam. Can you tell me how reliable lineages such as these are?” The answer to this question was provided by Val D. Greenwood, temple ordinance specialist for the Genealogical Department of the Church. By the way, most of my motivation to learn about genealogy came from a book written by Val D. Greenwood. Here is the reference to the book.
Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1990.

Here is a quote from Val D. Greenwood's answer to the above question that pretty well tells us all that should we do enough research, we will always find a royal line.
If a person goes back only ten generations (approximately 300 years) he has 1,024 different direct lines of ancestry (barring the possibility that he runs into some of the same lines more than once). Another ten generations (middle fourteenth century) would give him 1,048,576 ancestral lines. The next generation would have 2,097,152, and the one after that 4,194,304. This would take the average pedigree into the last half of the twelfth century—still about seven generations later than William the Conquerer and about fourteen generations later than Charlemagne (born in A.D. 742). 
To double the ancestral lines fourteen more times would give us more than 68.7 billion potential lines (34 generations of progenitors). This, of course, is ridiculous, because there have not been that many people in the entire history of the world, let alone in Europe in the eighth century. Obviously we all run into some ancestral lines more than once—some we run into many times—in that many generations, and, with those kinds of odds, it is relatively safe to suppose that if our ancestry is European we are probably descended from Charlemagne and from every other eighth century couple who have living descendants today.
His reference to running into some of the same lines more than once is what I refer to as "pedigree collapse." Pedigree collapse is defined as follows from the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki:
In genealogy, pedigree collapse describes how reproduction between two individuals who knowingly or unknowingly share an ancestor causes the family tree of their offspring to be smaller than it would otherwise be. The term was coined by Robert C. Gunderson, first supervisor of the Genealogical Society of Utah's Royalty Identification Unit. Pedigree collapse is also known by the German term Ahnenschwund which roughly translates as "loss of lineage".
Technically, this is also a good argument against the idea of distinct genetic ethnologies in DNA testing, but that is another issue for another post.

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