One you. Two parents. Four grandparents. The numbers expand exponentially as you climb further back into the family tree. An army of ancestors stand behind each of us. Without any one of them we would not exist.
As family historians, we're charged with the imperative of identifying them and remembering their lives.
A Numbers Game With Meaning
This isn't merely a numbers game of no consequence.
Sure, when you climb back each generation the numbers balloon and become quite daunting. For example, eight generations ago you had 128 fifth great-grandparents. If you add these 128 people with the six descending generations down to your parents, you have 254 people. That's enough folks to fill an average-sized movie theater (what I wouldn't give to see that movie!).
Don't let the numbers fool you. These were people - singular individuals - who lived, breathed, achieved, struggled, loved, and died. In a sense they're each a chapter in the story of our existence.
The genealogist may tally numbers, but the family historian recounts the life lived.
Remember Tim Urban's excellent article, Your Family: Past, Present, and Future, on his Wait, But Why blog? He poignantly observed that the past eight generations, which "only represents the last 200 years of your ancestry, contains 127 romantic relationships, each involving at least one critical sex moment and most of them probably involving deep love. You’re the product of 127 romances, just in the last 200 years alone."
When you put it that way, it's clear that we're really researching a great ancestral romance novel.
Tallying Deep Love
After reading Linda Stufflebean's Ancestor Count for 2017 on her Empty Branches on the Family Tree blog, I decided I too wanted to begin tallying the ancestors I've traced. I plan to make this an annual update for the blog, so we can check in on both the numbers game and see what stories I've uncovered about the many lives (and deep love) that led to me.
As of the opening month of 2017, I've traced just 29% of my ancestors in the past ten generations. I know who all of my third great-grandparents are, but the work begins in the previous generation where nine ancestors remain unknown to me.
At this generation, it's difficult and slow-going work. Records are limited and collective memory is dim. Two years ago, I knew 53 of my fourth great-grandparents. Two years later, I've uncovered the identities of just two more people. Two. Perhaps that number will climb in the year ahead.
How about you? What's your ancestor tally? Let's see where we all stand in twelve months.