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My Genealogy leads to Robert The Bruce!

(or William the Conqueror, Charlemagne or Genghis Khan)

If you're in the UK and a fan of genealogy, you'll probably have been watching the latest series of 'Who Do You Think You Are'. In the second episode, intrepid explorer and adventure Bear Grylls was hugely excited to find out that he was a descendant of Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland over 700 years ago. But is this really as remarkable as Bear was led to believe?

Doing the Genealogy Maths...

Now I'm the first to admit that maths and numbers isn't my forte. However, it's worth looking at the numbers of descendants of someone who lived so long ago. Robert the Bruce was born in 1274, and died in 1329. Let's call it 700 years ago as a nice round number. Let's also assume that, on average, a "generation" is around 25 years. So that means that there are 28 generations between someone living now, in 2023, and someone alive 700 years ago. Or putting it another way, someone living 700 years ago would be your 28 times great grandparent.

Let's also assume that families had four children on average each generation. We know that families were much bigger in the past, but also that many children didn't survive to adulthood and have children of their own. So your distant ancestor in 1300 had four children, each of those children had four children, and so on through the generations until we get to you - or Bear Grylls - in 2023.

Just how many people are we talking about? 28 generations to the power of 4 is 614,656. That's not far off the entire population of Liverpool. If we think 4 is a conservative estimate of children per generation and push the number to 5 children per generation, the number of descendants rockets to 1.7 million, more than the population of Barcelona. With such huge numbers involved, it would be a surprise if someone with strong roots in the UK didn't have some sort of notable or royal ancestor. But that doesn't make as good telly, does it?

Proving a Genealogical Link to Royalty

Although the numbers alone are probably proof that you will have some royal or famous ancestor somewhere back along the family tree. Proving it though is a whole other matter. Census records and birth, marriage and death records will get you back to the 1830s or 1840s. You might get lucky and get back into the 17th or 18th century with wills or property records. But further back than that and you're going to struggle, unless you have already proved a link to a prominent aristocratic family with a documented family history.

Many Ancestry trees will have people linked into all sorts of celebrities and royalty - and often these are not proven links. Copying other people's Ancestry trees can easily lead you off down a wrong alley, not just in the middle ages, but in more recent history too when the "click and collect" Ancestry hints without stopping to look at the documents or check the logic - is someone born in Glasgow in 1880 really married and having children in Australia in 1890?

We'd all love to think we were descended from one of history's most famous people. But don't get carried away with the idea and forget the basics of checking and corroborating your research.

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