Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Family Tree Looks Lop-sided

It would not be possible for me to record all my ancestors back 23 generations, because the number of ancestors doubles every generation - 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 gr-grandparents. Going back 23 generations everyone has an astounding 8,388,608 ancestors.

Now, here is why my family tree is lop-sided.

After my 3rd gr-grandparents, I lose the trail on half my ancestors. Another two generations and I've lost the trail on half of what remains. So the known portions of my family tree begins to narrow, until there is a particular branch, my 9th gr-grandmother in 1577, who is connected to ordained men with degrees from Cambridge, who are in turn connected to landed gentry, on up to minor nobility and knights.

At that point, the relatives are people whose lives are recorded in wills, deeds, church records, etc. That portion of my family tree blossoms out into a massive branch, nearly rivaling the main trunk.

Which brings us to the year 1215 and a meadow called Runnymede, by the river Thames, where King John capitulated to the demands of his churchmen and barons and signed a document known as Magna Carta. Among other things, this guaranteed the right to a trial by one's peers, and is regarded as a landmark in the struggle for equality and human rights.

So my family tree now looks more like a lop-sided hour-glass, but I'm fine with that. Perhaps, among all those names, is an ancestor who was on that field with the barons and King John.

It boggles my mind to consider the possibility, but - my ancestors are witnesses of history. They came over the Oregon Trail in 1852. They fought in the Civil War (on both sides). They fought in the Revolution of 1776. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in frail sailing ships in 1632 for the freedom to practice their Puritan faith.

It is humbling and challenging to feel the weight of their courage, commitment and conscience. How might I be a worthy descendant of their blood?

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