(I just want to say, right off the bat, that I hate 'politically correct' crap so you'll have to forgive me if I break any of the 'rules' in this little article. That junk is for people whose sphincters are clamped a wee bit too tight anyway).
In the late 1800s in the southern United States there was a lot of discrimination going on against Negro people. Even though slavery was abolished after the Civil War there was still a huge system of segregation going on that carried on right into the 1960s. Most White (Caucasian) people thought there was no problem in denying a Black person access to a lot of the businesses, schools, churches, jobs and facilities of the communities.
But even this wasn't enough for the White people. Among them a question arouse as to the exact definition of a Black person. After all, no one comes from a specific lineage of only one ethnicity or race. We all have a diverse mix of ancestors. We may have a Scottish grandfather, an Asian great-grandmother or a Native American mother. It really bothered the racist Whites that a person with some amount of Negro 'blood' in their lineage might be using one of their water fountains or was being served apple pie in a 'Whites Only' cafe.
So in the late 1800s these idiots got together and decided to pass a law. It was decided that any person with at least 1/16th Negro heritage was to be classified as a Negro -- a Black person. Or as we say now days, an African American. (I hate that one. Most are no more African than I am European. It's pretentious but that's not what my little story here is about).
So now if some White guy had a hate on for some person using 'Whites Only' stuff and thought he could prove that that person had at least one great-great-grandparent who was a Negro, he could cause trouble for that person with the law. It absolutely didn't matter how 'white' that Black person's skin might be. In some cases the person being persecuted actually had a lighter skin color than the racist one harassing them. The issue was that somewhere in their recent past, one of their ancestors was a Black person so therefore they too were a Black person so they could be discriminated against by the consenting public.
I learnt about this particular snippet of history years ago and though I had a pretty good grasp of the significance of the situation, it wasn't until I set some time aside and studied it more closely that I saw how incredibly crazy and weird it all is. I know it was a different time and all that but it is still so very sad that so many people were so incredibly stupid during that hurtful period.
I discovered some interesting details. I thought you might be interested in seeing them...
Let's talk about the family tree a little.
At this exact point in time, if you are reading this, you are the biological common denominator of your entire! family tree. (Well, not just you; we must include any 'full-blood' brother(s) and sister(s) you might have). A 'tree' metaphor looks at lineage from ground up and outwards (like many branches of a tree spread out from a single trunk) whereas a 'pyramid' metaphor looks at it from top - down (a single point growing wider and wider as you move downwards from the peak). They're both the same thing, just looking at it all from 2 different angles, that's all. I prefer to look at it all as a 'pyramid' rather than a 'tree'.
At the very peak of the pyramid is you!
In order for you to come into being on this Earth a female and a male human being had to get together at some point during their lives and do the wild-monkey-dance with each other. Nine months later you showed up. These two people are called your biological Mom and Dad. They are on the next level down the pyramid from you. Your dad and mom are also, what is commonly considered as, 1 'generation' away from you.
Now, your mom also had a mom and dad. And your dad, in turn, had his own mom and dad too. These 4 people are called your Grandparents and they are on the next level down of the pyramid, just below your mom and dad. So you have a pair of grandparents on your mom's side of the family and a pair on your dad's side of the family. They are 2 generations away from you.
(groannnnnnnn... Yeah yeah... I know... Sorry for the dumb talk here but it's pretty important to get these concepts well seated in your mind considering where we will end up with this story...)
Now, your one grandmother had a mom and dad and your other grandmother also had her own mom and dad. Same thing for each of your grandfathers. Each one had their own mom and dad. These people are on the next level down from your grandparents and they are called your Great-grandparents. There are 8 of them in total; 4 great-grandfathers, 4 great-grandmothers. Each of them unique and each of them 3 generations away from you.
We can easily start to see the pattern. It's actually what is called an 'exponential' increase in people as we move from one level to the next.
Let's do one more round.
Every one of your great-grandparents each had their own mom and dad. So 8 grand-parents with 2 biological parents each is 8 X 2 or 16! So on the next level down from your great-grandparents you will find that you have 16 Great-great-grandparents!! 8 great-great-grandfathers and 8 great-great-grandmothers! These relatives are 4 generations away from you. (The room's starting to get a little crowded huh?)
I drew a little diagram of all this so you can visualize it more easily:
Please realize that every single person here is an individual, each one a different person. No matter if they died young or prematurely or disappeared one day and nobody knew what became of them, at some point during each of their lives they mated with another human being of the opposite sex and a baby was born as the result. They and that baby are directly related to you. They are your 'blood'.
Refer to my little drawing. I'm sure you noticed the great-great-grandmother 5th from the right side of the group of great-great-grandparents. She's a Negro lady. She is 1 of the 16 people in that row.
Remember the stupid, racist '1/16th' law up above?
Sit back and look at the drawing. If every other person there, besides her, happened to be from only a Caucasian lineage, those crazy Americans would still have considered you a Negro because she is in the mix. That fact would have won you the privilege of being discriminated against in untold ways for all your life. She would have been born about 100 or more years before you would have been. Pretty wild hey?
Now, stretch your imagination just a little more and imagine my drawing in reverse, to gain even more perspective on the situation. Imagine everyone there being a Black person except the lady. Imagine her now White, surrounded by a family tree of Negro people. In this case there is still a 1/16th mixture of races but I highly doubt that the Whites of that era would have considered a Black person, 'White', because they had one great-great-grandmother who was White in their lineage. It was a time of very discriminating discrimination, you might say.
And you might notice I made a female person Black and not a male. I'm sure you can figure out why. Even though I'm sure that hormones prevailed during those times and the odd White woman and Black man had a little passion together, by far it was usually the other way around. And it usually wasn't much of a consensual thing on the part of the poor Black lady either. Countless individuals alive in North America today are the result of violent rapes of oppressed Blacks by White men who could get away with it because no one cared.
History is written by the victors. Sometimes I laugh at how so watered-down society has made history when it looks back on the reasons why the southern population was so opposed to getting rid of slavery and indentured servitude. We're taught that it was mostly for economic reasons but I think the unending source of unquestioned sex for all those creepy White guys with whatever poor Black girl they managed to get where they wanted, had a lot to do with it too. Even the 'great' Thomas Jefferson got away with it. (No, I'm not serious about the 'great' part).
I didn't want to discuss these sorts of things in this text but I can't help but let them creep in. We are all here because of what previous generations did or didn't do. There's no way to avoid it. Life is ruled by random chance. Just put faces of your own family lineage on the little characters I drew up there and realize how incredible it is that those very people all happened to mate in some way or other and that union produced an offspring between every two of them, all the way through time, until finally you were born. Do you realize the odds of that happening twice in a row? Do you realize the odds of it happening even once? It's astronomically huge.
So far we've only looked at 5 generations (counting you). Not much at all.
Understand that if any one person in that little pyramid had NOT, for whatever reason, hooked up with their particular partner you would not be here today! You would not exist at all.
'Well sure I would,' you say, 'I'd just have a different father or great-grandmother or someone.'
To become exactly 'you' a certain mix of chromosomes, genes and DNA had to come together. They are the result of a very specific recipe of every person in your lineage before you. Change even one person and it throws out the whole history of the timeline and your unique, specific chemical makeup. If your grand-father didn't meet your grand-mother on a particular day but instead met a different person, all the events that would have happened will now be different and you will not come into existence. One of the ingredients that make up exactly what is 'you' has just disappeared. At that second, you will never exist. But as you can probably see, because you ARE here and you DO exist there is no way to ever prove it happened any other way.
I want to take you exploring a bit further now.
I get a kick out of those guys you talk to or see in interviews on TV or wherever that say things like:
'My great-great-grandfather did [such and such]' or 'My great-great-grandmother was [this famous person]'.
And if the history is favorable and complimentary he'll proudly imply that he's just as gifted or great because of his direct association to this ancestor.
But he has SIXTEEN great-great-grandparents!
Which of his EIGHT great-great-grandfathers is he talking about?
Which of his EIGHT great-great-grandmothers is he so proud of?
People forget about or don't realize the pyramid effect of everyone's lineage. Imagine if he had all 16 of those people, once again youthful and strong, in a room with him, all of them sitting around a big table as he sat there and bragged to an interviewer about just one of them. Can you imagine what the other 15 would be thinking about him as they listened to him virtually ignore them and suggest that his whole makeup is based on a single person in that room who makes up only 6% of the total group? Probably a couple of them would be thinking of giving up sex, going into a monastery or nunnery, or pinching off some tubes to teach him a lesson.
And what if 5 of his great-great-grandparents were total nut jobs? What if they were certifiable, the rest borderline average, and that one person he was bragging about was the only sharp one in the bunch? Does he really think that this one smart ancestor's small portion of the total contribution to his chemical makeup would negate that of 15 others?
It's fun to think of the angles. And remember, we've only looked at 4 other generations. 4 generations is hardly anything at all in the bigger picture.
How do you calculate a 'generation'?
Well, basically when a boy or girl is born they are the proud recipients of their very own 'generation'. And every other boy and girl being born around the same period of years, along side them throughout the world, are part of this same generation. This generation of young kids grows up and gets older. Usually by the time they are in their late teens or 20s Nature's system of assuring its continuation has kicked in. Soon all they can think about, it seems, is finding someone of the opposite sex to interact with. Chemicals inside their brains (and a few external ones added from time to time for greater effect) control mostly all of it. Men are driven to find women to share a life with and women do the same. There is much to say about this whole process but that's totally another story for another time. Suffices to say that eventually and usually a male and a female end up together in some fashion and a little bit of baby producing, wild-monkey-dancing goes on.
Soon many of the people that share that same generation are having babies, all over the world. And it all tends to happen to them when they are about 20 to 40 years of age, on average. Their new babies instantly become part of the next generation. The previous one has now become moms and dads. The cycle repeats and their kids grow up and do exactly like they did around that same age. These grown up kids in turn have kids of their own and these new little tykes become still another generation. The 'boys' and 'girls' mentioned in the paragraph before this one are now grandparents and belong to an era 2 generations older than these little tykes.
So generations have always been, and continue to be, about 20 to 40 years apart from each other.
The mean average between them works out to be somewhere around 25 years, give or take a margin of error of 10 years on each side of this.
Let's say all your grandparents were born sometime around 1900, they would have produced kids (your future mom and dad) sometime around 1925. (Remember the give or take of roughly 10 years or so). Your mom and dad, this next generation, would have grown up, eventually interacted with each other, and you would have been born sometime around 1950, on average. You grow up and find a mate and soon you have a kid of your own sometime around 1975. Your kid grows up, finds someone and they have a kid sometime around 2000. And so the century cycle repeats itself.
Of course there is all kinds of overlap with different generations starting, peaking and ending all at the same time but all things considered, it works out to roughly 4 generations to every century or 100 years.
Notice the interesting safeguards Nature puts into the system to prevent unhealthy or unbeneficial hookups. A young girl in her 20's will be creeped out at the thought of having a relationship with someone 25 years older than herself (in most cases). Especially in modern times. And though a few young guys would probably be only too happy to delve into relationships with a woman 25 to 30 years older than themselves most don't think so and Nature also makes sure a woman's body kind of 'turns off' in the baby making capacity around this age, coincidentally.
But let's get back to the numbers.
We saw that the increase in relatives you have as you go back in time to each successive generation expands exponentially. 2 parents from 4 grandparents from 8 great-grandparents from 16 great-great-grandparents. Since we know that generations are roughly 25 years apart from each other and your great-great-grandparents are 4 generations from you, if you are a 35 to 55 year old person reading this right now, your great-great-grandparents (all 16! of them) were born around roughly 1880 or so, give or take some years on each side.
2, 4, 8, 16...
Can you guess how many Great-great-great-grandparents you have? (3 greats in a row).
Yup. 32! - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - And they're 5 generations away from you.
And you have 64 Great-great-great-great-grandparents - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 generations away from you.
128 Great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 7 generations back in time.
256 individual Great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents! - - - - - - That's 8 generations in the past!
Imagine having them all over for Christmas turkey?
'Hey GregO!!! Great-great-great-great-great-great-granddad is chilly! Can you go out to the truck and get his sweater?'
'Sure Great-great-great-great-great-great-grandma-number-87. But which frickin truck? Which frickin sweater? Which fricken old man do I give it to?
'Don't you sass me boy!! I mean it! Or I'll have my tubes tied and that'll be the end of you!'
I made a crazy chart (a little lower down this page) for you. It's pretty wild. You should you spend a little time and walk through it with me:
This chart describes the family tree or family pyramid of any typical person, in this case I'm choosing a girl born around the year 2000.
Let's call her 'Jane'.
There are 4 columns in this chart. One is really wide (Column 1) listing numbers that get bigger and bigger as you move down the rows. (In fact they get REALLY big!) This column is followed by 3 other skinnier ones.
- Column #3 defines a certain century or period of years. Notice the 1st row, column 3. It says the years '1900 - 2000'. That row represents the 20th century or the 1900s. Each successive row goes back roughly a 100 years in time.
I made little notes in the empty space in column #1 listing various world events that were going on at various periods in history, as the dates go further and further into the past, down the list. Just little references to remind us how far back in time we're at as we move down the rows.
- Column #2 gives you a running total of how many generations away you are from Jane, born around the year 2000. Look at the first row again. It's telling us that by 1900 (a hundred years before she was born) 4 generations of people will share in being directly responsible for her eventual birth. Go down one line to row 2. This line is telling us that by the beginning of 1800, (1800 - 1900), 8 generations of people are now her direct ancestors. (The previous 4 is included in this new total).
- Stay on that row. Notice in column #1 you see the number 256. Remember a few paragraphs ago, when we saw that the 8th generation back from us consisted of 256 great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents? That's what column 1 tells us. It shows us how many actual great-great-great-great-great-[whatever]-grandparents, at that particular period of time in the past, would have to mate and produce a child to ensure that eventually Jane comes into the world.
For example, in 1800, 256 people on Earth need to pair up and each couple have a kid. These 128 kids all need to grow up, find each other, mate and have kids of their own. And then these 64 kids need to do the same, and so on, until it reduces down to Jane's mom and dad having her. Every single one of these people is her direct ancestor and a little piece of every single one of them will be a part of her gene makeup or her 'blood' when she is finally born!
- Quickly move down the list, towards the bottom, traveling into the past. Those numbers get pretty exceptionally big don't they? Did I screw up my calculations or something? No. That's the law of exponential numbers. They actually become pretty meaningless and unfathomable for any human being, pretty quickly, early on. That's why I added column #4. All it is, is a rough representation of the huge number in column 1 but written in the form of 'scientific notation'. Look at column 1, 3rd row. See 4096. See how this quantity roughly equals 4.E+03 or 4 X 103 or 4000. (Column 4 roughly rounds off the number and tells you how many zeros to add to it. Scientists use this technique to list incredibly huge numbers where accuracy is impossible or not too critical.).
Anyway. That's my chart. Let's dive into it a bit.
Notice row 5. It's the one around the time Christopher Columbus was out there 'discovering' America, around 1500 A.D. If Jane could make a simple list of every name of every ancestor directly responsible for her birth (mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, other grandma...on&on...each great-[etc.]-grandparent), for each successive generation back, she'd discover that by that date of about 1500, she will have listed 20 generations of people and the number of names on it would be about a million!
That may be hard to believe but it is true! Think about my very first example, at the beginning of this article. My little drawing. All that this other chart stuff is, is just a logical, mathematical extension of that.
Now I want you to notice row 9. It is the only row in the entire chart that isn't in an equal sequence with the others. Notice it only lists 25 years (1 generation) from 1175 - 1200 and not the usual 100 years between the one above it and below it like the others. I did this for a reason.
Right now, on the Earth, there are approximately 6 to 6.5 billion people. This is the most number of human beings that have lived at one time on this planet, ever. By looking at the numbers in column 1 of row 9 and in row 8 (the one above it) we see they are on each side of 6 billion. They're roughly 4 to 8.5 billion. This means that at some time between 1175 and 1200, 6 billion people on the Earth were required to pair up and have a kid to continue the perpetual process of generation after generation reducing right down to Jane eventually being born.
This is an impossibility because around 1190 or so, there were certainly NOT 6 billion people on Earth! And that's just to produce Jane!! In fact even at the time of Jesus or 0 A.D., scientists, using data from census records from all over the world and through very educated estimates for the rest of it, have reckoned the entire Earth population to be only about 250 million people.
So what's going on? How do we possibly account for the existence of all the people here today?
Well the mathematics of lineage we've been looking at so far is assuming a DIFFERENT series of individuals in each successive generation. That's what makes the numbers get so very huge, so very fast. But what if you start giving the individuals more than just one chance to participate in the reproduction thing? What if the guys in my little diagram up there could appear more than once in that picture? Standing beside their wife but also standing beside a few other women as well!? * grin * If that happens, suddenly the total number of relatives in your past starts to decrease because people start appearing more than once in the generational sequences.
That's the key to understanding how so many people on Earth came to exist, with so few people to make it happen.
You aren't gonna like this...
LOTS and LOTS of mixing it up between each other and family groups!
Family trees loving within family trees.
Brothers teaming up with sisters. Sons with moms and aunts. Cousins teaming up with cousins. Uncles taking nieces to be wives. Fathers adding daughters to their little groups of their women. On and on. You can think up the other combinations.
Hey! Don't hate me. (Man, I can just see the emails already).
It's just math. It's gotta be. There is absolutely no other way to explain it.
Think about a sister and a brother. They share EXACTLY the same ancestry. Obviously. If each of them married cousins, these two couples would share a common ancestry only 2 generations back and then right on back to the beginning of human existence.
But let's make it more extreme than that. What if the sister and brother 'married' each other? The entire total number of ancestors needing to be in existence to produce their child suddenly halved itself in quantity because one person's lineage suddenly becomes exactly redundant within the big picture...
Do you see it?
If you create even more and more complicated intermarriages within this family group between 2nd cousins or 2nduncles and what-not you only have to dip back 2 or 3 generations for any newly born child of these unions to discover identical family trees compared to other related, newly born children. For example, they might not share the same parents or the same grand-parents, but it is very possible they'll share common great-great-grandparents. Once that happens, the entire pyramid below this generation will be identical for each person and those redundancies mean the grand total of people who have lived to produce the amount of people on the planet today, would be much less. And each time this happens to any degree, the big total gets reduced more and more.
It's because it's an exponential process. Each time it happens that two people share even a portion of a common lineage (i.e. mixing of common 'bloodlines'), it takes a huge chunk out of those fantastically huge numbers you noticed in the bottom of my chart. Eventually, if it were possible somehow to track the history of every single person who has ever lived, you'd see that the math would work out to be exactly what the population of the world was at any particular point in time. It has to.
'But a union between family members only breeds retarded kids.' This is actually an old wives tale and isn't true. People would be surprised to find it happens rarely. Children with that affliction are often from older mothers, in their late 30's or older (due to the impregnating of older eggs whose chromosomes gradually break down over time), or it's a dominant hereditary trait in that particular family tree.
There have been, of course, many common couplings between different family groups. For example, a couple or more brothers from a family may have married a couple or more sisters from an entirely different family. However, lineage of the many children that can be produced from these particular marriages becomes identical just two generations down, right to the beginning of mankind, even though all couplings here aren't incestuous at all. And as these children grow up and seek to have children of their own, and so on, the sharing of common lineage with their new partners becomes more and more likely, as they in turn, marry within the available family groups of their communities, provinces, states and countries.
Perhaps my use of the term incestuous is a little too harsh sounding for most of you reading this. I might do better to call it 'close-family-relationships'? Whatever. Our sensitivity to a concept doesn't make it less real. In the end, whatever you're comfortable calling it, it's only semantics anyway.
Why do you think it is that so many 'groups' or people from certain regions share such similar features?
So many people in Norway and Sweden have blond hair, fair skin. A lot of them are tall people. So many people from the British isles have red hair, poor teeth, shorter people. Mediterranean people are dark, olive skinned. Arab people have many similar features. Asian people from Japan all have identifiable common features but slightly different when compared with Asian people from mainland China or southeast Asia. The people native to the lands of America, from north to south, share a lot of common looking features but you don't see a lot of blond ones or red head ones. There's people from the African continent whose distinctive look remained strong throughout time and the people of the India region.
Just think about it for a while.
Remember, I'm not picking on anyone, I'm one of them. We all are.
Also the population of mankind took a very long time to take off. If you graph out the population levels of the world from way back in time to the present, the line stays almost flat for a long, long time and then starts to sweep upwards quite rapidly within the last 150 to 300 years. With fewer people there are only so many possible combinations of breeding couples possible. Add to this, distances between groups and it becomes even more difficult to accommodate enough diversity to make mating accessible for everyone. I would guess that it wasn't very uncommon at all, years and years ago, for a woman to bear the children of a few different men, not too distantly related to her, in her lifetime whether she wanted to or not.
But the world is different now and people are no longer confined to isolated areas of the globe.
In culturally and racially diverse countries like the United States and Canada it is very common to see people who seem to have features of 2 or more races of people. I've noticed people who have a mix of White and Black features; Negro guys with blue eyes. Asian people with distinctive features like their eyes having more of a Caucasian appearance owing to an Asian mother and a White father. I even once knew a amazingly beautiful girl whose Black father had given her this striking, long but tightly curled hair yet she had all the Asian features of her mom. It was an interesting look when you consider that Asians never have curly hair like that. (And yes, it was natural, she wasn't running around trying to fool anyone).
Our North American Métis culture is composed of a few million people whose ancestors were explorers, coureurs-du-bois, farmers, and pioneers who came here from Europe and hooked up with native Indian women here. As did a fair number of Indian guys who partnered up with White women. So this new 'type' of people emerged over time. A characteristic of pure Native men was that they weren't able to grow beards. If they did, it was a pretty sparse collection of a few facial hairs, that's it. It was just one of their features. But with the blending with Europeans, most modern Métis men can grow rich, thick beards and grow moustaches if they want. (Think Louis Riel, for example).
The population of Central and South America contains a huge population of people who have blended features of the people from Spain, Portugal, Italy and other Mediterranean areas and those of the people who were native to this lower half of our continent before the 1500s.
I think it's inevitable that the entire world (if we don't destroy ourselves first) will drift more and more to a common overall look. I can imagine that in a few thousand years from now there will be basically a generic 'Earth' look. All the features of all the diverse groups and races of our planet will gradually blend through millions and millions of sexual unions and couplings between people from all over the world.
As it stands right now, there isn't anyone alive who can be 100% sure of their ancestry, all the way back. Obviously there wasn't great mixing between the isolated races and groups in earlier times but I'm sure it occurred frequently enough through invasions, occupations, wars, exploring, searching new areas for food and shelter. There's probably common pieces of DNA shared between the majority of people on the planet. As you go back further and further in time and the overall population of the world decreases, simple mathematics strongly suggests that common roots are inevitable.
So in a very real sense, we are truly all one big happy family that still likes to fight a lot amongst itself.
Similar to a bunch of drunk relatives at a wedding party deciding to brawl over the last bottle of wine.
Oh well, c'est la vie.
Now go out and multiply...