Our Overlapping Family Trees

“If I did not believe that anthropology could also serve as an instrument of peace and a tool for human conviviality … I would have long since renounced this uncomfortable and difficult science and somewhat marginal way of life.”

— Nancy Scheper Hughes, “Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics” (2001: 53)

“One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise, I know/  And I’ll meet you further on up the road.”

— Johnny Cash, “Further On Up the Road


I thought it might be helpful to visualize just how quickly the number of direct ancestors can grow, and how we can confidently say that all people share ancestors. Let’s say that this is your biological family tree for a just a handful of generations, keeping in mind that ‘family’ here refers to direct biological ancestors. This might not exactly be the family you recognize during holidays and get-togethers, and we all have people who fall in and out of our lives. But everyone has two biological parents. OK, OK, some people might have more than two biological parents, but let’s keep it simple.

Going back a mere three generations, you have 8 direct biological great-grandparents, as this number doubles with each generation we go back.


Family Tree1

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