Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited and Extinct

Only one thing is certain about absolutely every ancestor you have: all of them had at least one child. Obviously.  Otherwise you wouldn’t exist.

Does this mean that everyone alive today is a winner in an evolutionary competition to reproduce?

Not quite seven billion

With a world population of 7 billion, we are a spectacularly successful species, but self-congratulation is a bit premature. Before we start clapping each other on the back and congratulating ourselves as champions bred of the loins of champions, it’s worth examining some details.

First, the genes of even the most fecund of our ancestors eventually cease to exist. A child receives exactly half of their genetic makeup from each parent, meaning that the original genome is diluted further and further with each generation. So it doesn’t matter if Niall of the Nine Hostages was your 35 times great-grandfather. There’s almost none of him left in you.

Go on. Have a good gloat.

And what about all those who have no living descendants? Were they all spinster aunts and bachelor uncles? Not at all. Entire multiple-generation dynasties of the rich and powerful, spawning dozens of rich and powerful children who had dozens of children in their turn, have simply vanished from the face of the earth. Burke’s Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire provides plenty of object lessons (and is always good for a little schadenfreude).

In fact, the iron laws of statistics show that there was a point, somewhere between 5 and 15 millennia ago, where each individual then alive was either the ancestor of every individual alive today, or has no living descendants at all. Genetic genealogy calls it the “Identical ancestors point”, because, logically, earlier than this point everyone now alive shares precisely the same set of ancestors.

Like a lot of genealogical musing, this stuff can seem very trivial or very profound, but it’s hard to stop thinking about it once you start.

And yes, I do suffer from insomnia

13 thoughts on “Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited and Extinct”

  1. I would suffer from insomnia as well, if I were thinking about it too. 🙂

    It is fascinating stuff though.

  2. Very interesting post and a good discussion topic. And from the British peerage to Irish steerage, in doing genealogy I have sadly found more than one family with up to seven children and not a single grandchild. Death, disease or disinclination to marry.

  3. Knowing that you exemplify the “survival of the fittest” is a positive thought to have in the wee hours of the morning.

  4. Next time I am lining awake at 2:30 AM I will give this some serious thought. Interesting post.

  5. Very well done article. I heard this once: I am like every man and I am unlike every man.

    True true

  6. I often think (LOL) researching one’s xs,xs,cousins brotherinlaw is sort of pointless ..What actual blood relation are they ????Also GGGGGGRANDs..Its getting pretty diluted by that time…Any wonder they didn’t leave you anything in their will…..

  7. Yes, Niall of the 9 Hostages was one of my ancestors (if Irish genealogical records are to be believed) and the fact is that the further back you go, the fewer unique ancestors there are and because of that, the more of those ancestors you share with other co-descendants, so while half of each your parents’ genes are present in you, the fact is that hey are probably distant cousins and you’re getting back from one parent, some of the genes you lost from the other!

  8. Recently my brother and I did our DNA sample through So I understand how he can be 65% Ireland and I 55% Ireland. The hits of other Ancestry members varies between our two trees, especially the 4th cousins (possible). I have 61 4th cousins identified and he has 67 identified 4th cousins.

    The real puzzler is that I have an identified 4th cousin and my brother does not have him as a match. The cousin comes from the following regions: Ivory Coast/Ghana, Cameroon/Congo, Benin/Togo, Great Britain, Ireland.

    Just curious. I am thinking that perhaps one of the parental lines (possibly way back) remarried and thus the DNA from that part of the world, besides Great Britain, Ireland, or the gentleman I connected with through our DNA parental line married someone in my family line.

    Of course who knows, there is a story about my paternal grandfather was that he had married a woman from India but then she was in an auto accident and died. Maybe my grandfather parented a child with her. Of course my grandfather married again.

    Okay, I am probably not making sense because it is almost midnight here.

    Just trying to twist my brain around all of this.

    Look forward to anyone’s thoughts or speculation.

    Thank you,

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