Rightful king of England

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence

“Rightful king of England dies”, The Mirror, July 5, 2012.

On a slow news day the papers love these little stories. Even when it’s not a slow news day, everyone loves the Wars of the Roses.

Back in the day, Edward IV (1442-1483) was the penultimate king of the Yorkist dynasty. The Wars of the Roses were over, the Lancastrians pretty much extinct. Then he died and it all fell apart. His younger brother Richard of Gloucester grabbed the throne (as Richard III). Edward’s sons mysteriously disappeared. Henry Tudor, the soi-disant Lancastrian claimant, invaded England, deposed Richard, made himself king as Henry VII, and married Edward’s oldest daughter. Their son Henry VIII was heir to both Yorkist and Lancastrians. The Wars of the Roses were now truly over.

One prong of Richard III’s propaganda to justify taking the throne was that his brother Edward IV was illegitimate. And, Richard claimed that Edward IV’s children were also illegitimate. Finally, an attainder disqualified his next brother George of Clarence.

If we like playing “what if”, we can think about these details and wonder who should have been king. Richard III left no descendants. If Edward IV had really been illegitimate, an attainder would not have stopped brother George’s descendants from claiming the throne as representatives of the Yorkist line.

And that’s what this article does. If, and it’s a big if, George was the Yorkist claimant, and if Henry Tudor hadn’t conquered England, then George’s modern heir could claim to be the rightful king of England. Not Scotland, though. All that came later.

George’s modern heir is an Australian forklift driver, Michael Abney-Hastings, who happens to be 14th Earl of Loudon. He died. His son Simon is the new Earl, and new Yorkist kind-of claimant. Big news.

Last Pagans

Last Pagans of Rome

Interesting new book: The Last Pagans of Rome by Alan Cameron

This online reviews says, “Cameron’s mission here is to topple once and for all the “myth” of a concerted resistance movement coordinated by a select group of late fourth-century pagan aristocrats to oppose Christianity’s infiltration of state and society. For more than four decades Cameron’s scholarship has been edging that romantic vision of the religious, literary, and social history of late fourth-century Rome to the brink of destruction. With the publication of this book the classic formulation of paganism’s fourth-century “revival” lies well beyond reconstitution.”

The 4th century pagan revival is so much a part of how we think about this period of Roman history, it’s a disappointment — although not a surprise — to find out that it has little foundation. 

Gathering the Tribes: Mormons from England

Anna Quarmby

This little BBC piece about Mitt Romney’s Mormon ancestors captures some of the zeitgeist of the lives of many Mormon immigrants from England.

Mitt Romney’s English Mormon Roots

The Mormons “believed that Jesus had visited America, and that he would return there soon.” Their message was, “Jesus is coming – he’s coming to America. We’ll help you get there.” Not only did Jesus visit America, but certain privileged Europeans were actually members of the Ten Lost Tribes, being called to re-gather in the New Zion.

Like the Romneys, my Quarmby ancestors also converted to Mormonism at Preston near Manchester in the 1830s. John Quarmby was a cloth dresser, a common occupation in this part of England where the main industry was textile mills. The workers struggled to eke out a living. The factory owners became rich. John was also a music instructor, supplementing his meager income. He and his wife Ann had eight children, but lost five of them.  It doesn’t surprise me they looked to religion for comfort.

The Quarmbys converted to Mormonism, but it didn’t turn into the same dream for them that it did for the Romneys. 

John and Ann brought their three surviving children to America in 1845, through the port of New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, the Mormon capital. Unfortunately for them, Nauvoo was built on swamp land. John died a few months later of “swamp fever” — malaria. The two older children also died, but their deaths were unrecorded. No one is sure, but according to one family tradition, Ann survived long enough to be expelled from Nauvoo by Gentile mobs, then died of starvation and fever during the winter of 1846/47 at Winter Quarters, outside Omaha, Nebraska.

The only surviving member of the family, little Annie, age 5, was taken in by Bishop Joseph Bates Noble. She made the long trek to the new Zion in Salt Lake City to become one of the Valley’s first pioneers (1847). She told her children and grandchildren that she walked every step of the way alongside the handcart. (I hope that’s an exaggeration, but it might be true.) 

As an adult, Annie didn’t know her parent’s names, or even her birthday. Her whole history was lost. The Nobles couldn’t help; she was just an orphan they picked up in all the confusion. How could they be expected to know who she was or where she came from? Her mother had been a member of the Bishop’s Ward, so they got stuck with her. They raised her, and at 15, when she was so ungrateful that she refused to marry her foster father, they made life hell for her until she ran away. 

When I read the story about Mitt Romney and his English roots, I’m happy for him that his family succeeded in America. I just wish we could spend more time celebrating the people for whom a new life in America was a genuine struggle.

The New Science of Epigenetics

Ghost Genes

“At the heart of this new field is a simple but contentious idea – that genes have a ‘memory’. That the lives of your grandparents – the air they breathed, the food they ate, even the things they saw – can directly affect you, decades later, despite your never experiencing these things yourself. And that what you do in your lifetime could in turn affect your grandchildren.”


Calculating Ethnicity

EUtest Admixture

Most Americans I know divide their ethnic origins into fractions. Someone might say, for example, that they are 1/2 English, 1/4 Scottish, and 1/4 German. The Europeans I’ve talked to think this is a very odd idea, because the person is simply American.

I’m always intrigued by these ethnic percentages. Americans are so mixed that unless a person’s ancestors came to America very recently it’s not likely that family lore would accurately separate English from Scottish and Welsh, and perhaps not even from French and German.

My partner says he is 1/2 Danish and 1/2 German. His father was the son of Danish immigrants, and his mother came from a Mennonite family that is German in all its branches going back to colonial Pennsylvania. That kind of break-down is easy to accept.

Looking more closely at family lore versus calculation, I’ve come to the conclusion that ethnic percentages are more a simplified view of a person’s immediate ancestry than a genuine reflection of ethnic origins.

I thought it would be interesting to calculate my own ethnic percentages. Because of ethnic mixing in my ancestry, even in colonial times, I had to set a cut off point after which I would regard an ancestor as belonging to a particular ethnic group despite fractional portions in his or her ancestry of some other nationality. I set the cut-off at 5th great grandparents.

According to my parents, I should be 1/2 English, 1/4 Swedish, 1/8 Scottish and 1/8 Pawnee. These numbers come from looking at the conventional wisdom about the ethnic identity of my parents’ grandparents.

However, my calculations show that I’m 61/128 English, 1/4 Swedish, 17/128 German-Swiss, 3/64 Scottish, 1/16 Pawnee, and 1/32 Dutch. Pretty close to family lore, but not exact. The English has been rounded off in family lore, the German-Swiss and Dutch have been forgotten, and the Pawnee and Scottish have been exaggerated.

I find the same thing looking at my parents. (Not a surprise.) My mother is said to be 1/2 Swedish, 1/4 English and 1/4 Scottish. Family lore looks only at her grandparents. She had two Swedish grandparents, one who identified as English, and one who identified as Scotch-Irish. Going back five generations, my calculations show she is 1/2 Swedish, 13/32 English and 3/32 Scottish. The difference is basically the cutoff point chosen.

And my father shows the same kind of break. He is said to have been 3/4 English and 1/4 Pawnee, but the Pawnee element is exaggerated, while German-Swiss and Dutch have been lumped in with the English. Why? Because his family divides everyone into Indian and non-Indian, and the non-Indians are all “English.”

It seems that ethnic identity is more a function of how a person’s views his or her ancestry than of actual ancestry.

Roots of Human Family Tree Are Shallow

Mapping Human History

This article appeared online from the Associated Press on July 1, 2006. It appears to have been deleted from the source.

Roots of Human Family Tree Are Shallow
By MATT CRENSON, AP National Writer

Whoever it was probably lived a few thousand years ago, somewhere in East Asia — Taiwan, Malaysia and Siberia all are likely locations. He — or she — did nothing more remarkable than be born, live, have children and die.

Yet this was the ancestor of every person now living on Earth — the last person in history whose family tree branches out to touch all 6.5 billion people on the planet today.

That means everybody on Earth descends from somebody who was around as recently as the reign of Tutankhamen, maybe even during the Golden Age of ancient Greece. There’s even a chance that our last shared ancestor lived at the time of Christ.

“It’s a mathematical certainty that that person existed,” said Steve Olson, whose 2002 book “Mapping Human History” traces the history of the species since its origins in Africa more than 100,000 years ago.

It is human nature to wonder about our ancestors — who they were, where they lived, what they were like. People trace their genealogy, collect antiques and visit historical sites hoping to capture just a glimpse of those who came before, to locate themselves in the sweep of history and position themselves in the web of human existence.

But few people realize just how intricately that web connects them not just to people living on the planet today, but to everyone who ever lived.

With the help of a statistician, a computer scientist and a supercomputer, Olson has calculated just how interconnected the human family tree is. You would have to go back in time only 2,000 to 5,000 years — and probably on the low side of that range — to find somebody who could count every person alive today as a descendant.

Furthermore, Olson and his colleagues have found that if you go back a little farther — about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago — everybody living today has exactly the same set of ancestors. In other words, every person who was alive at that time is either an ancestor to all 6 billion people living today, or their line died out and they have no remaining descendants.

That revelation is “especially startling,” statistician Jotun Hein of England’s Oxford University wrote in a commentary on the research published by the journal Nature.

“Had you entered any village on Earth in around 3,000 B.C., the first person you would have met would probably be your ancestor,” Hein marveled.

It also means that all of us have ancestors of every color and creed. Every Palestinian suicide bomber has Jews in his past. Every Sunni Muslim in Iraq is descended from at least one Shiite. And every Klansman’s family has African roots.

How can this be?

It’s simple math. Every person has two parents, four grandparents and eight great-grandparents. Keep doubling back through the generations — 16, 32, 64, 128 — and within a few hundred years you have thousands of ancestors.

It’s nothing more than exponential growth combined with the facts of life. By the 15th century you’ve got a million ancestors. By the 13th you’ve got a billion. Sometime around the 9th century — just 40 generations ago — the number tops a trillion.

But wait. How could anybody — much less everybody — alive today have had a trillion ancestors living during the 9th century?

The answer is, they didn’t. Imagine there was a man living 1,200 years ago whose daughter was your mother’s 36th great-grandmother, and whose son was your father’s 36th great-grandfather. That would put him on two branches on your family tree, one on your mother’s side and one on your father’s.

In fact, most of the people who lived 1,200 years ago appear not twice, but thousands of times on our family trees, because there were only 200 million people on Earth back then. Simple division — a trillion divided by 200 million — shows that on average each person back then would appear 5,000 times on the family tree of every single individual living today.

But things are never average. Many of the people who were alive in the year 800 never had children; they don’t appear on anybody’s family tree. Meanwhile, more prolific members of society would show up many more than 5,000 times on a lot of people’s trees.

Keep going back in time, and there are fewer and fewer people available to put on more and more branches of the 6.5 billion family trees of people living today. It is mathematically inevitable that at some point, there will be a person who appears at least once on everybody’s tree.

But don’t stop there; keep going back. As the number of potential ancestors dwindles and the number of branches explodes there comes a time when every single person on Earth is an ancestor to all of us, except the ones who never had children or whose lines eventually died out.

And it wasn’t all that long ago. When you walk through an exhibit of Ancient Egyptian art from the time of the pyramids, everything there was very likely created by one of your ancestors — every statue, every hieroglyph, every gold necklace. If there is a mummy lying in the center of the room, that person was almost certainly your ancestor, too.

It means when Muslims, Jews or Christians claim to be children of Abraham, they are all bound to be right.

“No matter the languages we speak or the color of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who labored to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu,” Olson and his colleagues wrote in the journal Nature.

How can they be so sure?

Seven years ago one of Olson’s colleagues, a Yale University statistician named Joseph Chang, started thinking about how to estimate when the last common ancestor of everybody on Earth today lived. In a paper published by the journal “Advances in Applied Probability,” Chang showed that there is a mathematical relationship between the size of a population and the number of generations back to a common ancestor. Plugging the planet’s current population into his equation, he came up with just over 32 generations, or about 900 years.

Chang knew that answer was wrong because it relied on some common, but inaccurate, assumptions that population geneticists often use to simplify difficult mathematical problems.

For example, his analysis pretended that Earth’s population has always been what it is today. It also assumed that individuals choose their mates randomly. And each generation had to reproduce all at once.

Chang’s calculations essentially treated the world like one big meet market where any given guy was equally likely to pair up with any woman, whether she lived in the next village or halfway around the world. Chang was fully aware of the inaccuracy — people have to select their partners from the pool of individuals they have actually met, unless they are entering into an arranged marriage. But even then, they are much more likely to mate with partners who live nearby. And that means that geography can’t be ignored if you are going to determine the relatedness of the world’s population.

A few years later Chang was contacted by Olson, who had started thinking about the world’s interrelatedness while writing his book. They started corresponding by e-mail, and soon included in their deliberations Douglas Rohde, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist and computer expert who now works for Google.

The researchers knew they would have to account for geography to get a better picture of how the family tree converges as it reaches deeper into the past. They decided to build a massive computer simulation that would essentially re-enact the history of humanity as people were born, moved from one place to another, reproduced and died.

Rohde created a program that put an initial population on a map of the world at some date in the past, ranging from 7,000 to 20,000 years ago. Then the program allowed those initial inhabitants to go about their business. He allowed them to expand in number according to accepted estimates of past population growth, but had to cap the expansion at 55 million people due to computing limitations. Although unrealistic in some respects — 55 million is a lot less than the 6.5 billion people who actually live on Earth today — he found through trial and error that the limitation did not significantly change the outcome with regard to common ancestry.

The model also had to allow for migration based on what historians, anthropologists and archaeologists know about how frequently past populations moved both within and between continents. Rohde, Chang and Olson chose a range of migration rates, from a low level where almost nobody left their native home to a much higher one where up to 20 percent of the population reproduced in a town other than the one where they were born, and one person in 400 moved to a foreign country.

Allowing very little migration, Rohde’s simulation produced a date of about 5,000 B.C. for humanity’s most recent common ancestor. Assuming a higher, but still realistic, migration rate produced a shockingly recent date of around 1 A.D.

Some people even suspect that the most recent common ancestor could have lived later than that.

“A number of people have written to me making the argument that the simulations were too conservative,” Rohde said.

Migration is the key. When a people have offspring far from their birthplaces, they essentially introduce their entire family lines into their adopted populations, giving their immediate offspring and all who come after them a set of ancestors from far away.

People tend to think of preindustrial societies as places where this sort of thing rarely happened, where virtually everyone lived and died within a few miles of the place where they were born. But history is full of examples that belie that notion.

Take Alexander the Great, who conquered every country between Greece and northern India, siring two sons along the way by Persian mothers. Consider Prince Abd Al-Rahman, son of a Syrian father and a Berber mother, who escaped Damascus after the overthrow of his family’s dynasty and started a new one in Spain. The Vikings, the Mongols, and the Huns all traveled thousands of miles to burn, pillage and — most pertinent to genealogical considerations — rape more settled populations.

More peaceful people moved around as well. During the Middle Ages, the Gypsies traveled in stages from northern India to Europe. In the New World, the Navaho moved from western Canada to their current home in the American Southwest. People from East Asia fanned out into the South Pacific Islands, and Eskimos frequently traveled back and forth across the Bering Sea from Siberia to Alaska.

“These genealogical networks, as they start spreading out they really have the ability to get virtually everywhere,” Olson said.

Though people like to think of culture, language and religion as barriers between groups, history is full of religious conversions, intermarriages, illegitimate births and adoptions across those lines. Some historical times and places were especially active melting pots — medieval Spain, ancient Rome and the Egypt of the pharaohs, for example.

“And the thing is, you only need one,” said Mark Humphrys, an amateur anthropologist and professor of computer science at Dublin City University.

One ancestral link to another cultural group among your millions of forbears, and you share ancestors with everyone in that group. So everyone who reproduced with somebody who was born far from their own natal home — every sailor blown off course, every young man who set off to seek his fortune, every woman who left home with a trader from a foreign land — as long as they had children, they helped weave the tight web of brotherhood we all share.

American Identity

American Identity

The Radical Genealogist has an interesting article about American ethnic identity. Anyone who has traveled to Europe knows that Europeans are puzzled when Americans claim to be English or Scottish or French or whatever. A friend who had this experience told me that her hosts asked, “Why do Americans always claim to be something else? Don’t they know they’re Americans?”

This disconnect highlights the American habit of identifying with ethnic origins. Personally, I’ve never been so aware of myself as an American as when I traveled abroad. Somehow, the labels “Swedish-American” or “Anglo-American” dissolve into irrelevancy.

I was fascinated to learn from this article that the American South might be an exception. The 2000 Census asked respondents to identify their national origin. Mapping the responses shows a clear preference in the South for identifying simply as American.

The author explains: “[W]hat we are really dealing with here is maps of memories, not of ancestries. Ethnic identity in the United States, just like clan or tribal identity elsewhere, comes from a kind of folk genealogy, the memories of our grandparents. Whether we are dealing with Alabama or Maine, what the counties in the first map have in common is that they have received relatively little immigration from outside the United States since 1760, having been settled primarily by internal migration from earlier populated centers where ethnic mixing had already occurred. Other than the grandfather whose parents immigrated to Missouri from Poland and the great-grandfather from Scotland, my own stock is this kind.

“My grandparents’ grandparents were already mutts of Manifest Destiny, their identity tied primarily to their own republic, not primarily because of any kind of personal ideology they held about Americanness, but because their particular mix (the British Isles, a bit of the whitest, north-westernmost parts of Continental Europe, and maybe some Indians and Africans they were ashamed to talk about) is precisely the ethnic identity that the young republic had assumed for itself. They were Americans in the way the newcomers from Silesia and Sweden were not, because telling what they were would be too long of a story.”

Interestingly, the numbers in 2000 were up dramatically from 1990 — up 63%. The increase might have been due to increased assimilation, increased complexity due to mixing, or perhaps the death of an older generation that had a stronger ethnic identity. Expect another sharp increase in 2010:

“Some will, when asked, pick the one of their ancestries they like, that they are more comfortable with, or, for people who think about their father’s side alone, the place their last name comes from, but many more will decline to answer or put something like “American”. Expect the answer “American” to increase greatly again in 2010 and thereafter as a percentage of the population who identify themselves as white, particularly in those states where “German” and “American” currently co-exist at a high level.”

I know this feeling. My parents’ and grandparents’ neat percentages don’t match their actual ancestries. My grandmother, for example, claimed to be half English, a quarter Irish, and a quarter Scottish. Close, perhaps, but not really. She thought of her dad as English, ignoring his Scottish, Welsh and French ancestry. And, she thought of her mother as Scotch and Irish, instead of Scotch-Irish with a hefty dose of English.

For many of us, the truth is far more complicated, and our ancestries far more mixed, than we “remember”. I try to figure out my ethnic origin from time to time, but there’s no clear place to draw the line. If I try to reach back to every immigrant in my ancestry, the resulting fractions are so cumbersome there would be no way to remember them. The last few years, I’ve had an uneasy peace with the truth. I’ve claimed myself as a mixture of English, Swedish, Scottish, German and Indian, ignoring the small percentages of other ancestries. On a pedantic day, I’ll toss in French. On a careless day, I’ll just answer Swedish, because that’s where my last name originated.

I don’t remember what I answered in 2000; perhaps Swedish-American and Native American. In 2010 I think I will identify simply as American. It will be easier and more accurate.

Celtic Toes

Celtic toes

From http://www.electricscotland.com/familytree/magazine/octnov2002/celts.htm

“Because of the paucity of written records, the scope of Celtic settlement across Europe has not been easy to establish. One feature already mentioned that is strongly associated with Celtic blood lines is red hair; a great majority of people in the world who have red hair will be found to have a Celtic ancestor. But that feature is not uniquely associated with the Celts, so the spread of Celtic people in such areas as present-day Germany and Scandinavia has not been accepted by all authorities. During World War II, a discovery was made that only recently has received meticulous research. A couple of doctors in medical centers in England noticed that there was a feature of Scots and Welsh soldiers wounded in battle that was not present with English, Germans, and other nationalities. The former frequently had a big toe (or great toe) that was the same length as the next toe; all others had great toes markedly longer. They marked that down for research after the war ended, but it was only a few years ago that definitive research was done that has led to a remarkable discovery. They found that there were burial sites across Britain where the skeletons were completely of one ethnic group, such as Celtic burial sites on islands along the Scottish northwest coast, and pre-Celtic burial sites in southern England. Results from studies of those burial sites showed that to a 95 probability Celtic remains had a big toe the same length as, or shorter than, the next toe, while pre-Celtic remains had a big toe longer than the one next to it. That study was expanded to cover burial sites in other parts of Europe and Asia, with the same results. Because the so-called Celtic toe can disappear after many generations of intermarriage, it is not a necessary condition to having a Celtic ancestor, but it is a sufficient one: if a person has the Celtic toe, he or she is almost certain to be of Celtic descent.”

How Many People Have Ever Lived?

Back in the 1970s, an unknown writer said that most of the people who had ever lived were alive then [1]. The idea persists, even though it’s not true.

From what I can find, estimates of the number of people ever born range from 50 to 120 billion, with 6 billion now living.

The number intrigues me on two fronts. First, if people are reincarnated, everyone now alive might have had somewhere between 9 and 20 past lives. That’s a useful number to throw out when gong the rounds with believers.

Second, and more interesting for me, this is a fundamental concept when trying to understand “pedigree collapse” — go back far enough and each of us has more theoretical ancestors than there were people living at the time. Therefore, we must, each of us, descend many thousands and millions of times from the same relatively small number of people. We are each our own cousin many times over.

I was pleased to find an article by Carl Haub at the Population Reference Bureau, How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth? He thinks the number must be about 106 billion, with 6.2 billion living in 2002.

1. Some reports say it was Annie Dillard. Some reports say the number was 50%, some say it was 75%.