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Sunday, October 2, 2022
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Opinion: How Different Are We?


Family tree infographic | Image by Sentavio

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A majority of people know who their parents are. Most also know who their grandparents are, or at least who they were. So, the six (6) people, whose DNA had a significant impact on who we are, (i.e., your mother, your father, your maternal grandparents and your paternal grandparents), are likely known to most people. Some people, like my father, was able to know his maternal great-grand mother who died in 1969 at the age of 99.

She was born in 1870 in Indiana and the President of the United States was Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President. The two most dominant technologies at that time were the steam engine and the telegraph. People got their news from newspapers. Her family got around in a horse and buggy. When she was 6 years old, the telephone was patented. It wasn’t until she was 34, in 1904, that the Wright Brothers flew. She lived through the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Spanish Flu, World War II, the Korean War, and the beginning of the Vietnam War. She saw the invention of many things that we think of a common today: cars, typewriters, radios, airplanes, televisions, calculators, phones, x-rays, vaccines, and the list goes on. She knew they were flying to the moon and died just before they succeeded. The amount of change she experienced in her life time was exponential. If I were her today, the same amount of change would have me witnessing teleportation.

Anna Moore was one of my great-great grandparents (my dad’s maternal great grandmother). But who were my other great-great-grand parents? I know some of their names, but don’t know too much more. The further back one goes it gets a bit difficult.

There’s a mathematical formula that can help you see how many people’s DNA has made yours.


1 generation back = 2 people, mom and dad;
2 generations = mom, dad and their parents = 6 people;
3 generations = 14… etc.

For you mathematically inclined, the general formula is (2n+1-2), where n = the number of generations (@25years/generation).

EXAMPLE: For the n=3 generations = 2(3+1)-2 = 24-2 = 16-2 = 14 people.

Using this, we can go back, say 20 generations (or, 500 years) and suddenly find out we are made up of the DNA of over 2 million people!

If we follow this reasoning, and, go to the year 1 A.D. we find we are made up of about 4,835,700,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 280+1-2, 81 X 25 =2025 years) people!

Is this true?

No. As my aunt, who is a genealogist points out, there is such a thing called “Pedigree Collapse” which causes this erroneous calculation to lead us to a false conclusion.

The easiest way to explain Pedigree Collapse is to say that if you go back far enough, you will find we have many common ancestors. This means there are a lot less people who made us who we are. So, it could be that one of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers may be yours too!

The point of this is to remind us all that we are more closely related to each other that most of us could ever imagine. It’s likely that many of us are 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, etc., cousins to each other and don’t even know it.

With the current divisiveness that is permeating our society, it might be well to remember that the people who think so differently from us on the issues of the day are not necessarily some creatures that are totally different from us. No, they’re more likely a distant relative of ours that we don’t even know we have.

With even known family members at odds, is it any wonder many are having a difficult time now?

Perhaps President Reagan said it best when addressing the United Nations. He was talking about the inability for the people of the world to stop fighting, stop constantly being in conflict for so many reasons. That we were all part of the human family. He said:

“Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

The issues that face us today will not likely be our demise, as all are workable problems. Should the day of which President Reagan spoke of come to pass, we would need to stop bickering and realize we are one family. So, let’s work together now to build a world filled with growth and opportunity, and not wait for a “threat from outside this world.”

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