How Big is Your Family Tree?

Tree Symbolized as Ancestry

by Jayaram V

There were and there are human groups and affiliations based on the color of the skin. However, genetically and ancestrally, there never was and never will be a pure racial type, except the one race we know, the human race, descended from the same Manu, made up of the same five elements, ten senses, three gunas. ego, mind and intelligence, and subject to the same five modifications. Jayaram V


When did the human civilization begin? When and how did human being's first appear on earth? How it all began? Is it true that there only two people in the beginning, Adam and Eve, and everyone else descended from them? Or did human beings appear upon earth because of a great experiment by an alien race? These are very difficult to answer to the satisfaction of all. Creation is a mystery and those who think they know it all base their knowledge upon their faith or belief system, but in reality know little. What we know surely is that each one of us who is alive today descended from a long line of ancestry, whose origins we do not know. The world population today is over seven billions. Just a hundred years ago it was not even half of that. According to one estimate the world population in the 13th Century AD was about 340 million. In his book the Economic Conditions of Ancient India, Pran Nath estimated the population of India in 300 BC to about 100 million1. It is believed that the figure remained approximately static until the medieval times.

The Industrial revolution brought a sea of change in the living standards of people and contributed to population explosion whereby in the last century alone the world population grew by four to five times. The world population was estimated at one billion in 1804. It took 123 years from there to reach two billion. It took 33 years only to reach the next a billion in 1960. Thereafter, it reached four billion in 1974 in just 14 years, five billion in 1987 in another 13 years, and six billion in 1999 in another 12 years. According to the United States Census Bureau, the world population stood at seven billion in March 2012 and may likely reach 9 billion in 2050.

I began my discussion of genealogy with the world population because population figures are misleading when it comes to any discussion of genealogy. My understanding is that the total number of ancestors for each human being upon earth is perhaps much larger than the population of several countries put together. The number runs into millions and even billions depending upon how far we are willing to look back. I will show you how it is so.

When it comes to the question of counting your family members, you may count yourself, your spouse, the number of your children and other dependents to calculate the exact number. You may increase the scope further to include your parents and paternal and maternal grand parents in the list, if they are alive. If you are kind enough, perhaps you may add the parents and grand parents of your spouse also. Since we think with the present in our minds, there is nothing wrong with such an approach.

However, let us assume that you have to consider the previous 50 generations of your ancestors from your father's side as a part of your large family, or say extended family, and include the previous 50 generations of your mother also. (You have to include both because your gene pool comes from both of them). In reality, your ancestry is much longer than mere 50 generations. We are considering this number just for our understanding. Taking the 50 generations, if you calculate the total number of your ancestors, how large do you think your family lineage would become? Please try to make an intelligent guess. What is the number going to be? Is it going to be100...10,000...10,000...100,000...1,000,000...1,000,000,000?

We are all proud of our families, our ancestry, our genetic makeup, family status, and our family heirlooms. In many parts of the world people are particularly inclined to identify themselves with a particular family, group, community, caste, race, tribe, religion or region.

It is normal for people to extend themselves and be part of something, bigger and larger than themselves to experience a sense of belongingness. It is natural when people identify themselves with a nation, group, caste, race, team, institutions they works for or they own. These are our extended identities which we rely upon for status, security, and establishing our credentials in society. They enhance our self-image and contribute to our sense of pride and belongingness.

However, unfortunately, there is a downside to this. In the process of doing so, most people develop a constricted view of their racial or ancestral background and become selective in their choice of relationships, and their opinions about others with whom they do not share a similar background. These identities hamper our ability to feel connected to everyone and view the world and the people with an impartial and open mind. With such a limited vision, they tend to generalize things and draw wrong conclusions about others.

The truth is your ancestry is much larger than you can even imagine. If you just take into account only fifty generations and count the number of your ancestors starting with your parents and grandparents, the total number of ancestors would work out to about 555 billion! If you add the ancestors from the 51th generation, the number would go up to 1,110 billion or 1.1 trillion!

You do not believe it? Yes, I know. I am not throwing an odd number at you. My statement is based upon a simple calculation, considering that everyone is born to a father and mother who in turn are born to their fathers and mothers. If you calculate the number based upon this simple method you will reach this figure exponentially.

If you do not believe this, please click here to verify the calculations yourself. These figures show that for a mere 50 generations, your ancestry adds up to about 1.02 trillion people! The number is incredible, isn't it?

Fifty generations starting from 2000 A.D. covers roughly a period of about 1500 years only in the history of human civilization, when you assume that each generation on an average takes about 25-30 years to produce their progeny and continue the chain. Imagine what would be the number of your ancestors if you go all the way to the beginnings of human origins, let us say to a 100,000 years.

Human beings or their human like ancestors probably appeared upon earth about a million years ago. If we consider the million years, imagine how many people might have contributed to your present gene pool, and the blood of how many trillions of people must be flowing in your veins! Poetically speaking, you are chiseled in the womb of Nature by a trillion hands. You are the living example of humanity's untiring effort to survive in a hostile world of conflicting interests and pass on the baton to the next generation.

It is true that this many a number of people never existed upon earth at any given time. The world population today is around six billion only. You can guess what could have been the world population about a thousand years ago or ten thousand years ago? Definitely, it would have been much less. What this means is that most of us descended from the same line of ancestors several hundreds or thousands of years ago.

From the above, it is also clear that each of us descended from a vast pool of humanity. We have inherited not only their genes but also their knowledge, experience, awareness, skills and world views. We embody their values and belief systems. We may come from different backgrounds and belong to different races, but beneath the skin, deeply embedded in our bodies we hold the history of the entire human race. Whatever may be our color and gender, most of us at some point in the history of humanity are connected to a common ancestry. A person living in South America and a person living upon an island in the South China Sea may have originated from the same ancestors hundreds or thousands of years ago.

This awareness is important because when we look at only a few generations, we begin to see the divisions that exist among us; but if we look at a thousand generations, we cultivate humility and understand our hidden connection with the rest of the humankind.

Man and Manu

Hinduism believes that the whole world is one large family and the entire humanity descended from the same primal ancestor, known as Manu, the progenitor of human race. It is believed that in the current cycle of creation, this Manu appeared so far seven times and probably gave birth to seven human races. This process will go on for millions of years to come, until humanity is perfected and prepared for godhood and Brahman goes into a sleeping mode. The Upanishads speak of an Asvattha Tree (creation) whose roots (source) are in heaven and branches spread everywhere, suggesting the unity underlying the diversity of creation and our oneness with the Creator.

Other religions also acknowledge the underlying unity of the entire human race. Probably we need to emphasize this fact scientifically to the children in the classrooms so that they can truly cultivate an open mind and appreciate the diversity that exists among us.

To form groups and affiliations is a natural instinct. Even animals such as dogs and wolves prefer living in groups to enhance their ability to secure food against formidable enemies and survive in extreme conditions. Tribalism, casteism and communalism are going to be part of human civilization even in the future. If you put ten people on an island, eventually they will form into groups and enter alliances. Therefore, we may never be able to address completely the issue of racism and casteism. However, the awareness that humanity has a common ancestry and we are all related at the most fundamental genetic level is a starting point to build bridges of understanding and live in peace and harmony.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Notes:

1. In my opinion this cannot be true and the actual population may be much less.

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