Family History Completed

The Goal

Map my ancestors, as far back as possible, to see if there are any interesting stories or personalities.


I’ve been curious for some time about where my ancestors come from and what their lives were like, partly because I’m such a big fan of stories.

I’m also curious about following both my father’s and my mother’s surnames back to the Scottish clans they’re linked too. We don’t act like Scots, which makes it more intriguing.

Finally, it would be amusing to claim royal blood or descent from someone (in)famous.


I started by quizzing my grandparents, finding names and dates for their parents and grandparents. This yielded the first interesting stories, including the woman who owned a Manchester pub in the 1800s, the line of musicians, and the surname possibly changed to avoid arrest for cattle thieving.

From there, I created a free 14-day account on, which allowed me to enter my initial family tree information and then provided hints that linked a member of my tree with official records, photos and other users’ family trees.

I spent some time following the hints to add parents and siblings from other users’ family trees, verifying them against official records whenever possible. I didn’t follow the siblings’ marriages or descendants, as that would have taken too long and I wanted to go back as far as possible first.

The only unfortunate thing to report is that I couldn’t follow the Scottish surnames of my two grandfathers back more than a couple of generations. Partly this is because they had very common first names, which clouded up the search results with bad matches. However, I got far enough back to find ancestors with those surnames that were born in Scotland, at least.

My tree now has 1185 people in it and I can trace back to William the Conquerer (1024-1087), my 29th great grandfather. There are two paths up to William, a few illegitimate ancestors, a line that detoured through America for a few generations, plenty of convicts, and a handful of lords, ladies, earls, etc.

A recently-watched QI episode (episode 10, series 7, possibly titled ‘Great’) pointed out that most of Europe is related to each other, based on mathematics. The theory goes like this: if you start with your two parents, multiply by two to get their parents, then continue to multiply by two parents, you’ll find that the 34th generation (roughly around 1200 AD) contains over 17 billion people. As this number is obviously larger than the population of the planet, there must be inbreeding in many family trees. Inbreeding doesn’t have to be close; if someone’s parents have the same great great great great grandparent (or further back), very few people will know without good records.

Another minor interesting thing was how often certain names repeated within a few generations. One male ancestor had a mother, sister, wife and daughter all named Elizabeth. Perhaps they were addressed by different middle names, nicknames or variations on Elizabeth (e.g. Beth, Betty, Eliza, or Liz).

Overall, this was an interesting and surprisingly easy list item, which I now consider complete.

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