Foreword DFB – Cautionary Tales

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As I started this research and delved through layers of grandparents I realised that I was perhaps compensating for a deficiency; I never had a living grandfather. In common with other baby boomers my arrival followed two world wars that had decimated our menfolk. However, I had lost both of mine through ‘natural causes’ before I was born. My first assumption was that I was trying to fill that void with grandfathers.

The second conclusion was a realisation that family history research has a remarkable statistical quirk at its heart. The most significant of my 13th great-grandfathers (or GGFs) turns out to be Sir Thomas Denton of Fyfield (1427-1453); he is thus sixteen generations back from me.

Like everyone I had two parents, four grandparents and if you carry this on back to the sixteenth generation there would have been some 65,536 individuals who were my 13th great grandparents. That is more than 3% of the year 1450’s English population; one person in every thirty-three would have been related to me.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Carry this back more generations and we reach my direct 17th great grandfather, another Thomas Denton. But the number of 17th great grandparents (twenty generations back) swells to 1,048,576. After the demographic destruction of the Black Death, by 1377 England’s population is estimated to have been under 2.5 million. This means that over 40% of people back then would have been my grandparents.

Forget any notion of ‘six degrees of separation’! Provided you can find the records, then you should be able to connect yourself back to almost anyone.

Danny Dyer celebrating the statistical quirk

As Danny Dyer found in his Who do you think you are? broadcast which linked him back to Edward III, king of England 1327-1377. Sorry to disappoint Danny, but you too would have been related to 40% of England’s population.

I found I was able to travel back so many generations to my GGF26 (ie twenty-nine generations) which if the mathematics holds true means there would have been 536 million GGF29s of mine – that’s nine times today’s population of the UK! Clearly there must have been a degree of in-breeding – see my GGF13 tale of keeping it in the family.

Fortunately this disturbing set of statistics didn’t interfere with my enjoyment in finding us connected to intriguing antecedents and notable relatives. So perhaps that isn’t so impressive?

Note on shorthand acronyms being used in the DFB (Denton Family Bible):
GGF1 / GGM1 – means first great-grandfather /mother;
GU11 / GA11 – means eleventh great-uncle / great-aunt;
1C3 – means first cousin three times removed

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