How Far Back Should I Be Able to Trace My Family Tree?

For most of us tracing an ancestor back to the early 1700s or 1600s is a major accomplishment. I think you should congratulate yourself for each ancestor you manage to locate!

You never know when you will hit a brickwall – I have one in 1911 and another in 1891 . . .   It is fun periodically to have a bash at a brickwall – you never know when newly available information will help you knock it down!

Have you ever met anyone who says their family tree has been traced back to William the Conqueror?  – 1066 and all that!  What about getting back to the Emperor Charlemagne?  What about going back to Noah?  Adam and Eve?

What do you say to one of these people?  Just say “Wow aren’t you fortunate!” and head back to your research –  and brickwalls!

Certainly if you can link into a line of royalty or nobility you will have access to a tree that extends further.

How far back should you expect to be able to go, even if you have royalty and nobility?  Dick Eastman at reminded me of an article from a few months ago and of a very recent update on the topic.

The FamilySearch blog on 10 Jan 2013 has article by Nathan Murphy entitled “I Have my Tree Back to Adam and Eve.”  On 8 May 2013 Nathan published Part 2 of the article.  (By the way, how do you get the blog at FamilySearch now that the site has been revised? Just go to the very bottom of any page for a link to the blog).

The 10 January article included the following:

“When asked if it is possible for living people to extend ancestral lines back to Adam and Eve, Robert C. Gunderson, Senior Royalty Research Specialist, of the Church Genealogical Department, stated:

“The simplest answer is No. Let me explain. In thirty-five years of genealogical research, I have yet to see a pedigree back to Adam that can be documented. By assignment, I have reviewed hundreds of pedigrees over the years. I have not found one where each connection on the pedigree can be justified by evidence from contemporary documents. In my opinion it is not even possible to verify historically a connected European pedigree earlier than the time of the Merovingian Kings (c. a.d. 450–a.d. 752).

“Every pedigree I have seen which attempts to bridge the gap between that time and the biblical pedigree appears to be based on questionable tradition, or at worst, plain fabrication. Generally these pedigrees offer no evidence as to the origin of the information, or they cite a vague source.” (Source: Robert C. Gunderson, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb. 1984, 31).

After the first article Nathan was asked several questions answers including: “(1) has additional research conducted since 1984 improved the situation, and (2) isn’t it possible for European royalty to trace their lineage back to Biblical genealogies? Here is Nathan’s reply, “François Weil provides authoritative answers to these questions in his new book Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America (2013) published by Harvard University Press.

Weil, Chancellor of the Universities of Paris, states:

“Genealogy was originally the prerogative of kings and princes. The oldest surviving royal genealogies in Europe go back to the sixth century A.D. for Gothic sovereigns, to the seventh century for their Irish, Lombardic, Visigothic, and Frankish counterparts, and to the eighth and ninth centuries for Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian kings. “(pp. 10-11).

Thus Weil and Gunderson agree – European royal pedigrees cannot be verified before the 500s A.D.

If family tree databases, such as FamilySearch FamilyTree suggest otherwise, I would encourage you to correct the information and ask contributors for their sources.

To learn more, read: Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. By François Weil. Published by Harvard University Press, Online bookstore; 2013. “ (Source:  Nathan Murphy:

Remember family history without sources (or documentation) is a myth!

Ah well, for me it’s all hypothetical anyway.  No royalty or nobility found anywhere in my tree – so far, but I’ll keep looking.

I’d better get back to finding my ever moving peasant ancestors!!  Why do they move almost every generation?


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