poetry and prose about place

the unknown thousands – family history

with 8 comments

Today, I will divert a little from my usual topics and mutter about genealogy.  Along with my other projects, I try to keep learning about my family.  Fortunately, I have a lots of materials to look at: family letters, post cards, diaries, well-researched family trees and so on.


I am always surprised at how much is lost.  Some of this is due to the loss of records, some is due to the overwhelming numbers of people involved in the family history of just one person. When I first became interested in family history, I thought about how many lives have contributed to make ‘me’.  The numbers of ‘grandparents’ add up quickly as I go back in time.



Generation Numbers of parents/‘grandparents’
1   (me)
2   (my parents) 2
3   (my grandparents) 4
4   (my great-grandparents) 8
5   (great-great-grandparents) 16
6 32
7 64
8 128
9 256
10 512
11 1024
12 2048
13 4096
14 8192
15 16384
16 32768
17 65536
18 131072 … and so on …


So, to make any one of us, it took thousands of people.  I knew this before, but knowing I have 131 thousand ‘grand-parents’ in 18 generations is unsettling.


I began by just trying to know the names of those 16 great-grandparents in the 5th generation.  I have them almost figured out.  Those with an * beside their name have a published family tree.  Those with a ? are uncertain.


Charles Clark (*) (farmer)

Margaret Aitcheson

James Johnson (farmer)

Mary MacIntosh

Lewis Norramon (?) (farmer)

Mary  …….  (?)

Josiah Hawk  (*) (shoemaker) )

Sara Kresge (*)

William Spavold (carpenter) (shipwrecked off Briar Island) ( )

Phelena Warner

Robert Manzer

Eleanor Evan

George Cook

Eliza Jane Smith

George Sabean  (*)

Jane Mullen



About some, like William Spavold, I know quite a lot (thanks to the efforts of my Dad).  I am also gradually assembling a history of my great-grandmother Ella Hawk (daughter of Josiah and Sara) (thanks to the efforts of my aunt).  The sad thing is, all I will ever know about most of these people is a name.  In spite of this, I owe them my existence.



my drawing of William Spavold, his mother and brother after their shipwreck

my drawing of William Spavold, his mother and brother after their shipwreck


Copyright  2014   Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 9, 2014 at 9:40 am

8 Responses

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  1. One does not usually have to go too far back in his or her family history to find cousins marrying cousins of one degree or another. This actually collapses the pedigree, because when cousins have children together, some of the children’s ancestors are repeated in another line. This can make for a family tree with very tangled roots! The more cousins having children together on one’s pedigree, the more lines of ancestors will be repeated, and the actual number of one’s ancestors will be fewer…

    Have you found any cousin marriages on your family tree, Jane?


    Barbara Rodgers

    April 13, 2014 at 10:59 am

    • Hi Barbara. I found a similar situation – a woman who married her uncle!!! That must certainly play havoc with the numbers and the gene pool! Jane


      jane tims

      April 13, 2014 at 7:20 pm

  2. What a coincidence! I’ve been doing some family tree research myself.
    I’d advise you to dig a little deeper into generation 13 – you know – the one with your 4096 grandparents. Back then (circa 1615), my kinfolk-uncle loaned your kinfolk-uncle 26 pound sterling (said he needed another Clyde to expand his turnip production). Alas! Turns out brassicas were hit with Alternaria leaf spot the same year; crop never got to market, and my family never got paid!
    Jane, dear, now’s your chance to do the right thing – step back in time, as it were; re-write history. Principal only. I’ll forgo the interest (just the type of guy I am).
    You have my mailing address, don’t you?



    April 10, 2014 at 7:09 am

    • Hi Neil. I know from doing a little research that the next year (1616) my Great-Great sold the Clyde to your kin at the going rate minus 30 pound sterling (original plus interest). Pay up! Jane


      jane tims

      April 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      • Now, Jane, we stand in need of two clarifications here. And, just to be fair, it’ll be one apiece.
        First, am I to understand that your Great-Great surrendered both the Clyde AND 30 pounds to my dear uncle? What a profitable transaction that was! You certainly come from great entrepreneurial stock, don’t you? (Surprize! Surprize! {{ I know – the spelling: long live the Queen! }} And you say you spent 27 years working for the government? Small wonder. With business acumen like that, they must’ve hated to see you go.
        Second, you must needs be aware of a recently unearthed diary written by my then uncle’s wife, Moon Unit ( yes; seems we were tied in with the Zappa clan back there somewhere. Don’t think Frank knew about it, though; leastwise I never picked up on any hints while backmasking ‘You Are What You Is’ – definitely his best, don’tcha think?) Anyways, Moon Unit goes on at great lengths to list a cornucopia of afflictions that the ol’ paint was suffering from at the time of sale. With hay fever, girth itch, colic, and heaves, the poor thing could hardly walk! All I can say is, ‘gee, shanks’! Small wonder the blight spread through the rows of turnip: with his moving so slow, no air was gettin’ circulated.
        Speaking of circulation, I shall tell my bank manger to expect you at what time?



        April 14, 2014 at 7:32 am

      • Hi Neil. Having spent the whole day looking through people who lived in Wyoming in the 1880s, I didn’t understand a word you wrote. It has to be last name first, first name last and badly written. Jane


        jane tims

        April 14, 2014 at 4:23 pm

  3. It’s amazing how many direct ancestors we have if we go back just a few generations. I once traced Grandma’s paternal line back to Switzerland.. . and then figured out that I may only be 0.4% Swiss. 😉



    April 9, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    • Hi Sheryl. It’s so true … we can never claim to come from just one place!!!! Jane


      jane tims

      April 13, 2014 at 7:16 pm

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