How many ancestors can I name?

I’d like to credit Cathy Meder-Dempsey’s post, “My Ancestor Score as of Valentine’s Day 2016” at her blog Opening Doors in Brick Walls as the inspiration for my finding my Ancestor Score.


The idea of “Ancestor Score” is to calculate how many ancestors of you can identify in each generation, starting with yourself, and, in many examples, ending at 10 generations back.  Ten generations back would be 7x great grandparents.  As you go back, the number of ancestors doubles with each generation, so you have 512 7x great-grandparents!  And how far back in time is that?  On average, there are 3-4 generations per century, so 10 generations is between about 250-330 years!

The calculation of the ancestor score is pretty straightforward- it is who you know divided by how many there are.  You can see the score per generation and a total score over all ten generations.  It was a humbling experience!

Generation Relationship Possible # Identified # Percentage
1 Me- Yup I know this one, LOL 1 1 100%
2 Parents 2 2 100%
3 Grandparents 4 4 100%
4 Great-Grandparents 8 8 100%
5 2x   Great-Grandparents 16 12 75%
6 3x   Great-Grandparents 32 20 62.5%
7 4x   Great-Grandparents 64 24 37.5%
8 5x   Great-Grandparents 128 14 10.9%
9 6x   Great-Grandparents 256 3 0.01%
10 7x   Great-Grandparents 512 0 0%
Total   1023 88 0.08%

I was doing really well up through my great grandparents!  Of these great grandparents I was able to name parents for all but 2, so even in generations 5 and then 6, things were solid.

It was looking at the later generations that put things in a different light.  I have tested DNA with the 3 major genetic genealogy companies: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry DNA and 23 and me.  My personal genealogy results have been less than enlightening.  I match a ton of people that I have no idea why we match.  Furthermore, most of these contacts seem to have no clue either!  In a quest to further figure things out I’ve also uploaded my results to GedMatch. It is all a bit overwhelming!  I wondered if my paper trail genealogy contained some huge errors!

My ancestor score chart put some perspective on the situation.  My first cousins match at generation 3, second at generation 4 and so on. Sixth cousins would match at generation 8- we share 5th great grandparents. So someone who matches me at 6th cousin and I have 128 possible common ancestors and I do not know even the names of 114 of these possibilities!  Many of my matches are at the 4th-6th cousin or more distant level.  So, I can see now why I’ve had so much difficulty with reconciling my DNA matches to my known ancestors.  Although I “knew” that the reason matches seemed to be perplexing was because I just hadn’t (and likely neither had the match) gone back far enough in our ancestry- seeing it visually in the chart made that reason much clearer for me!





One thought on “How many ancestors can I name?

  1. Hi there, I just happened upon your site by accident. I was looking at info on the Washington Well Farm in Blauwenburg, NJ, which was the home of Joost (George) Duryea in the mid- to late-1700s. It is now a BnB, so I was thinking of visiting there again. I have been there and walked around the cemetery, etc. Joost was my 5th great grandfather, and Frederick was my 4th great grandfather, who you said was also yours. Frederick, his son George, and George’s son William all ended up in or near Nunda, Livingston County, NY. William’s son John Conklin Duryea begat Winifred Belle Duryea, who was my grandmother. Supposedly, Frederick and his wife Charity are buried in Castile, Wyoming County, a few miles from Nunda, but I cannot find the grave. Anyway, I just thought I would introduce myself, being 5th cousins that we are. Talk to you again! Cheers! Val Ziegler


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