How Many Ancestors Does it Take to…

Have your ever sat down and gave some serious thought as to what it took to bring your life into existence? Now, this is not the birds and bees talk—I’ll leave that to you Moms and Dads. And I’m not speaking here of the more important spiritual answer to that question which is clearly recorded in the Bible.

“The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
Job 33:4 (CSB)

“For it was you who created my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
Psalm 139:13 (CSB)

Today, I’m considering the sheer volume of direct ancestors that came before us to make our existence possible. So, let’s examine the math behind the question of how many ancestors did it take to bring our life to bear.

Doing the Math

I loved mathematics in school growing up. Especially when I got to high school. Why? Because in math there’s only one correct answer. If you solve the equation properly, you’ll arrive at the solution. The answer is objectively right or wrong. Subjectivity doesn’t come into play for the final solution in mathematics. How you get to the mathematical solution may be subjective, but the answer itself is not. It’s either right or wrong.

Do you remember your high school math teacher asking you this question:

“Would you rather have a penny that doubled every day for a month, or one million dollars in cash today?”

Without doing the math, most students would quickly choose the one million dollars today. But, when you do the math, take that single penny, and double it every day for 30 days—in the end you would have $5,368,709.12. That’s the power of doubling.

So what’s all this talk about math have to do with today’s blog topic on ancestors? The mathematical certainty of doubling answers the question, “How many ancestors did it take?” Let’s take a look at a portion of my family tree. Going back three generations, I had two parents, four grandparents and eight great-grandparents.

Eight Grandparents on Ancestral Tree

Dr. Velma Love, in her Ancestral Mathematics blog post from April 6, 2021, continues this doubling math to the ninth generation concluding that we have 2,048 ninth great-grandparents. This doubling math sheds light on the enormity of just how many ancestors we had over the past 400 years for us to exist today.

Discovering Your Story

Writing my book Fortitude gave me tremendous joy in discovering the stories of my long-lost ancestors. But thanks to the eye-opening mathematical-based revelation of Dr. Velma Love, I realize that there are so many more stories to search out. There’s so much more work to be done.

At age 64, I assuredly don’t have enough time left on earth to discover the stories of each of my 4,096 tenth great-grandparents. I’ve learned a little about Edward and Diana Spalding of Rendenall, England, who were married in 1598, but what about the other 4,094 tenth great-grandparents of mine. Just the thought of that challenge is overwhelming.

So, if you are reading this blog post today, take some time to personally thank the 4,096 ancestors (going back ten generations) that it took to bring your life to bear. And if you thank just one grandparent per minute, it will only take you 68 hours to thank them all!

Published by Dale Spaulding

Family historian and author of Fortitude.

One thought on “How Many Ancestors Does it Take to…

  1. Dale’s love for history shows in his writing. And, It is infectious. With all the other things one could read today, this post drew me in. I had never thought of how special I am as an individual from the standpoint of how many generations of people it took just to make me. Wow! Being an adoptee, I didn’t care too much about my family history. But seeing things through Dale’s eyes, I am now intrigued. Just because I didn’t know who my biological family was growing up, doesn’t mean that I am not unique and that I don’t have a rich history. Thank you for sharing Dale! And yes, I would have taken the million upfront! ;-p


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