Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Guest Blogger: Karen Harrington

Clinton may be related to Angelina, but YOU might be too.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society announced some interesting findings a couple of weeks ago.

Hillary Clinton and Angelina Jolie have something in common: they are ninth cousins. Author Jack Kerouac and Camilla Parker-Bowles, wife of England’s Prince Charles are also among her gene pool.

An auspicious family tree, nay, orchard, if you ask me. Lots of interesting branches.

But I am not shocked. In fact, I’d wager that at least one of the readers of this blog is my distant relative. (Hey, you want an author to write about our big, dysfunctional family, right?) This is all part of a concept known as pedigree collapse. Here’s how it works.

We all have two parents, four grandparent, and eight great grandparents. Let’s assume for the sake of math that the average generation is twenty-five years long. If we go back in time 1200 years (800 AD) each person would have 281.5 trillion grandparents. This calculation is done by reasoning the number of grandparents doubles every 25 years – and in 48 generations (or 1200 years) 281.5 trillion names would be on a person’s pedigree.

But in 800 AD, there weren’t even that many people in the world. How could any of us have that many grandparents? The answer: they are not all different people. Some names on your family tree would appear twice, or ten times, or even one hundred times over the years. Ancestors married their relatives throughout the years, knowingly or unknowingly. This was particularly common among royal families who were encouraged to marry other kinsman of royal blood.

This is pedigree collapse. So if you trace your family roots backward, you will find that it spreads out for several generations – and ultimately “collapses” back on itself, corresponding with the original size of the world’s population.

There are even some geneticists who believe that everyone on earth is at least a 50th cousin to everyone else. It’s no wonder we don’t always get along. Most families do not.

But, this is what makes the study of genetic inheritance so fascinating. The knowledge that gifts, talents – even dark traits like mental illness or disease – can be passed down from one generation to the next. This linking of one ancestor to another is the integral theme to my novel Janeology – where readers can meet eight of Jane’s ancestors as her husband searches her family tree for answers to her nature and nurture.

So next time you research your family tree, expect to find the unexpected. And for all you cousins out there I have yet to meet, Howdy!

Karen Harrington is the author of Janeology, the story of one man’s struggle to understand why his wife Jane snapped and drowned their toddler son. As prosecutors turn their focus on him, citing his negligence in protecting his children from their mother, he is forced on a journey through her family history in search for clues about Jane’s nature and nurture.

She has won numerous writing awards including recognition from the Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Texas Film Institute.

She lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband, two daughters and two sneaky dogs.


Karen Harrington said...


Thanks for hosting me here today. I love the diversity of all the articles posted here.

Much success,

"What did Jane do and why?"

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Ok, Karen, but if I find out I'm related to G.W. Bush in any way, shape, or form, I'm just gonna have to wear a paper bag over my head in public for the rest of my life. :)
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Chapter One is now online!

rebecca said...

Oh oh oh, I just put a pic up on my blog that shows the fambly resemblance --

Nice to see you here, Karen!