Pedigree Collapse or the Family Braid

Long ago I heard that genealogy is better described as a family braid rather than a family tree. Clearly the further back you go the more often ancestors will be repeated in your pedigree. An article at explains that well:

If we double the number of ancestors in each generation, 2 parents, 4 grandparents, and so on, we can see that by the time we are back 10 generations, we have the potential for 1024 ancestors. But is this true? If we were to go back to the time of Charlemagne, we would find we had the potential for 281 trillion (YES!) ancestors all living at that one moment in history. This is statistically impossible! So where did our ancestors go?

In my own family I have seen some evidence of repeating ancestors at about my 7th-10th Norwegian grandparents, several of whom are in my tree many times, thus significantly reducing my number of ancestors back in the 1500 and 1600s. For example my 7th and also my 8th grandfather, Nils Anderson Eig Øvrebø is in my tree multiple times.

However recently I got a really amazing example of pedigree collapse in a wonderful email from my newly found 4th cousin Susannah which said:

I have no one else in my family who can appreciate this so I just had to send to you. My mother-in-law’s 23andMe results finally came in today and I was shocked to see a ‘2nd Cousin’ match in DNA Relatives, given that almost all her ancestors come from Bossico, Bergamo, Italy.

… Now, if I look only at the paternal line, their common ancestor is 10 generations back – her 8th g-grandfather born in 1575. But I can quickly see that every female that married into this line also has a surname that is in my mother-in-law’s ancestry and can see her gg-aunt, 3rd g-aunt, 4th g-aunt etc. in his tree. I always wondered how that would look DNA-wise so now I have my answer. …

I fleshed out the tree and found the closest relationship to my mother-in-law- they are 3rd cousins 1x removed. Out of curiosity, I checked the autosomal stats, and saw that predicted average for that relationship is 0.391% and 26.56cM. Per 23andMe, Giovanfranco & Maria share 3.46% , 257cM on 20 segments. Wow!
Comparison Half IBD # segments
mother-in-law vs. son 126 cM 11
mother-in-law vs. father (3rd cousin 1x remved) 257 cM 20

And more about Bossico, Bergamo, Italy from my cousin

“I am not sure if I told you about the Marriage Consanguinity book that I found in the Bossico parish records when I was there last October. I didn’t know what it was at first because it looked like family trees, but then I realized that it was marriage records showing the degree of relationship between the bride and groom  for permission to marry.  Another researcher in Italy has done a transcription of it now – I sent it to him as his wife is also from Bossico – and it is a fascinating document.  It appears that it was only done for the years 1815-1849 – could not find any later book. It appears to be dispensations granted for marriages between 3rd cousins, 2nd cousins, 2C 1xR etc. It is calculating 3rd cousins as ‘4 degrees’  and 2nd cousins as ‘3 degrees’.  I believe that if the relationship was within ‘4 degrees’, the church required dispensation for the marriage. I have attached a transcription of it for you – just thought it was really interesting. My mother-in-law’s new cousin is a retired biology teacher so perhaps I can start to get him on the DNA bandwagon and we can look a bit more into the family histories of Bossico. It does have a reputation as  being one of the most ‘inbred’ towns in Italy.”

Anyone interested in a copy just contact me.


2 thoughts on “Pedigree Collapse or the Family Braid

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  1. Back in June after attending our annual Jamboree, I mentioned the name of an ancestress of ours – Keawemauhili, who was named after her/our ancestor Keawemauhili. The original Keawemauhili was named such because of his high rank, which was the result of close intermarriages. Although the name itself – Keawe is an ancient one whose meaning has been lost, the word “mauhili” refers to intertwining, braiding or entangled. Actually “hili” refers to twisting or braiding or stringing together as in a lei. Mau has the meaning of always, or forever. An ongoing situation.

  2. A very interesting article. I have the same issues with my father’s side of the family. He is mostly Cajun with many Acadian lines. There were lots of intermarriages through the years. In fact, his parents were first cousins once removed. And their parents were half first cousins once removed and second cousins. And so on and so on. Many cases of third and fourth cousins marrying. Many of our ancestors show up a multitude of times and one ancestor (Jean Gaudet) shows up thirty times in total.

    What this does to the DNA results is very noticeable. One 23andMe he has over 900 “2nd and 3rd cousins”. When I find someone who does have an extensive family tree, they invariably end up being around 7th cousins, but with many common lines. So this makes it difficult to be able to determine which common DNA comes from which common ancestor. I don’t know if it is possible.

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