How Far Back: Charlemagne? Genghis Khan? Adam and Eve?

We’ve all seen them: family trees which purportedly go back over 700 years.  Many trace their lineage to Charlemagne or other royals, as those were among the few people who kept track of genealogy.   I have seen some that actually “trace” back to Adam and Eve.  As in, the first two people to have ever lived, according to Biblical history.

Recently, I got a “match” on familysearch.org giving me the option to link my chart with another one matching a person on that tree.  Well, I reviewed it for sources and could find few, but what I did notice was that it went all the way back to 130 A.D.  One hundred and thirty years after Christ’s birth?!  That would be fantastic if it were true.  But, with zero sources linked, I had to say no.

I didn’t attach this tree to mine, and I’m certainly not accusing anyone of impropriety.  But, it got me thinking.  How far back can really be said to be reliable?  At what point do you disassociate yourself from distant ancestors?  I personally can’t really relate to anything prior to 1500 A.D.–I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

How far back have you gotten in your research?  Can you relate to ancestors from over 500 years ago?  Have you ever seen a convincing tree that went back that far?   I’d love to hear your opinions on this.

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12 thoughts on “How Far Back: Charlemagne? Genghis Khan? Adam and Eve?

  1. Good post! With real sources the furthest I’ve gone back is about 1770 on one family line. I’ve had a similar reaction to some family trees I’ve found on ancestry.com. Nothing back before 1500, but far enough back with no sources that I now know not to trust it. Early on I just assumed everything there had to be “fact.” but I’ve learned otherwise and just don’t trust anyone else’s research until I double-check their sources. The whole crowd-sourced method of genealogy can be very dangerous.

    • Thank you! And I agree. I feel pretty confident about things until around 1650, then (sometimes even with sources) I wonder if I’m just playing a game of “telephone.” Compounding this issue is when you run into family surnames like Smith or Jones (I have both!). One of the nicest things anyone ever did for me on ancestry.com was say, “I know you have X written, but I think it might actually be Y.” That really opened my eyes to not making assumptions!

      • I am glad to hear that since I’ve done that with a couple of people. Sometimes I hear nothing back, sometimes they are embarrassed but grateful. Once I asked someone what their sources were, and I heard nothing, so I knew there was nothing there that could be reliable.

  2. I happily hang out in the 1800s. I’ve done some work in the 1700s and very late 1600s but I am not really interested in going any further back. There is plenty to do in the 1800s so that is where I primarily work. I’m like you, after a certain point it is difficult to prove and feels like a game of telephone. I do have several lines in FamilySearch Family Tree that go back ridiculously far but I don’t consider this at all reliable.

    • I agree, for me it is an issue of quality over quantity. I really enjoy being able to do almost fully biographies of individuals. I did once attach a tree that went far back, but only because some of the 1700s information was persuasive and I wanted to keep it as a reference. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. Yep, I have a family tree developed in the 1970s and revised in the 1980s which takes one branch back to 1280 and another to 611 through Charlemagne in 742 !! No documentation and needless to say that isn’t in my tree.

  4. I read a blog post and it stated that it would be a rare person, of Western European ancestry, that was NOT descended from Charlemagne. Welcome aboard….

  5. Really interesting post; you’ve raised issues I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    I’ve managed recently on a couple of branches to go back to the mid 18th century. All of my ancestors are Scots, and the records are pretty good, so I’m confident that in each of these cases I have the right people. But I’m also pretty sure that I won’t be able to trace the lines much (if any) further back. My ancestors were working people – land labourers and later factory workers. They didn’t own land, so in the main, the only traces they left on the written record are in parish records – christenings, marriages and burials – and possibly the Minutes of Parish Councils if they’d committed an indiscretion. For Scottish records, once you get back beyond people who might have been alive for the 1841 census and the introduction of statutory records in the 1850s and 60s, it’s very difficult to corroborate findings. The way Scottish families named their kids after family members means that within a small village in a narrow time-band you can have several people with exactly the same Christian, middle and surnames. They are usually cousins, but it’s a wonderfully frustrating exercise trying to figure them all out 🙂

    And, like you, I am interested in quality not quantity. I think I’m definitely a family and social historian rather than a genealogist.

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