Thursday, November 20, 2008

An exploration of the genealogy of George Washington illustrates the key to studying genealogy. If one traces his Washington ancestry in a straight line back from his Washington ancestors from Northumbia and even further, one can determine that Washington was descended from Malcolm III, King of Scotland. But if one traces the ancestry of Washington's maternal side at each generation, one discovers that the Washington males married well and repeatedly established relationships with the English royalty. Hence, George Washington is also descended from Charlemagne, William "the Conqueror", Henry I "Beauclerc", and is even descended from the French, Spanish, and Russian royal families. For this reason, at the end of the American Revolutionary war, a delegation went to Washington and asked that he become king of the new nation. Washington, however, refused and walked away from power. Later, he helped lead the effort for the drafting and adoption of the U.S. Constitution which established the position of President instead of a monarch, with Washington then being elected as our nation's first president. After two terms, Washington resigned and again walked away from power, breaking with the European tradition for centuries that power was hereditary and passed down through the next in line of the ruling family. But there is another lesson from studying the genealogy of George Washington. It turns out that, mathematically, every individual of European ancestry has to be descended from Charlemagne and probably other European royalty. The difficulty is establishing one's ancestry far enough back to discover such links. But all of us, whether of European origin or not, can probably claim some royal ancestors. So I think the ultimate lesson is not that one person has a better pedigree and thus is better than anyone else, but that instead we are all related! This is what I find fascinating about genealogy - as another way of studying history and all its interconnections.