Posted by Crista Cowan on August 16, 2012 in Research

I cringe every time someone says their genealogy is “all done.”  I’m a professional genealogist.  I’ve been doing this for decades, building on family history research passed down to me from a great-uncle and parents who knew what they were doing.  And I am not even close to finished.  There are still hundreds of people left to discover in my ancestry, never mind all the aunts, uncles, and cousins on the rest of the family tree.

Here’s the way I see it.

You have two parents and each of them have two parents. That means that each generation you go back your number of ancestors doubles.  Add that to all previous generations and you end up with 1,022 people responsible for your existence in just ten generations.

Are you with me so far?  Maybe this will help.

If you figure that an average generation is twenty-five years, ancestors in your tenth generation were born about 300 years ago.  Over one thousand people to discover in just 300 years of history.  So, how are you doing?

Here’s how I’m doing.

I can only prove out 36% of the people responsible for my existence in the last 300 years.  That means that 64% of my ancestry for that same time period is completely unknown to me.  So, even if you can carry one tiny strand of your ancestry back further than that – and I can on a couple of lines – there is always more to discover about who you are and who you come from!

What’s your number?

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Twitter


  1. I can only go back as far as 1850 where I find my great,great grandfather and his wife and 3 children. Because none of the family I am in contact with have any informational proof of his parentage I have hit a brick wall. We did a DNA of a male cousin of same surname and still cant obtain any information about any one who the DNA says is a close relation. They have never heard of our surname in their family.So I am very disappointed that we wasted our money on DNA testing.

  2. If I had a dollar for every time a relative has asked; ‘Have you finished our family tree, YET?” I know they aren’t saying it, but I feel like they are wondering…just exactly what have you been doing on this?

    I love this article and your visuals. Of course, by the time you get back seven generations it is quite likely that your tree would have collapsed a bit because of related lines intermarrying, but it would still be a number quite a bit larger than the 365 you have identified. This will be a fun exercise to determine your own ‘rough’ percentage and I will give it a try.


  3. Ashía Bridges

    I have around 225 for certain verified, mostly on my maternal side. I am still working on verifying my birth-father’s side; I don’t know a lot about those relatives (and their names are consistently misspelled in records), so it’s been quite difficult, but I can’t wait to discover some more information.

  4. My number is 866 or 85%. My mother has five 19th century ancestors that were born out of wedlock, fathers unknown, which holds my number back. My father’s number is higher than my own: 903 (or 88%). I’ve got 8 generations complete on his side, and only miss one person in generation 9.

    Of course, it all depends on when you count somebody. Is it enough to know a name (first and last)? Or do you only count people of whom you’ve also found their basic dates like birth, marriage and death? In that case, my number would be a few percent lower.

  5. Ashía Bridges

    FYI: my number included aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. As far as verified grandparents, my true number is 28.

  6. Such a great post! Yep, you’re never really “done” with your family history. I started researching my family history about 16 years ago and my 9-generation fan chart proves that I’m not “done” yet. 🙂

  7. My number is limited to ancestors only, otherwise you can’t determine the percentage. Unlike the number of biological parents, you never know how many siblings there are 🙂

  8. Lacey

    I’m at 112. Considering I just started with half of my family (paternal side…long story), I think that’s pretty good so far.

  9. Darlene8705

    When people ask me if “Im Done”. I say no, but I’m still the sum total of my ancestry. It’s like a math problem, each generation adding up to the person taking the time to research their background.

    Thankyou for the interesting comments and examples.
    Now I know why I enjoy doing Arabian Horse Research so much. It’s easy to go past the 10th generation without gaps in the information. Goes to show we humans take more care in recording our “animal” backgrounds, than we do for our own.


  10. This post should be linked to every time someone claims they got back to Adam & Eve (or Charlemagne or whoever) during the 14-day free trial 😛
    After 3 years this is mine. A few are just names from a child’s birth/marriage/death certificate so it’s probably closer to 8 or 9%.

    Generations 1-4: 15 out of 15 (100%)
    5th Generation: 15 out of 16 (94%)
    6th Generation: 25 out of 32 (78%)
    7th Generation: 36 out of 64 (56%)
    8th Generation: 26 out of 128 (20%)
    9th Generation: 6 out of 256 (2%)
    10th Generation: 0 out of 512 (0%)
    TOTAL: 123 out of 1023 (12%)

  11. Long time user

    I find it interesting how we all are doing on our family history. I have gone back to the 1600s in this country but in several instances, I have the same immigrant ancestors many times. It can be a real challenge to sort out all these families to be sure I have it correct.

    I find I’m researching many other collateral lines to confirm my findings and there are fewer records and more names that are the same. It’s a challenge but fun. Makes my head spin at times.

    Don’t be fooled by the “name gatherers” who do no research and have many thousands of names with no documentation. Many of these trees are partially correct and partially wrong. Do you really want to spend your time collecting the wrong people by following the wrong lines?

    I have no patience with these folks, but I have no time to point out all the mistakes, even the obvious. I’m busy with my own trees and time limitations.

  12. Betty Dahlstedt

    I would guess I would be finished when I close my eyes for the last time.
    I have been at this since the middle 1960s.I have over 8000 documented ancestors for my children. I am considering splitting my tree as it is cumbersome to handle so many people.
    I only use other peoples trees as hints to look in the right direction. To me a “Source Citation” is NOT another persons tree, especially since there is often no documentation in that tree.

  13. Lori Bragg

    Who wants to be done? I love the hunt. Sometimes when I hit a brick wall on my lines and my husband’s, I start on friend’s lines!

    17% after almost 40 years! Still have lots to do. Finding new records almost every week as I dig up Irish and Polish records that weren’t available to until now!

    This would be a fun report in FTM and a stat that would be cool on a profile! I guess there’s always a chance it’s wrong or faked – but still fun!

  14. Apart from the fact that genealogy is a never ending story, I am nowhere near the end. My figures are as follows:
    Generation 1-4: 100% (15 out of 15)
    Generation 5: 100% (16 out of 16)
    Generation 6: 100% (32 out of 32)
    Generation 7: 50% (32 out of 64)
    Generation 8: 18.75 % (24 out of 128)
    Generation 9: 10.16 % (26 out of 256)
    Generation 10: 1.56 % (8 out of 512)
    Total 153 out of 1023: 14.96%

  15. Tom Thomason

    As an expansion comment to the post by “Long time user”…

    You’ve failed to even mention those people who show girls of nine with five children, men over two hundred years old (I’ve run into two of those), women of eighteen who marry men 95 years old and have multiple children by them, people who die before they were born, etc.

    This not only shows that they don’t really care to even look at things they add it also makes life difficult for those who are actually striving for accuracy.

  16. Gweneira

    Generations 1-4: 15 out of 15
    5th Generation: 16 out of 16
    6th Generation: 27 out of 32
    7th Generation: 32 out of 64
    8th Generation: 13 out of 128
    9th Generation: 9 out of 256
    10th Generation: 6 out of 512
    TOTAL: 118 out of 1023 (11.5%)

    I surprised myself when I realised that the 11th Generation has 4 people in it with the earliest being born circa 1669.

  17. Laura

    Crista, why do you feel that you can more properly set someone’s genealogical goals than they can? A genealogist can legitimately have a goal of documenting their ancestors’ vital information for five generations back or of finding the immigrant ancestor in a particular line. This is no more arbitrary than measuring against a ten-generations tally, as you are encouraging here. If you meet someone who has completed their goal, I encourage you, rather than cringing, to congratulate them and not judge them for moving on to a different hobby if they want to do so.

  18. Audrey Babbitt

    I have researched back to 980! I have found 17x ggrandparents. Never done always something interesting to search. Love finding relatives that I had no idea about. Happy hunting!

  19. I would like to add this word about the “number” you seem to be soooo interested in. It does NOT matter as
    the entire “ANCESTRY.COM” program is only useful as
    a structural guide to help layout the player’s in
    your background and history. Where some are concerned
    about a missing parent, we do not spoil the record by
    worrying about the exact details, but show them as
    imaginary or hypothetical details with a replacement to
    be added later and then proceed with added persons from
    there on. Yes, it leaves holes throughout the entire
    program, but, many of them are filled by the passing of
    time and the completion of my later information on earlier
    persons. So we can talk of 3232 persons in one of patterns and another with 5200 persons and another with
    324 people in a special set. We have family lines in
    various places with as few as 40-50 and some as many as
    380 people on line. Let see if we can talk about making the
    program work better, rather than “numbers”, OK?

  20. I started my research 4 years ago-I have 125 ancestors.

    At that rate, I will be “done” in 2041. I could only hope Im that successful!

  21. Jacqueline J. Davis

    Haven’t figured mine yet, but these are great teaching tools and I’ll be sure to use them! This is such a great way to illustrate to everyone that you can never be ‘done’!

  22. Bill Parr

    So far, 18,374 persons in my tree. I started with the hand cranked microfilm readers in the local Mormon Church in 1975 and with today’s technology, can easily add thousands more persons if I could find the time. My son says it’s like bacteria, just keeps growing. So far, I’ve purchased just about every product you’ve produced and when you add it all up, really not much for such an interesting hobby. I communicate on a daily basis with distant cousins all over the US who share genealogy as a hobby. We never would have known one another any other way. My tree is private but I share tons of information with others. Using and in concert has been an excellent source of information, also providing additional proof of a relationship. Thanks for all the years of enjoyment!

  23. Sarah

    My family tree was started years ago by my great uncle, who as far as I can tell didn’t save any of his records, so I have a ton of names and birth and/or death dates, but no confirmation from censuses or birth records or anything. So far, except for some relatives on my father’s side, I haven’t extended it much, except to add any records I can find.

    But, going just by who we have names for, our numbers look like this:

    10 generations
    1/1 =100%
    2/2 =100%
    4/4 =100%
    8/8 =100%
    9/16 =56.25%
    8/32 =25%
    12/64 =18.75%
    12/128 =9.375%
    16/256 =6.25%
    22/512 =4.30%
    Total 94/1023 =9.19%

    Yikes, I never realized how much more I have to do!

    Now, my actual goal is to get the whole family back to Europe – and since I’ve got French Canadian blood on at least 3 out of 4 sides, that’s back to the 1600s, or, let’s say, 15 generations:

    40/1024 =3.91%
    73/2048 =3.56%
    83/4096 =2.02%
    41/8192 =0.50%
    7/16384 =0.02%
    TOTAL 338/32767 =1.03%

    (That’s disregarding 1 unconfirmed Native American ancestor in the 14th generation).

    And just for fun, my great uncle was able to trace one line back to Charlemagne, but I’ve only put the first 22 generations (back to when we first hit royalty) on my tree. I won’t write it all out but, presuming I wanted to get ALL my roots that far back, it’d be .008% complete.

    That was strangely exciting to calculate.

  24. SIMBAD

    Wow, I am amazed on how far some people have gone. For my defense, I just started and have only been on a month. I was a member of Rootsweb before bought it. I have had the most success with my mom’s paternal side but the other family members, not so well. I have reached 112 in a month with the parent and the many greatXparents and all of the children they have,my list is growing every day, lol. I even found a distant cousin who was related to my Great-Great-grandmother on my mom’s paternal side. It is so fun finding this and it’s amazing. How exciting this journey is and will continue to be. Good luck everyone!

  25. Ken

    Is there any easy way to get a count of Generations 9 and 10? Other than doing this by hand? How do I get a useful graphic like the one displayed in the article?


  26. Heather Skoda

    I’ve always been fascinated by family history and was the family historian even as a child, collecting every piece of information, photos, and documents I could. I loved the look of marriage, birth and death certificates and old photos with scrawled handwriting on the backs.

    I found this blog interesting and quickly counted up my numbers. Rather shocking to say the least. There are several lines that go way back to the 1500s in England and royalty there so those records are easier to discover while others are more difficult.

    Here’s where I stand and where I need to go.

    1-6 – all found = 31
    7th – 21
    8th – 19
    9th – 12
    10th – 20
    11th – 23

    For a grand total of 126. Leaving 897 individuals out of 1023 left to be found (about 8.11%) WOW!!!!

    I thought I was further along, guess not. 🙂 It’s a never ending journey. Off I go!

  27. Heather Skoda

    Oops. Used wrong numbering –

    1-5 – all found = 31
    6th – 21
    7th – 19
    8th – 12
    9th – 20
    10th – 23

  28. Carolyn Harris

    To my utter amazement I have over 5,000 people in my ancestry, that date right back to about 24AD… give or take a few unseen mistakes along the way.

    I have been so fortunate that a great number of them are historical figures and so can be easily traced BUT… finished??? Never!

    I can see years ahead of me and no doubt my son after I am gone..

    It’s a wonderful journey with so many stops alone the way as one researches history.

    Great retirement mental exercises 😀

  29. Don Richard

    My number is 899, but that is not 899 different people. The closest relation my parents are is 5th cousins, two different ways through my father. My father’s paternal grandparents were second cousins through a son of the couple my mother also descends from. This happens all over my tree, my parents are cousins. All 4 of my grandparents are cousins of each other multiple ways. All 8 of my great grandparents are cousins of each other multiple ways, and so on up the line.

  30. Denise

    Here is one for anyone who knows how to figure this one out. I am at a stand still because on my mother’s side our 1st President, George Washington is my 2nd cousin, 12X removed. BUT on my father’s side which is the Rogers family our 1st President, George Washington is my 6th Great Grand Uncle. So. if the two blood lines are in me, then doesn’t that make him completly a stronger link in my tree?
    Really would like to know the answer to this one!!
    Denise Please email me with answer

  31. Stuart

    The interesting paradox is that the number actually goes the other way. We all descended from a very few people, and the number got bigger as time went along. As you go farther and farther back through the generations, there has to be redundancy.

  32. Generation 1 of the Dickinson family began abt.1500 when Gabriel was born. I do know that he had at least three sons Henry, (Waters b. 1530) and (John b.1564) The family lived in Billingborough, Lincolnshire, England until Generation 4, when the Dickinson’s began emigrating to the USA. Generation 12 is my generation. We have flourished over the years learning more and more about our family. I am eagerly awaiting the return of my DNA which I hope will provide even more exciting news about our Dickinson clan who endured so much over the gene- rations. They died fighting the Indians, fought in all manner of wars, sometimes lives were shortened by illnesses and diseases we never hear about in our modern days. This is our heritage to be proud of. Joyce Dickinson Beckner

  33. Karen

    Generations 1-6 complete
    7 =47 [paternal branches mainly Irish end here]
    11 =16
    Total 271

  34. Hi my name is Myra and I don’t have any training in Genealogy and I have a problem with my Outline Descendant Report. I have FTM 2011 and my report lists several individuals as 8th generation and than several of the same individuals as 9th generations which results in 101 pages. When I run the same report on my desktop FTM 2006 I get 69 pages. I would love to put FTM 2006 on my new laptop but I can’t find my 2006 instalation disk. Nor can I find one on line. I have always been afraid to ask for help on line, but I sense your honesty. Do you know where I can buy another 2006 program or a book that can help me with this problem. Thanks Myra

  35. Sarah Thompson

    I believe the Diamond Theory makes more sense.

    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?

    It is estimated that 80% of the marriages in history were between second cousins. Why? Because the population base was smaller, people lived in small communities and migrated within those same small communities. The theory in genealogical research is that our family trees are actually shaped like a diamond, not a pyramid as shown below. Tracing back a few generations gives a wider shape. Keep going and you find the shape narrowing, eventually, the theory holds, converging to only a few ancestors.

    More at:

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