[History by Numbers] Royally confusing
I'm descended from royalty! But so are you… and here's proof
A headline in Entertainment Weekly a few years ago trumpeted that ‘Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’. It was timed to coincide with the fourth series of the mostly preposterous reimagining of Doyle’s great detective, Sherlock, and the research behind the headline was done by Ancestry.
More specifically, it was revealed that the actor and the author were 16th cousins twice removed, sharing a common ancestor in the illustrious figure of John of Gaunt, himself the son of King Edward III. ‘Imagine our surprise to discover that the connecting link between these two is British royalty,’ said one of the researchers.
Imagine, indeed. It makes for a great headline – which is perhaps why MyHeritage.com also got lots of lovely linkjuice when the Daily Mail broadcast its own research in 2015 that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are related, sharing a common ancestor in… John of Gaunt.
The truth is that if we go back far enough, it doesn’t need Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the probability of any two people having a common ancestor increases dramatically. Analysis of birth rates and population figures by AncestryDNA in 2015 suggested that the average Briton today has 193,000 living cousins who are sixth cousins or closer and share a traceable ancestor born in the last two centuries.