Ancestor tester

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Not every QI question has to have a definitive answer - in fact it is a fundamental QI tenet that we know so little about *everything* that it is almost impossible to say *anything* with any certainty.  Should a subject come to light without an accepted viewpoint then we won't shy away from it - rather we'll attempt to start a discussion.

We recently looked at the rather sticky situation of the most common ancestor all humans - seeing as you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents etc...  it stands to reason that you'll soon get to a mathematical imbalance whereby you have more relatives then there are people who have ever lived on earth - this is because we all share many many relatives.  

We received a couple of angry e-mails claiming that the model that we used in the show - in which we said that everyone in the West was related to Charlemagne - was over-simplistic and based too much on mathematics rather than reality.  While we accept that it was a mathematical question rather than a historical one, we were really attempting to get people thinking about the idea, rather than giving an authoritative answer.  

The work that we cited belonged to Mark Humphrys, an academic at Dublin City University, so we could happily send links to his work to anyone who complained, but that technique was somewhat scuppered when Mr Humphrys himself wrote to us to say that we'd gotten his work slightly wrong:

"Hi guys

I was chuffed to be featured on QI "Greats" on Friday.

Just one small quibble: The Royal descent of Daniel Boone has been disproved.
I suspect you got that from an old article about me, rather than the current version of my work.

There are several hundred other famous people with Royal descents (ultimately from Charlemagne) who you could have picked instead, including Boswell, de Sade, Goethe, Darwin, Francis Bacon, David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Bill Gates, Marie Antoinette, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Anthony Eden, Lewis Carroll, Hugh Grant, Guy Ritchie, Brad Pitt, Rupert Everett, Ralph Fiennes, Johnny Dumfries, Barack Obama, Bush senior and junior, David Cameron, and hundreds more. See the page above for their descents."

Whoops.  Sorry Mark, as you say, our information came from an article rather from your own website, and for that (but not for instigating a debate on a quite interesting subject) we apologise.

If you see anything that in QI's input that doesn't seem quite right, get in touch by e-mail at or visit our talkboards at

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This page contains a single entry by eggshaped published on January 13, 2012 3:56 PM.

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