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The Longest Family Tree


Here is a good trivia question for genealogists: According to the Guinness Book of Records, who has the longest continuous family tree? A bit of reflection would suggest it is probably somebody famous and somebody who came from a culture that valued written records. The answer is Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher. Confucius (551-479 BC) was revered even in his own time as a great thinker and educator. His descendants now number in the millions and his family tree extends to 80 generations.

Confucius’ descendants had a vested interest in keeping proper family records. Successive generations were often honoured with official positions and titles of nobility by various imperial governments. This practice ended with China’s cultural revolution of the 1960’s, which frowned upon genealogical practices as a means of perpetuating and entrenching old customs and families.

However, as reported at the China Internet Information Center, genealogy has come back into favour and the Confucius Genealogy is once again being written. It has taken over ten years to prepare, and the genealogy is expected to be printed in several volumes sometime in 2009.

One interesting lesson we can learn from the Confucius Genealogy is that it provides the longest continuous data set of descendants (over 2,500 years). This long baseline can be used to calculate the average length of a generation. So, here is another interesting trivia question for genealogists: How long is a generation? Based on Confucius’ family, the best estimate over the long run is that a generation is 32 years.

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