Genghis Khan and His Brood: Tracing Your Family History
Genghis Khan, the famous Mongolian emperor, has long been considered the father of the Mongolian nation, but modern DNA evidence traced his legacy far beyond his imperial borders. In 2004, Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes identified him as “the most successful alpha male in human history,” leaving his mark on the genetic blueprints of more than 16 million people alive today.
But how in the world did Dr. Sykes figure this out? It’s not as if he retrieved a DNA sample from Khan’s 782-year old corpse (which, by the way, is nowhere to be found). The answer’s actually much more mainstream than you might think—all it took was some modern-day DNA samples and a little detective work on Oxford Ancestors, a leading provider of DNA-based services for personal ancestry research.
In fact, nowadays you don’t have to have a PhD to make similar fascinating discoveries about yours or anyone else’s genealogy. A plethora of online databases can give you centuries worth of information in seconds, which is convenient and appropriate considering 1 in 2.86 Americans aged 18 or older interested in tracking their family history have used the Internet to learn about it.
Whether it’s out of curiosity or pride—or a mixture of both—almost everyone is interested in his or her roots. In fact, 1 in 1.37 (73%) adults aged 18 or older is at least somewhat interested in tracking family history. Many go so far as to document what they can find, with 1 in 3.45 creating a family tree. Close to half that many, 1 in 6.67, has gone to the trouble of traveling to an ancestral hometown or country, and 1 in 9.09 has written a personal or family history.
It’s not surprising that 1 in 4 people who become interested in their family history find their interest aroused after searching for their surname online. Never before has it been easier to connect your ancestral dots. The commercial genealogy website Ancestry.com claims to have the largest online family history database in the world, containing more than 4 billion records. It is here that you can determine that civil rights activist Al Sharpton is a descendant of slaves owned by the ancestors of the now deceased Senator Strom Thurmond, an ardent opponent of desegregation. Ancestry.com, along with literally hundreds of websites, genealogy clubs across America, and DNA databases, can, within a few hours tops, tell you that Thomas Jefferson or one of his male relatives produced a child with his slave, Sally Hemings, or that you are among the ranks of the many thousands of people that share DNA with the Frankish King, Charlemagne—a distinction shared by at least 18 US presidents, 14 first ladies, Colin Powell, Walt Disney, Brook Shields, and every French and English monarch since the 10th century.
That’s almost enough ancestors to make old Genghis bat an eyelash.