Sunday, August 17, 2014

Twist, Martext, Cromwell, Hardy, Reed, North, Goldsmith, Wendell Homes . . .

My lead character, Oliver Swithin, is not a fictional version of me, although I'm vaguely aware that he voices a lot of my opinions and prejudices. I will, however, grudgingly allow that he may be living somewhere along one of my own roads not taken.

That forename stuck in my head after a vacation reading of Dickens's Oliver Twist in the incongrous surroundings of sun-soaked Majorca. We don't even have any Olivers in the family.

Or so I thought.

But a recent burst of family tree research has turned one up at last. Yep, I have a 13th great-grandfather called Oliver Chadwick, direct ancestor of pompous Victorian poet and all-round mountebank "Professor" Richard Sheldon Chadwick, whose dubious doings have graced these pages before. I don't have any dates for Oliver, but his son Nicholas, my 12th great, was born in 1550 in Staffordshire, England.

Mathematically, I've inherited an average of 0.000031% of Oliver's genes. That means we have about one in 32,000 genes in common. And since the Genome Project has estimated that humans have only about 24,000 genes, this particular generation gap crosses the line where -- in terms of DNA, anyway -- Oliver's ancestry becomes completely irrelevant to me, and I'm no more related to him by blood than I would to any other sixteenth-century English citizen from the Midlands, such as, oh, William Shakespeare.

Unless, of course, Oliver's name eventually pops up more than once in my lineage, which is increasingly likely the further back you go, with twice as many branches for each generation and a fewer people around to sit on them. At Oliver's level there are already about 16,000 slots to be filled. (Effie Strongitharm has more to say about this stuff in This Private Plot. Just thought I'd mention that. If you're interested.)

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