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How weird is it that to some kid in 2300, I’m one of the old-fashioned-looking dudes really high in his family tree on a level with hundreds of others?

Normally, I’d just go internet spiral about this on my own, but since Wait But Why exists, we’re gonna do it together— So let’s start with the past, and see what happens if we keep going up the family tree, or what I’ll call your Ancestor Cone: You can see that things get hectic pretty quickly when you start moving back generations.

In the Western World, this is largely a phenomenon of the past, but in many parts of the world, this is still a common practice—for example, in most of the Middle East and North Africa, over 50% of today’s marriages are between second cousins or closer.2 So that group of 4,096 people above?

A number of those spots are undoubtedly duplicates, meaning the real number of distinct people is likely a bit lower—and for someone a few thousand years ago, the number of 10th generation ancestors they’d have would be a , resulting in a diamond shape: The widest point of the Ancestor Cone happens for most of us around 1200AD,3 when our family tree is near the total world population at the time.

I learned a ton about my four paternal great-grandparents—again, I had known the basic info about them, but it was the details that for the first time made them real people.