One of the more fascinating aspects of genealogy is the problem of pedigree collapse. Within some families there are marked tendencies towards endogamy, or cousin marriage, which was often pursued in earlier eras as a way of preserving the family patrimony by keeping a fair amount of marriage within the extended family. This particular trend is one of many marriage strategies that has fallen out of favor in recent generations (although cousin marriage does appear, for example, in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and it is viewed as a desirable outcome by Mr. Collins as well as Lady DeBurgh in Austen’s Pride & Prejudice for precisely those reasons, although it does not take place in either case). One of the more extreme cases of pedigree collapse occurred in the ancestry of Charles V of the house of Habsburg, who only had five separate great-grandparents because his family had so closely intermarried with each other, a case of repeated and almost (if not) incestuous connection that had serious consequences on the shallowness of the gene pool of the Spanish Habsburgs.
Even where there is no deliberate effort to marry close relatives, as was the case for many royal houses and even noble ones, in order to preserve purity of blood and beliefs (a tendency which accounts for its popularity among the patriarchs, where Abraham married his half-sister, and Isaac and Jacob and Esau married their first cousins, although in Esau’s case it was a half-first cousin, I suppose), pedigree collapse is not an uncommon problem in family trees for a very simple reason. While there are some seven billion or so people in the world at present, the world’s population has seldom been even close to that large. For a large period in human history there were only 100 or 200 million people on the earth, mostly in India and China, and it is only in the last 250 to 300 years when the population of the world has started to soar to present levels. On the other hand, one’s family tree tends to explode the further back you go. We have two parents and four grandparents and eight great-grandparents, but this number quickly rises as you go further back. If you go back 20 generations, which is by no means difficult to do, since it would mean going back about 400 years or so, you end up with 1,048,576 ancestors at that generation alone. If you go back another 20 generations, or back to around the year 1000 to 1100 in your family tree, you would have 1,099,511,627,776, or considerably more people than existed in the world at that time, when there were, as was mentioned earlier, only about 100,000,000 or so people on the entire earth. Obviously, at that point a lot of your ancestors are going to be related to each other by the time you go back any length of time, even if your family is not adopting a strategy of marrying close relatives.
But sometimes weird things happen far closer than 40 generations, as was the case with one of my own ancestors, a great-grandmother of mine named Goldie Linderman. According to relatives of mine, there are various accounts of this great-grandmother of mine. My mother has fond stories of her as a raconteur, telling funny stories and having a high degree of interest in various shady dealings of various relatives, both tendencies I must admit that I personally share. Other relatives of mine, like my late great-aunt, remember her as a somewhat severe and intimidating woman, which was probably true as well. At any rate, very early in my own genealogical research I noticed the odd quirk that both of her parents appeared to have the same name, which I took as a sign that her mother had been known by the name of her father, but which I have more recently found out was because her mother and father were related and so her mother had the same married name as she had a maiden name, which is rather interesting one must admit.
But the story is even more odd than that. Goldie Linderman was born to James A and Catherine S Linderman. James himself was the son of one David Linderman and a Mary E Shroyer, who herself was the daughter of a John Shroyer and an Elizabeth Linderman. Interestingly enough, both David Linderman and Mary Shroyer shared a great-grandfather and a great-grandmother, one Johann H Linderman (or John Henry) Linderman, and his wife Ann(a) M Hershey, who both lived and died in Eastern Pennsylvania in Adams and Somerset counties in the latter half of the 18th century. In Johann’s case, his change from a Johann Henreich to John Henry is evidence of our family’s German ancestors changing their names to English equivalents as a way of distancing themselves from the stigma of the Hessians who fought alongside the British in the American Revolution, a tendency that occurred in my own paternal line when the German Albrechts become American Albrights during the same period of time. At any rate, it so happens that James Linderman’s parents were second cousins. Since his wife had the same great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother herself in the paternal line, he then turned around and married his second cousin, which is definitely keeping things in the family.
The end result is that the Linderman blood in my family is rather heavily concentrated, since there are three lines of it going back to Johan Heinrich “Henry” Lenderman, John Henry’s father, who was born in 1722 in Donnersbergkreis in the Rhineland area of Germany, and whose line can be traced back several generations more in that area back into the 15th century at present. The John Henry Linderman and his wife Ann(a) Hershey whose descendants were so fond of marrying each other in my family had two children who appear in my family’s ancestry, Jacob Linderman Sr (who appears twice, via his children Elizabeth Linderman and Jacob Linderman Jr), and Johan H Linderman, who was given the names of his father and grandfather and was born six years earlier. I actually know some of my second cousins, so it appears rather remarkable to me that in two consecutive generations there would be marriages between second cousins, as that is pretty close as far as relatives goes, close enough that to meet them at a family gathering would not be at all strange, at least given my own family’s tendency to keep pretty close as far as visiting our cousins is concerned. Doing so once is striking, but doing so in two consecutive generations is certainly even more striking, given that I do not know what sort of enterprises these Lindermans were involved in to want to keep themselves so closely related to their network of kinfolk.
It should be noted that this is not the most severe instance of pedigree collapse that I have seen in my own family tree, not by a long shot. In fact, in at least two cases, my family tree would appear to indicate that brothers and sisters had children together, and in one of those cases the daughter of such a union then married someone else with the same last name who was quite possibly a relative, although alternative explanations are certainly possible in both cases, especially considering there were different last names involved in both cases, one of them in a small Rhineland town and the other in Northern France. And there is another case in the 1700’s where two first cousins married, one James Jacobus Peeck and Elizabeth Peeck, who were both the grandchildren of one Jacobus James Peeck and Rachel Demarest. What I’m saying is that this was not some sort of one-off situation where close relatives married, but rather part of a more extended pattern that crops up repeatedly in my own family history, and probably yours as well. We have far closer ties with others, and with ourselves, than we often realize.