Ancestor Surfing
Genealogy and Family History

Ancestor Surfing

This is not only one man, this is the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns.
In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.
How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?
(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries)."
--Walt Whitman


Following clues from pp. 83-87 of the Cary-Estes Genealogy Book and using Wikipedia and The , and then getting more details from and My Ancestors and Relatives,  I was able to trace my family ancestry back more than 50 generations.

The crucial line was from Charles Fleming (1659-1717) to his father John (1627-1686) to his grandfather Alexander (1612-1668) to his great-grandfather John the Second Earl of Wigton (1589-1650) and his great-great-grandfather John First Earl of Wigton (1567-1619). That was clarified and confirmed by My Ancestors and Relatives : "The cited information was published by Copyright (c) 1987, June 1998, data as of 5 January 1998, held in Family History Library. The author/originator was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." John the father of Charles and Alexander the grandfather of Charles were both born in Scotland and died in Virginia. (The Cary-Estes Genealogy had speculated that Charles was the son of John who was the son of Sir Thomas Fleming [instead of Alexander], a son of John the First Earl of Wigton, but only based on scattered references and family tradition.) 

The line from Lord John Fleming, First Earl of Wigton, and his wife Lilas Graham leads back to King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) reigned 1488-1513. 

If you go to My Ancestors and Relatives and from the Name Index in the left column navigate to Fleming and then to John 1st Earl Wigton Fleming (b. 1567) and then click on Ancestor Pedigree Chart, you will see the image displayed below, with the ability to click on each of the names to see details about those individuals and navigate still further back through many different lines.  (Further discussion about the Fleming line, below).

With political marriages among the royal families of Europe, those lines lead to ancestors who were kings of England and France, Holy Roman Emperors, Emperors of the Byzantine Empire, princes of Kiev/Muscovy, and Viking chieftains. The ancestors include William the Conqueror, Charlemagne, King John (of Robin Hood and Magna Carta fame), King Alfred the Great,  King Robert the Bruce of Scotland ("Braveheart"), half a dozen saints, as well as the House of Este in Italy (by a very different route than family tradition -- by way of the Cary family, rather than the Estes family). Another ancestor is King Clovis of France, who the novel The Da Vinci Code claimed was a descendant of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ :-), and whose great-grandfather, according to legend, was a sea-monster. 

(For details about the direct line from the Estes family in America to the House of Este in Renaissance Italy see )

The most fascinating ancestor so far is Eleanor of Aquitaine (played by Katherine Hepburn in the movie The Lion in Winter), mother of King Richard I the Lion-hearted and King John I.  The movie didn't mention that before her son Richard went on the Crusade, she led an army of Crusaders, purportedly dressing up her ladies-in-waiting as Amazons. 

One line goes back 53 generations to Rome around 350 A.D., to an ancestor (Flavius Afrius Syagrius) who served as proconsul of Africa, prefect of Rome, and consul (in 382). According to Wikipedia: his is "the earliest known ancestor of any of the royal houses of Europe. For the proposed genealogical link, see descent of Elizabeth II from the Romans." (Queen Elizabeth's line, as listed there, is identical to ours for the first 33 generations, through King Edward III).

Another goes back 58 generations to Armenia in 265.

For many generations, both the father and mother are not only known, but also have entries in Wikipedia, which links to their parents.  And for nobles from Scotland and England when Wikipedia runs out of information, in many cases,  generations show up in The

Keep in mind that, except in cases of people who are related to one another marrying each other, the number of your ancestors doubles with each generation.  That would mean that you could have as many as a quadrillion ancestors in 550 AD.  But there were only about two hundred million people alive at that time.  You might conclude that just about everybody alive today is descended from just about everybody who was alive back then.  But just a few hundred years ago, most people lived in rural areas, with little travel and little contact with people in other towns, much less other countries. It was common for a family to stay in the same small geographic area for many generations (except when driven away by catastrophe, such as war, plague, and famine).  That meant lots of inter-marriage, with everybody in a town being cousins to one another.  (From a biological viewpoint, war, plague, and famine may have been "necessary" to change/expand the gene pool and increase the likelihood that mankind would survive). In any case, very few people can trace their ancestry back four or five generations, much less 50. 

I have followed a few of the lines of descent as far back as I could trace.  But literally thousands of other lines are possible.  You can surf through those others by using the Wikipedia links in the following documents. At the very least, this should give you a new and personal appreciation for history. Making a break-through like that in tracing my ancestry on the Web reminded me of the experience of Paul Atreus ("Muad-Dib") in the novel "Dune." Thanks to the effects of the "spice" and of his special genes, he suddenly senses the presence both individually and collectively of all his ancestors back for thousands of years.

My mother, Helen Isabella Estes Seltzer, died Dec. 28, 2010, at the age of 90.  She had a life-long interest in family history. In her memory, I compiled profiles of powerful and strong-willed women among her ancestors, thinking those women might inspire her descendants. These brief biographies are grouped according the lines of descent, which are then shown, leading down to the present. See "Extraordinary Women".

The Abraham Effect: Be Careful, Be Proud -- the Future of the Human Race Depends on You

By doubling each generation, counting backwards, 1000 years ago, about 36 generations ago, you had nearly 69 billion ancestors (that's 2 to the power of 36).  At that time, there were only about 50 million people alive in Europe.  So along the way, there was lots of intermarriage, and, basically, everyone of European descent alive today is a cousin of everyone else, and probably in multiple ways.

That means that there were people alive in Europe  a thousand years ago who were the ancestors of everyone of European descent who is alive today.  In fact, there were probably hundreds, no thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people alive a thousand years ago who became the ancestors of everyone of European descent alive today. 

Let's flip that concept and take into account that people are much more mobile today than they were a thousand years ago.  Let's look ahead a thousand years.  In the year 3000, every human being alive on Earth (if the human race survives that long) will be a descendant of people who are alive today, and not just of one person alive today.  No, odds are they will be descendants of hundreds, thousands, even millions of people who are alive today.  In other words, if you are a parent or could become one, there's a reasonable chance that everyone alive a thousand years from now will have genes that passed through you.  That is an awesome responsibility.  Be careful. Be proud.  The future of the human race depends on you.

The Verdict of Science

Reading "A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: the Human Story Retold Through Our Genes" by Adam Rutherford, I was surprised and delighted to see that the science genetics has arrived at conclusions that I got to by way of my amateur look at my family's ancestry.
p. 160 "...I can say with absolute confidence that if you're vaguely of European extraction... you are descended from Charlemagne... Each generation back the numbe of ancestors you have doubles. But this ancestral expansion is not borne back ceaselessly into the past. If it were, your family tree when Chalemagne was Le Grand Fromage would harbor around 137,438,953,472 individuals on it -- more people than were alive then, now, or in total. What this means is that pedigrees begin to fold in on themselves a few generations back, and become elss arboreal, and more a mesh or weblike. You can be, and in fact are, descended from the same individual many times over. Your Great-great-great-great-great-grandmother might hold that position in your family tree twice, or many times, as her lines of descent branch out from her, but collapse onto you.  The further back through time we go, the more these lines will coalesce on fewer individuals.  Pedigree is a word derived from the middle French phrase pied de grue -- the crane's foot -- as the digits and hallux spread from a single joint at the bottom of the tibia, roughly equivalent to our ankle. This branching describes one or a few generations of a family tree, but it's wholly inaccurate as we climb upward into the past. Rather, each person can act as a node into whom the genetic past flows, and from whom the future spills out, if indeed they left descendants at all.

"This I find relatively easy to digest. The simple logic is that there are more living people on Earth now than at any single moment int he past, which emans that many fewer people as as multiple ancestors of people alive today. But how can we say with utter confidence that any individaul European is... directly descended from the great European conciliator?

"The answer came before high-powered DNA sequencing and ancient genetic analysis.  In Instead it comes from mathematics.  Joseph Chang is a statistician from Yale University and wished to analyze our ancestry not with genetics or family trees, but just with numbers.  By asking how recently the people of Europe would have a common ancestor, he constructed a mathematical model that incorporated the number of ancestors an individual is presumed to have had (each with two parents), and given the current population size, the point at which all those possible lines of ascent up the family trees would cross.  The answer was merely 600 years ago. Sometime at the end of the thirteenth century lived a man or woman from whom all Europeans could trace ancestry, if records permitted...

Chang's calcualtions get even weirder if you go back a few more centuries. A thousand years in the past, the nubmers say something very clear, and a bit disorienting.  One fifth of people alive a millennium ago in Europe are the ancestors of no one alive today. Their liens of descent petered out at some point, when they or one of their progeny did not leave any of their own.  Conversely,the remaining 80 percent are the ancestor of everyone living today.  All lines of ancestry coalesce on every individual in the tenth century...

"In 2013, geneticists Peter Ralph and Graham Coop showed that DNA says exactly the same thing as Chang's mathematical ancestry: Oour family trees are not trees at all, but entangled meshes." 

"Four Queens"

Nancy Goldstone's book "Four Queens" gives a panoramic view of 13th century Europe, from the perspectives of four sisters whose marriages made them queens of France, England, Germany, and Sicily. Two of those queens, Eleanor, wife of King Henry III of England, and Marguerite, wife of King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), were ancestors of mine. Details 


For details on royal and historical ancestors, see

Further discussion of the Fleming line:

The various sources disagree about who is the son of whom, but all agree on descent from John, Earl of Wigton.

According the Cary Estes Genealogy p.85 (with the footnote, "This genealogy from Judith to Lilias Graham was secured by Mr. E.S. Lewis, Genealogist, 1937"):

"Lillias Graham md. Lord John Fleming, Sixth Lord of Fleming of Biggar and Cumbernauld (created in 1606 Earl of Wigton; became Earl of Wigton through the death of his brother James who was Lord High Chancellor to Queen Mary), d. in April 1619 and was succeeded by his eldest son, John,. "Left three sons (see page 87) ("William and Mary Quarterly," Vol. XII, (1903) pages 45-6-7, by Lyong G. Tyler, gives the names of two sons, John and Charles).
"While his second son, Sir Thomas Fleming, is said to have emigrated to the Virginia and colony and became the progenitor of the Virginia branch of the family.  Mr. Brock states ('Richmond Standard,' Feb. 7, 1880) that he married Miss Tarleton and had Tarleton, John and Charles.  Mr. Brock's information it is believe, is derived from family tradition.  There is, nevertheless, no mention as far as I have been able to ascertain in the records of Virginia or any Sir Thomas Fleming.  The earliest person of the name was John Fleming, who I am inclined to believe was the emigrant." (Lyon G. Tyler)

The question is who is the son of John, Earl of Wigton.

What I currently have at derives from what appears on the chart shown above (based on data from the Church of the Latter Day Saints):

John Fleming (1589-1650) md. Margaret Livingston
Alexander Fleming (b. 1612) md. Elizabeth Anderson
John Fleming (1627-1686) md. Mary Fleming
Charles Fleming  (1659-1717) md. Susannah Tarleton
By that chronology, Alexander was just 15 when his son John was born.  Not impossible, but also not likely.

John 1589-1650 was born and died in Scotland.

Alexander and John 1627-1689 both were born in Scotland and died in Virginia.
By the dates, it seems more probable that Alexander  (v. 1612) and John (b. 1627) were brothers, than that they were father and son.
John the Earl may have had a son named Thomas and that son may have emigrated to Virginia.  But I don't think that is the direct line.

I found the Alexander line at That site is difficult to navigate, because it is based on a database, rather than using fixed URLs.  I use a screen shot from there on my page

The information at that site derives from "The cited information was published by Copyright (c) 1987, June 1998, data as of 5 January 1998, held in Family History Library The author/originator was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
I now strongly suspect the line of descent is
John the Earl
John (b. 1589)
John (b. 1627)
Charles md. Susannah Tarleton
But I don't believe we can establish that with certainty.

In other words, Charles is the son of John Fleming (1627-1686) md. Mary Fleming (possibly a cousin?)

But we don't know for sure if John (b. 1627) was the son or grandson of John Fleming (1589-1650) md. Margaret Livingston
If grandson, then his father was Alexander Fleming (b. 1612) md. Elizabeth Anderson

NB -- John, Charles, William, and Thomas are names that recur frequently, from one generation to the next in the Virginia branch of the Fleming family.  By contrast, Alexander only appears once, which seems strange if he had surviving male off-spring.  The family also often used the mother's maiden name as a middle name, but Anderson does not appear as a middle name in any of the following generations.  (Alexander appears to have been named after Alexander Livingston, father of Margaret, who married John Fleming (b. 1589).)

It is possible that the Mary Fleming who married John (b. 1627) was his first cousin, a daughter of Alexander Fleming.  I see no evidence of that, but such a relationship would not have been  uncommon at the time and would explain the confusion.

In any case, John (b. 1589) was the son of John Fleming, First Earl of Wigton.

While I want to be as accurate as possible, there comes a point where you have to go with what is most plausble.

Cary-Estes Genealogy by May Folk Webb and Patrick Mann Estes, originally published in 1939.

Cary-Estes Moore Genealogy by Helen Estes Seltzer, originally published in 1981.

Please send feedback to:

Search Genealogy and Family History: