Are you a Mayflower descendant? I don’t think I am but it is estimated that 30 Million People Today Are descendants of the 102 passengers on board that tiny ship. There is a good chance that you are one of them.
Even if you aren’t, you’ve probably met someone who has proudly told you that their ancestors hopped the pond in 1620. Despite being a long-time point of pride—and even class distinction for some New Englanders—the significance is still present in modern-day America. Estimates range as high as 35 million living Mayflower descendants, although the true number may be lower due to intermarriage. What is certain is that pure math is responsible for many humans around the world having famous ancestors, including Mayflower passengers and Genghis Khan.
Now, 21st-century DNA technology has given a scientific gloss to traditional genealogy, allowing scientists and average Americans to trace their lineage. Simple math means each one of us has 64 fourth great-grandparents, and 4,096 10th great-grandparents (barring intermarriage between ancestors). The further back one goes, the direct ancestors increase exponentially. Given 132 were aboard the Mayflower, and only 53 survived the first winter in their “new world,” the starting pool of Mayflower ancestors is rather small. However, over 400 years later and with ever-dropping infant mortality rates, the descendants definitely number in the millions now.
British mathematician Rob Eastaway explained to BBC why the 35 million estimates might be a bit too high. In short, Mayflower descendants likely married other descendants most of the time. This is called pedigree collapse. It tends to happen in all family trees, especially since in the past, marriages were often among smaller, even isolated populations. “My father-in-law discovered that their family is descended from Richard Warren,” Eastaway explains. “But not only that, they think that probably my wife and children are also descended from John Howland. So there’s even an example of potential pedigree collapse in my own family.”
You can read a lot more about this in an article by Madeleine Muzdakis published in the mymodernmet.com web site at: https://mymodernmet.com/descendant-ancestors-mayflower/.