500 years of Western migration in 30 seconds

The largest ever 'family tree' spanning 11 generations has revealed fascinating details about the lives of Westerners over the past 500 years.

Scientists trawled 86 million profiles from a genealogy website to uncover a 'family' of 13 million people from Europe and North America.

By looking at their genetic data, they were able to piece together their migrations and marriages. 

The results revealed that despite the invention of the railway and the first motorway, most baby boomers in Britain married someone within a six-miles (10km) of where they were born.

In the US, people married partners living six miles (10km) away only before the Industrial Revolution made it easier to travel - which meant many likely married cousins.  

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Scientists trawled 86 million profiles from a genealogy website to uncover a 'family' of 13 million people from Europe and North America (stock)

Scientists trawled 86 million profiles from a genealogy website to uncover a 'family' of 13 million people from Europe and North America (stock)

'The reconstructed pedigrees show that we are all related to each other,' said Peter Visscher, a quantitative geneticist at University of Queensland who was not involved in the study.

'This fact is known from basic population history principles, but what the authors have achieved is still very impressive.'   

Eighty-five per cent of the profiles on the website Geni.com originated from Europe and North America. 

When users upload information about their ancestors they can upload as much as they know - for example their date of birth, date of death, where they were born, where they died and occasionally the cause of their death. 

'Users can create profiles and they can upload their own family trees and what makes it really unique is that Geni scans the profiles for similarities and merges those trees if they see the match of a person', said lead researcher Joanna Kaplanis from the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

In the above 6,000 person family tree individuals spanning seven generations are represented in green and marriage, in red. Researchers found one large tree of 13 million people spanning an average of 11 generations as well as other smaller family trees

In the above 6,000 person family tree individuals spanning seven generations are represented in green and marriage, in red. Researchers found one large tree of 13 million people spanning an average of 11 generations as well as other smaller family trees

Researchers were able to track different migration events such as when Columbus landed in the Americas (artist's impression) and when the Dutch went to South Africa

Researchers were able to track different migration events such as when Columbus landed in the Americas (artist's impression) and when the Dutch went to South Africa

'So if the same person appears in multiple trees, they'll offer to merge those trees. 

Using the data, researchers were able to track different migration events such as when Columbus landed in the Americas and when the Dutch went to South Africa.

They could also track when the first migrants used the Oregon trail in search of new lands and opportunity in 1836.

Distance people travelled to find love 

Scientists found recent reduction in genetic relatedness in Western societies had more to do with shifting cultural factors than it did with the advent of transportation.

'Even when people started to move away they were still marrying people who were quite related to them. There was around a 50 year lag', said Dr Kaplanis.

'It seems that it was cultural differences that changed that norm', she said.

Before 1850, marrying in the family was common - to someone who was, on average, a fourth cousin, compared to seventh cousins today.

The study also found that women in Europe and North America migrated more than men over the last 300 years. They could also track when the first migrants used the Oregon trail in search of new lands and opportunity in 1836

The study also found that women in Europe and North America migrated more than men over the last 300 years. They could also track when the first migrants used the Oregon trail in search of new lands and opportunity in 1836

WHAT ARE THE TRENDS IN WESTERN MIGRATION OVER THE PAST 500 YEARS? 

Looking at migration patterns, researchers led by Columbia University found females migrate more than males in Western societies, but over shorter distances.

Before 1750, most Americans found a spouse within six miles (10 kilometres) of where they were born.

However, for those born in 1950, that distance had stretched to about 60 miles (100 kilometres) as it 'became harder to find the love of your life', researchers found.

Changing social norms, rather than rising mobility, may have led people to shun close kin as marriage partners, researchers say.

Before 1850, marrying in the family was common - to someone who was, on average, a fourth cousin, compared to seventh cousins today.

Curiously, the researchers found that between 1800 and 1850, people travelled farther than ever to find a mate - nearly 12 miles (19 kilometres) on average - but were more likely to marry a fourth cousin or closer.

'It became harder to find the love of your life,' said Yaniv Erlich a computer scientist at Columbia University and Chief Science Officer at MyHeritage, a genealogy and DNA

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