How Many Grandparents Do I Have? Bloodline vs. Non-Bloodline Ancestry


My 2nd great-grandmother, my grandmother, and myself

When you start collecting your family tree, you might be surprised at how many grandmothers you suddenly have. With each parent having two parents of their own, that math adds up pretty quickly. Add siblings and marriages into the mix and suddenly you may find yourself dealing with a thousand unfamiliar names.

Should you look for all of your relatives or only your bloodline? Bloodline is sort of a confusing term because it sounds like it refers to anyone who is related to you by blood (including your aunts and uncles) but bloodline is actually more specific than that. Bloodline refers to direct ancestors, meaning the parents of parents of parents. It does not include siblings or stepparents or cousins or any of that, so it significantly cuts down on how many people you’re talking about. That being said, it’s not like you only have a few grandparents. Every human on this planet has:

  • 2 parents
  • 4 grandparents
  • 8 great-grandparents
  • 16 2nd great-grandparents
  • 32 3rd great-grandparents
  • 64 4th great-grandparents
  • 128 5th great-grandparents
  • 256 6th great-grandparents

all the way up to 1,048,576 18th great-grandparents (although it’s pretty impossible you’d ever be able to identify all of them). That’s a lot of people to keep you busy…so why not make it simple for yourself and keep things only to your bloodline?

Well, here’s my thought. If you have one of these specific purposes, bloodline genealogy is for you:

  • proving you can be a Son or Daughter of the American Revolution
  • collecting a long list of names and dates to track the geography and heraldry of your family
  • seeing if you are descended from royalty

However, if you’re interested in getting an idea of who your ancestors were, what their lives were like, and whether certain passions in your life (art, religion, music, etc.) could be part of your DNA, I believe you need to look beyond your bloodline. Marriages, siblings, cousins, aunts/uncles…all of those people are going to give you more of a snapshot of what life was like for the people who are in your bloodline and since all of those people are family in a technical sense, I think you should put them on the family tree.

In fact, if you could see my family tree, you’d be surprised at how far flung those branches go. There are many adoptions, divorces, and remarriages in our family history and I include all of those lines, so it’s not uncommon to click “what is the relation to me” and get a description like “sister-in-law of husband of wife of mother’s husband’s grandmother”. They don’t fall into the sphere of my bloodline, but they’re still a part of my history because they affected the people who affected me AND they may connect me to other people who could have stories, photos, and other pieces of information to help me on my search.

However, it’s a fun exercise to push that bloodline thread and see how far you can go, particularly if you can tap into a family tree that someone else has constructed on a site like That being said, I will always caution you to treat other people’s family trees as secondary sources, because if they’ve made a mistake you could end up going twenty generations in the wrong direction. So check sources when you can, and if no visible source is available, I could only go 2-3 generations in before stopping to see if you can find something in your own. A good genealogy rule of thumb: you aren’t related without the proof.

Which genealogy are you more interested in, a long bloodline or a fat non-bloodline full of more recent generations?

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