Friday, October 12, 2012

Genealogical Sensationalism

On January 26th, 1636, Mathurin Roy and Marguerite Biré wed in the parish of Notre-Dame-de-Cougnes in La Rochelle.  About 1650, with their small family in tow, the couple undertook the transatlantic voyage and settled in the vicinity of Quebec.  The Roy children grew up in this new world, married and in turn had children of their own.

Flash forward three centuries and a half.  The good people at, who as modern day alchemists have made an art out of turning old records into massive corporate earnings, announced yesterday their discovery that Justin Bieber, Ryan Gosling, and Avril Lavigne all trace their ancestry to the Roy-Biré couple.  Bieber, they observe, is 11th cousin once removed from Gosling, and 12th cousin from Lavigne.  Bieber, as it turns out, also has among his ancestors Jacques Vezina and Marie Boisdon, which makes him 10th cousin three times removed from Céline Dion.  Those of you whose teen-bopping hearts burn to know more will find the Roy-Biré lineages plotted-out here.

Ivan Moreno, who penned an Associated Press story cum publicity piece for, speaks of the "Canadian dynasty of teenybopper pop and movie stardom". He also aludes to "superstar genes", though he goes on to cite a researcher at to the effect that "she didn’t know" if these celebrity links were "sufficient to point to the existence of a superstar gene".  If any irony was intended by either the reporter or the expert, I fear that it will have been lost on many of their readers.  Beware of the hype!  Let's label this particular kind as genealogical sensationalism or, perhaps, geneasensationalism.  Clearly there is no special gene involved here, and the nature of the genealogical linkage is not as remarkable as some would have you believe. 

As one sagacious web commentator wrote "News flash, we're all related, if you go back far enough you will find a common ancestor."  This, I would stress, is particularly true in the case of the French Canadian population, which grew from a relatively small number of seventeenth and eighteenth-century immigrants.  The bona fide historical demographers at the Programme de recherche en démographie historique have estimated this core foundational stock to about 10,000 individuals.  This may sound like a lot, but it isn't.  Over ten generations, every person has a potential 1024 ancestors (potential because there is often some overlap).  No surprise, then, that linkages can be uncovered between distant cousins, celebrities and non-celebrities alike.

Thank you to G.W. for bringing this news item to my attention.


1 comment:

  1. I wrote about how I'm distantly related to Justin Bieber on my blog ( Now that I've read your article, it occurred to me I should have added something to it along the lines that because I'm French-Canadian, I'm not surprised to find a genealogical connection to the young man. It's all due to our descent from that "foundational stock [of] about 10,000 individuals" :-)