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An ancestor, also known as a forefather, fore-elder, or a forebear,[1] is a parent or (recursively) the parent of an antecedent (i.e., a grandparent, great-grandparent, great-great-grandparent and so forth). Ancestor is "any person from whom one is descended. In law, the person from whom an estate has been inherited."[2]


Two individuals have a genetic relationship if one is the ancestor of the other or if they share a common ancestor. In evolutionary theory, species which share an evolutionary ancestor are said to be of common descent. However, this concept of ancestry does not apply to some bacteria and other organisms capable of horizontal gene transfer. Some research suggests that the average person has twice as many female ancestors as male ancestors. This might have been due to the past prevalence of polygynous relations and female hypergamy.[3]

Assuming that all of an individual's ancestors are otherwise unrelated to each other, that individual has 2n ancestors in the nth generation before them and a total of 2g+1 − 2 ancestors in the g generations before them. In practice, however, it is clear that most ancestors of humans (and any other species) are multiply related (see pedigree collapse). Consider n = 40: the human species is more than 40 generations old, yet the number 240, approximately 1012 or one trillion, dwarfs the number of humans who have ever lived.

Some cultures confer reverence to ancestors, both living and dead; in contrast, some more youth-oriented cultural contexts display less veneration of elders. In other cultural contexts, ancestor worship or, more accurately, ancestor veneration is when people seek providence[further explanation needed] from their deceased ancestors.[4][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thesaurus results for FOREFATHER". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2020-04-07. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  2. ^ Websters New World Dictionary. Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company.
  3. ^ Tierney, John (5 September 2007). "The Missing Men in Your Family Tree". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 5 May 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  4. ^ Hu, Anning (2016). "Ancestor Worship in Contemporary China: An Empirical Investigation". China Review. 16 (1): 169–186. JSTOR 43709965. Archived from the original on 2022-05-02. Retrieved 2022-05-02.
  5. ^ Clark, Kelly James (2005-12-01). "The gods of Abraham, Isaiah, and Confucius". Dao. 5 (1): 109–136. doi:10.1007/bf02857007. ISSN 1540-3009. S2CID 170986424.

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