“Who Do You Think You Are?”: Charlemagne Connections and English Roots

By Diane Haddad


It’s actually not unusual to descend from Charlemagne, whom Cindy Crawford learned is in her family tree on last night’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” As noted in the show, the eighth-century Frankish king had 20 children with eight of 10 known wives or concubines.

Cindy Drawford's Family Tree

Charlemagne, who lived from April 2, 742, to Jan. 28, 814, was Cindy Crawford’s 41st-great-grandfather.

Lots of Us Are Related to Charlemagne

When you go back 40 generations, and you have roughly a trillion ancestors—which is more than the number of people who existed during Charlemagne’s time. (Virtually all family trees have consanguineous marriages, so the same person will appear in multiple places in a tree.)

This article explains how there comes a point in history when “all individuals who have any descendants among the present-day individuals” (that’s us) “are actually ancestors of all present-day individuals.”


“all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400 … . About a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today.”

So anyone of European descent is probably related to Charlemagne, and to his royal relatives. Of course, documenting the generations back to royalty is another thing. You can get started discovering your royal roots with the six steps in our Spring 2011 Discover Your Roots bookazine.

Got British Genealogy?

If you have English ancestry of any variety, as Cindy Crawford did through her Trowbridge line, see our British genealogy guides and courses here.

You also can get our e-book A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your English Ancestors.