Roman history is full, rich, and deeply nuanced. It’s fun to imagine what it would be like back then – and it’s intriguing to wonder what your ancestors did back then. Were they part of the vast Roman empire? Or were they elsewhere in the world? Can anyone trace their family to Roman times?
While individuals may have an oral or family tradition that traces their lineage back to Roman times, there are no currently available historical records to verify or dispute those lineages. As such, genealogies going back to Roman times are considered speculative rather than historically accurate.
In order to find the answer, Breanne and I dug into the records – and we may have gotten lost in an Ask Historians Reddit. In any case, let’s help you avoid the rabbit hole that is history – and give you the simpler answer. Ready? Let’s do this.
People Today Cannot Trace their Family Back to Roman Times
Considering that the Roman Empire fell with Constantinople back in 476 AD (CE), I think it’s pretty amazing that we’ve got the records we do have. After all, it’s been over 1500 years since then. And if we’re looking at the rise of the empire (with Caesar Augustus in 27 BC/BCE), it’s been even longer. In that case, we’re talking about records over two millennia old!
While we’ve got a whole post on how far back most genealogical records go (click here to read it – it’s a good read and you’ll love the table), here’s the quick version.
Most genealogical records only date back as far as the 1500s, unless you’ve got:
- Nobility in your lineage (then it can go back to the 1100s);
- Family from Japan (then records date back as early as 850 AD/CE);
- Family who are related to Confucius (that line goes back to 1500 BC/BCE).
So while there are some records kept from the time of the Roman Empire that are still available (and are genealogically based), they’re from another empire and a whole other part of the world.
The Roman records about genealogy are currently lost to time. They were, in all probability, destroyed with the other records that Romans kept in archives when cities were sacked and destroyed. There are some other Roman records available, but we’ll talk about those in just a moment.
In summary, people today cannot trace nor verify their lineage back to the Roman empire, the emperors, or Roman citizens. Those records simply don’t exist to do that genealogy. Or if they do exist, they’re buried and forgotten – until one of you fine readers can pull an Indiana Jones to find and share those documents with the world.
In the meantime, though, there is one other option developing that could help people at least trace their family’s history back through Roman times and locations. Genetic genealogy is making some fantastic advancements – but more on that later in this article.
Are there Any Living Descendants of Roman Emperors?
There are really two parts to this question.
- Are there any verifiable living descendants of the Roman emperors?
- Are there any non-verifiable living descendants of the Roman emperors?
So let’s take a look at both of these questions. First, are there any verifiable living descendants of the Roman emperors?
The answer to this half of the question is no. All of the records that were kept of the Roman Emperors only showed the direct lines. It didn’t include non-ruling descendants or relatives. And once imperial rule ended, so did the tracking of lineage.
The answer to the second half of the question is an “absolutely – maybe.” Statistically speaking, odds are that someone on this planet is a descendant of the Roman emperors. In fact, there are probably multiple people or families who could trace their lineage back to the Emperors. However, we can’t prove that relationship.
How To Find Ancient Roman Relatives via Records
While the Romans were awesome at record keeping, censuses, tax records, and records in general, most of those records have been lost or destroyed. Those records, kept in archives, tended to be pillaged and/or destroyed – especially once conquered.
Despite the widespread loss and destruction of Roman records, there are a few records that survived. Most have been transcribed and are kept in special archives, libraries, or universities. The transcriptions are generally searchable.
However, of the surviving records, none contain known or relevant genealogical information. In other words, available Roman records don’t contain any information that would help you add an ancestor to your family tree.
When You Can’t Trace a Family Line Back to the Roman Empire
First of all, if you cannot trace your family lineage back to the Roman Empire, please don’t despair. You aren’t alone. In fact, there are exactly zero reliable genealogical records still intact from the Roman times. Nobody can accurately verify (with records) their family’s lineage through the Roman Empire.
Next, just because we don’t currently have the records doesn’t mean we won’t always be record-less. Historians and archaeologists work miracles in unearthing new clues and records every day. There’s always a chance that someone will find something new – or discover new clues in our existing records that went unnoticed.
Finally, just because we don’t currently have those records doesn’t mean we won’t find a reliable way to verify genealogical lines in the future. It just means we can’t do it – yet. Geneticists are learning to unlock human history records one DNA segment at a time. DNA research is an amazing treasure trove of possibility – including the possibility of one day confirming ancient Roman ancestry.
It’s sad to think of all of those records destroyed during the sacking or looting of Roman cities. However, ancient conquering peoples were usually too busy with their day jobs to worry about saving important genealogical documents.
In any case, there are plenty of events like this – fires, natural disasters, or other events that have destroyed essential documents and historical artifacts. Losing chunks of history (or not having had them to begin with) is a fact of life for genealogists. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we have. And we have two choices: we can stress about the non-existence of vital records, or we can excitedly await rediscoveries of historical items and new advancements – like in genetic genealogy.
So while it’s a real bummer that nobody can currently trace their lineage back to ancient Rome, we’re excited to see what family history doors can be unlocked with genetics. And maybe before too long, we’ll have to change our answer about people being able to trace their family back to Roman times.
What’s the Furthest Anyone Has Traced Their Genealogy? Some families are able to trace their lines back to Confucius, Adam and Eve, King David, Abraham, and others. The Confucius lineage holds the world record for being the longest family tree. For information on tracing a lineage back to Biblical times, please read our article on Biblical lineages right here.
What is the Oldest Family Tree in Europe? The oldest European family trees converge through royal lines. The Caradini family has a strong claim to having the oldest European family tree due to their connections to Charlemagne.
What is the Oldest Bloodline on Earth? The oldest (recorded) family lineage on Earth is that of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. You can read more about the oldest recorded genealogies in our post here.
Cite this article as: “Can Anyone Today Trace their Family to Roman Times?” Genealogy Pals, 1 August 2020, genealogypals.com/can-anyone-today-trace-their-family-to-roman-times/.
- Cartwright, M. (2020, August 5). Visual Chronology of Roman Emperors: Augustus to Constantine. Ancient History Encyclopedia. https://www.ancient.eu/article/677/visual-chronology-of-roman-emperors-augustus-to-co/.
- Reporter, S. (2019, November 7). Ancient Romans’ Genetic Ancestry Revealed in New Study. GenomeWeb. https://www.genomeweb.com/sequencing/ancient-romans-genetic-ancestry-revealed-new-study.
- Rutherford, A. (2018, January 4). You’re Descended from Royalty and So Is Everybody Else – Issue 56: Perspective. Nautilus. http://nautil.us/issue/56/perspective/youre-descended-from-royalty-and-so-is-everybody-else.