While reading the Bible, I’ll admit – I struggle during the sections where they list all of the genealogies. Even so, it’s cool to think that all of those names could contribute to our genealogical knowledge – if only we could trace a lineage back to them.
While there are individuals who claim to trace their lineage back to the Bible via compiled genealogies, genealogists question the validity of those lineages due to known gaps in primary records. While this could change in the future, it’s unlikely without the discovery of additional records.
So does that mean nobody can trace their lineage back to the Bible? No, there’s still those who claim to be able to do so. But let’s look at what’s realistic and possible when it comes to tracing genealogy back that far in time.
Lineages Traced Back to Biblical People
I’ve got a friend who’s amazing at genealogical research who says she’s researched one line back to Biblical times. So there are definitely those people who are able to do so. My friend did so using a compiled genealogy.
There are also those who claim to be able to trace their lineage back to King David using Jewish genealogical records. At this time, neither Breanne nor I have read the book that’s supposed to explain how that’s possible – or been able to verify the research. But it’s written by a genealogist, so it’s cool to note. And of any way to trace a lineage back to the Bible, this is probably the most reliable place to start. We’ll be sure to add that book to our “to be read” lists.
However, the main problem with doing this has to do with accepted genealogical research practices.
Current best practice for genealogical research is to be able to cite a primary resource that proves a relationship exists. What’s a primary source? Well, that’s a huge topic – but here’s a quick recap.
Primary sources were created by people who were at the event. A birth certificate, for example, is a primary resource. A photograph of that birth certificate would qualify as a sort-of primary (but also secondary) source. A story about your birth by someone who was there (like your mother) could be a primary source – especially if it’s from a journal.
Secondary sources are recaps of an event, as told by someone who heard it from a primary source. So if your grandma (who wasn’t at your birth) retold your birth story to a cousin, that’s a secondary source.
Per the definition of sources and how the Bible was written from an oral history tradition, it is – at best – a secondary source for family lineages. Which means that it’s not an ideal resource for tracing genealogical lines of descent.
So where can we go to find primary sources so that we can trace our lineage back to Biblical times? Well, that’s where things get really hard.
The problem with primary resources is that many countries didn’t keep records of family-history-related events until later on – like many centuries after Biblical times. To read more about how far back records actually go, read this post we wrote on that exact topic. Or if you’re wanting to know more about genealogical records dating back to Roman times, read this.
So while people say they can trace their lineage back to the Bible, it’s not currently possible to verify a good chunk of that information simply because we don’t have access to reliable, widely-available primary sources. It doesn’t mean we don’t have any sources. In fact, the best we’ve generally got for that far back are compiled genealogies – and those secondary (or tertiary or beyond) sources have widely varying degrees of reliability.
Now, if you want to know if anyone can trace their lineage back to Biblical times in China? That’s a whole other story for another post – because China kept family lineage records since about 1500 BC.
Can Anyone Trace their Lineage Back to Jesus?
It is not currently possible to trace one’s lineage to Jesus for two reasons.
- While Jesus’ ancestry was listed extensively in the Bible, it makes no mention of any children whatsoever – or even a spouse.
- There are no known primary records of Jesus’ family – just the Bible.
So no matter how amazing you thought The DaVinci Code was, it’s still a work of fiction. Please don’t quote it as your source. 🙂 This doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t have a family – it just means we don’t have the records to verify that information at this time. And short of a miracle, it’s unlikely that we’ll discover additional records.
However, if being related to Jesus is important to you, know that you aren’t alone. There are a lot of people who would like to prove the same thing – that they are related to the Christ. In these kinds of cases, we’d like to point our two very important truths that can bring you a little bit of comfort.
- The human family is one extended family. Sure, we’re a little bit (hugely) dysfunctional at times. But we’re all related if we’re willing to look into the data deeply enough.
- Jesus taught that anyone who follows His teachings will be adopted into his family. It’s not blood relation that matters (even if it is cool). It’s far more important to be kind and follow His teachings than to be actually related.
So even if we can’t prove a direct relationship to Jesus right now, it’s okay. Keep digging into your genealogy and you’ll still find some really cool connections and stories. And by connecting with others through kindness, you’re becoming a valued part of Jesus’ adopted family.
Can Anyone Trace their Lineage Back to Abraham?
Being able to trace your lineage back to Abraham is a big deal. After all, being part of Abraham’s family is a big deal due to everything that his descendants are promised in the Bible. So of course there are countless people who want to prove their direct connection to Abraham.
However, because there’s a distinct lack of primary resources for centuries between Biblical and modern times, it’s currently impossible to reliably trace your lineage back to Abraham without leaning on compiled genealogies.
Compiled genealogies are a sometimes suspicious secondary source because of the tendency for people to fudge a few names, dates, or whatever else to showcase important relationships (like Abraham) and downplay relationships with the less-desirable ancestry (whomever that would be).
So while those compiled genealogies could get your family line back to Abraham’s time, just know that they aren’t necessarily reliable – or even correct.
Again, if proving that you’re related to Abraham is important to you, know that you aren’t alone. There are millions of people trying to prove their connections to Abraham, too. Here are some ideas for you to consider.
- Start by using compiled genealogies. They may be able to give you a few ideas or places to look, as long as you use them as a general guide and not gospel truth.
- Always try to verify compiled genealogies with as many primary or corroborating secondary resources as possible.
- You might be able to find more reliable data by digging into Jewish genealogy and compiled records. Consider that as an avenue if you really want to get into this.
- The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that by following Christ, we can be adopted into both Christ’s family and Abraham’s family, no matter our actual (blood) relationship with either of those men. So do good and be good – and keep working on your family history, too.
And who knows? Maybe someday we’ll discover some awesome primary resources that’ll help us reliably see and prove our human family’s relationship to Abraham.
Can Anyone Trace their Lineage back to Adam and Eve?
There are people who have traced their family lineage back to Adam and Eve. They do this by leaning on one of the various compiled genealogies that go through royal lines. However, it’s vital that you ask yourself this question: how reliable are those lists of names? And the answer is that we don’t know.
Due to the evolution of record-keeping and research, there are centuries-worth of gaps in primary records that we don’t have. And missing those records means that we cannot verify (nor disprove) the compiled genealogies. The best we have are those secondary records – and people tend to adjust history from time to time if it suits their purposes.
For example, some histories add or delete whole generations from their family list. They may do this to give numerical importance to the list or for symmetry or to teach a point that’s reinforced by a cultural significance. Or they may just not want to let a particular ancestor be remembered because they were just generally a less-than-ideal person.
Between the fact that people regularly edited their own family history lines, and the fact that early genealogists were totally okay with outright guessing as a valid source of data, is it any surprise that most secondary sources are suspect? No, it really shouldn’t be a surprise. That’s why we need primary sources.
So while you can use those compiled genealogies to trace your family line back to Adam and Eve, just know that they’re not perfect – and they may have some errors in them.
Then, if you want to read more about why you should be suspicious of any line that gets back to the time of Adam and Eve, we’ve found an article you should check out. It’s written by an esteemed genealogist and professor who literally wrote the book on genealogical research. This article is available for free on the Church of Jesus Christ’s site right here.
How Far Back is it Possible to Trace Your Ancestry? For most Americans, you may be able to reliably trace your ancestry back to about 500 A.D., but only if you have certain royal lines in your heritage. Anything prior to that is generally suspect.
How far Back is Everyone Related? The human race may have a common ancestor as early back as 3,000 years ago, according to some statisticians. Or, for those who believe in the Bible, everyone is related through Noah’s family and again through Adam and Eve.
How Many Generations Back to Adam? The number of generations back to Adam will depend on your personal beliefs about the timeline of the Earth. If it has been 6000 years since Adam, and we assume a 20-year generation, then it has been 300 generations since Adam’s time.
- Aduan, John Zeus Martin, and Herm. “‘I Have My Family Tree Back to Adam and Eve’ • FamilySearch.” FamilySearch Blog, 29 Aug. 2019, www.familysearch.org/blog/en/family-tree-adam-eve/.
- “Chart of the Genealogy Of Abraham.” ConformingToJesus.com, www.conformingtojesus.com/charts-maps/en/genealogy_of_abraham.htm.
- “Descended from Jesus? Do the Math.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 May 2006, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2006-may-19-oe-olson19-story.html.
- Hodge, Bodie. “How Many Human Generations Are There from Adam Until Today?” Answers in Genesis, 24 Sept. 2019, answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/how-many-human-generations-are-there-from-adam-until-today/.
- “How Reliable Are Lineages Back to Adam?” How Reliable Are Lineages Back to Adam?, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1977/01/i-have-a-question/how-reliable-are-lineages-back-to-adam?lang=eng.
- Huijer, et al. “‘I Have My Family Tree Back to Adam and Eve’ Part 2 • FamilySearch.” FamilySearch Blog, 9 May 2013, www.familysearch.org/blog/en/family-tree-adam-eve-part-2/.
- lkesslerlkessler 15.3k22 gold badges2020 silver badges7070 bronze badges, et al. “Has a Modern Genealogy Been Traced Back to a Biblical Person?” Genealogy & Family History Stack Exchange, 1 July 1962, genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/2330/has-a-modern-genealogy-been-traced-back-to-a-biblical-person.
- Wong, Dr Yan. “Family Trees: Tracing the World’s Ancestor.” BBC News, BBC, 22 Aug. 2012, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19331938.