Have you tried tracing your own family tree yet? Genealogy is an increasingly popular pastime, especially with a wealth of online resources available. DNA testing is also becoming a more readily available and affordable way to investigate your origins. However, if you want to create a family tree to compete with the largest ones in the world, you’ll have a lot of work to do, as they can span thousands of years!
The longest family trees can be traced back to more than 2,500 years ago with varying levels of documentation depending on the house and location.
Of course, we all go back as far as each other in reality, but historical factors such as census records and preservation of sources mean that not all of us are lucky enough to have the resources to trace things that far back.
Most families with origins in Europe struggle to trace lineage back beyond a couple of hundred years, depending on how important your ancestors were deemed to be and their record-keeping habits.
Some of the best-recorded family trees are those which have been recorded for religious or political reasons, such as those of monarchs, prophets, and religious leaders. Some of the family trees that go back this far also include potentially mythological figures, so it’s hard to indisputably state some as longer than others.
Even so, let’s take a look at a list of the oldest families with regard to how far back they’re recorded. We’ll use the Common Era years to keep track (also known as A.D. for anno domini).
List of the Longest Families and how far Back They go
Here’s a top seven ranking of some of the oldest family trees. The exact lineage and dates of many contenders to be these are often disputed. For this reason, we’ve tried to give priority to those with the best record-keeping and least debate.
Out of respect, we’ve also included the extremely long family trees which are related to the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam after the list.
All three of these religions share not only core beliefs but a huge amount of scripture and trace family trees related to Abraham (hence the name). If you’re interested in the issues surrounding tracing your family back to religious texts, check out our guide to this in ‘Can Anyone Trace Their Lineage Back to the Bible’.
7. House of Grimaldi – 1297 A.D./C.E.
The house of Grimaldi is most famous today for its head, the Crown Prince of Monaco.
However, this house was founded in the thirteenth century by Francesco Grimaldi, a Genoese prince who later captured Monaco in 1297 by cunningly disguising himself as a friar. This event gives the family its distinctive crest.
6. House of Habsburg – 1045 A.D./C.E.
The Habsburgs were one of the most influential families in Europe throughout the second millennium. Habsburgs have married into virtually every royal family of Europe, and although they no longer are rulers, many hold significant positions, such as the Austrian politician Karl Von Habsburg.
The family traces its origins back to around the eleventh century, with its founder Radbot of Klettgau dying in 1045.
5. House of Oldenburg – 1040 A.D./C.E.
The most appropriately named family on this list originates from Northern Germany, but today counts amongst its ranks members of the most influential royal families across Europe, such as Russia, Greece, and Britain.
This family dates back to around 1040 CE with Elimar I, the first Count of Oldenburg, attributed as its ancestor.
4. House of Massimo – 950 A.D./C.E.
The house of Massimo, based in Rome, Italy, traces its origins back indisputably as far as 950CE, which puts it in fourth place on this list.
However, an Italian scholar in the sixteenth century claimed to have traced its origins back to third-century Roman statesman Fabius Maximus (from where the family gets its name)
One famous story goes that Napoleon once questioned the origins of the family, to which Prince Massimo responded ‘he could not prove its age, but the rumor was something that had been in his family for twelve hundred years.’
3. The British Royal Family – 900 A.D./C.E.
The British royal family, while broken into many strands known as houses over time, can trace its origins back to King Alfred the Great, around the year 900 CE.
This family can be traced back even further through the line of the kings of the English region of Wessex. I’ll go into more detail about this below, in the ‘what is the oldest family in England?’ section of the article.
2. Imperial House of Japan – 660 B.C./B.C.E.
The imperial house of Japan also dates itself back a long way, claiming to have originated around the year 660 BCE.
However, the evidence of the first 29 emperors sometimes is considered dubious today. Despite this, there is solid evidence of the family from the ascension to the throne of Emperor Kinmei in 539CE, which even without the early emperors solidifies its place in the list of the world’s oldest families.
1. Confucius – 550 B.C./B.C.E.
The family tree acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest is that of Confucius. This particular family tree is enormous, going back all the way to circa 550 BCE. More about them in a second!
Religious Family Trees
Although the Confucius family is the oldest family tree acknowledged by Guinness World Records, there are many people who would dispute this, particularly those who use religious texts as their sources.
Here are some of the main other candidates to take over the claim.
Islamic descendants of Muhammad
Many families trace their lineage back to, and sometimes even further back than the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
One example of this is the royal family of Jordan, who is known as Hashemites as they date themselves back to Hashim (the great grandfather of the prophet Muhammad, who lived around 464CE).
Many other leaders trace their families back to Muhammad and further, such as the Royal Families of Libya, Iran, and Morocco.
There’s even a controversial claim that Queen Elizabeth of the British royal family is related via relatives in Islamic Spain in the twelfth century. This last one might sound like a far-fetched internet conspiracy, but has been accepted by influential Islamic leaders in Morocco and Egypt!
Doubts about whether people can trace their heritage back to Muhammad don’t generally stem from doubts about whether he existed (unlike many other religious founders, we actually have a variety of non-Islamic sources that attest to his existence) but to sources tracing the heritage in the meantime.
Biased sources exist on both sides of the debate around Muhammad’s legitimate successor (which historically was the main cause of the rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims). This is far too complex to get into in this article, but a fascinating part of world history and integral to the politics of the Middle East even today.
The Lurie family traces its origins back an incredibly long way, claiming ancestry from King David who, if real, lived around 1037 BCE. There’s a fair amount of evidence on both sides for the existence of King David, but regardless the family can be definitely proved to age back to at least the first millennia, earning it a place on the list.
This is a famous line of Ashkenazi Jews and includes in its family trees famous figures such as philosopher Karl Marx, the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, and composer Felix Mendelssohn.
House of Solomon
The House of Solomon is the name of the now-deposed imperial family of Ethiopia, the most famous ruler of which was Emperor Haile Selassie, who was overthrown in 1976.
Although named after King Solomon (so dating to around 850B CE), this family tree can be thought to extend itself as far as the Lurie family, as Solomon was the son of King David (c.1037 BCE).
Who Can Trace Their Family Back the Farthest?
The family with the best claim to having the longest family tree is the family of Confucius, as they have the most reliable record-keeping over the course of their history.
This is a good moment to point out that, while many families claim to trace themselves back extremely far, the number of families who can do so reliably using solid sources is much smaller.
Therefore this question might be reframed as; who can reliably trace their family back the furthest?
However, many families whose genealogy is recorded in religious texts also trace themselves back extremely far, even back to Adam and Eve. You might consider them to have traced their family back the furthest.
In the end, it just comes down to which sources you choose to trust or discard, which can become an even more sensitive issue once religion is involved.
What is the Oldest Family in America?
Any family which can trace itself back to the Jamestown colony, and in particular Robert Beheathland or William Spencer, can stake a claim to being part of the oldest recorded family tree in America.
The true oldest families in America are those of Native Americans (indigenous peoples) rather than settlers – but written records of Native American families are typically scarce and hard to come by.
Because of this, it seems that the oldest traced family trees in America are those of European settlers. These families are not too difficult to trace when compared with family trees in Europe, mainly because the US is a much younger country and has written records dating back easily to its origins.
Of the non-indigenous families, the oldest in America would have to be traced back to the first settlement in the US, which was Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Although originally around 100 men arrived here, due to bleak conditions many died or returned home.
Only two of these men are thought to have settled permanently and created families – Robert Beheathland and William Spencer. Anyone who can reliably trace their family tree back to either of these two early colonists has a reasonable chance of being part of one of the USA’s oldest families that immigrated from Europe.
What is the Oldest Family in England?
The oldest recorded family in England is that of the Kings of Wessex, which can be traced (although a little unreliably) back to Cerdic around 520 CE, through Alfred the Great around 900 CE, all the way up to the British monarchy as it exists today.
The historical kingdom of Wessex in the South of England, confusingly even including the most eastern point, was founded around 520 CE. Although we don’t have that much solid factual evidence to go on (after all, this is only a couple of generations after the alleged existence of King Arthur), Cerdic is attributed with amalgamating all these lands in the south of England.
To make a long story short, this line followed a series of kings until Alfred the Great in the 10th century, after which time we have many stronger sources that confirm a family tree linking Alfred to the Mountbatten-Windsor family, which serves as monarchs of the UK and Commonwealth nations today.
What is the Oldest Family in Continental Europe?
There are several claims to this title, but the oldest family there is evidence of in mainland Europe is the Massimo family from Rome, Italy, which can be reliably traced back to 950 CE but claims to have its origins in third-century Rome.
There are a few problems that complicate trying to trace family histories in the Roman Empire, such as a lack of records of non-nobility and the fact that many well-kept records were destroyed with the fall of the Roman Empire.
You can read more about these problems in our guide titled Can Anyone Today Trace Their Family to Roman Times?
What is the Oldest Family Tree in Asia?
The oldest traced family tree in Asia is that of Confucius, which dates back to 550 BCE. While the Imperial Family of Japan also stakes a claim, as some sources suggest they originate in 660 BCE, solid evidence of them is considered to exist until 539 CE.
Confucius is now thought to have over 3 million descendants. The most recent edition of his family tree (the fifth edition) took ten years to compile, and is split into 80 volumes!
However, genealogists point out that relating yourself to Confucius is a little problematic. With sources so old, it’s difficult to prove categorically these trees, especially as many families in the past may have altered documents to claim relation to him.
Part of the reason why this is the longest family tree by far is to do with record keeping. European records generally stop before around 1500 due to an increasing lack of writers and writings before that time.
The only records that survive before then tend to be of people of great importance, such as rulers. In contrast, Chinese records have been thorough for a much larger amount of time
What Family Has the Longest Lineage?
The claim of the longest recorded lineage, just like that of the oldest family tree, belongs to Confucius. This can be traced back through an impressive 80 generations of direct descendants.
Lineage isn’t quite the same thing as the age of a family tree. While family trees can trace through all sorts of family relations, such as uncles and cousins, lineage refers to a direct line of descent.
The British royal family, for example, is an example of an old family tree without a long lineage. There isn’t a direct line of descent as far back as the family tree as some rulers, most famously Elizabeth I, the ‘Virgin Queen’ did not have direct successors.
How Far Back Can Families Be Traced?
Most families are only able to trace themselves back a few generations, which dependent on available records can date back to around 1500 CE. Families with ties to nobility or religious links can often be traced back further due to better record keeping.
How far back you can trace a family tree depends a lot on a few factors, most importantly which country was based in and how important they were, as this affects the number of records that would have been kept and how well they’ve been preserved since.
Confucius’ family tree really sets the standard for how far back we can trace things (at over 2500 years!), but for most of us, it is only possible to trace much more recent history.
Due to a lack of records, most families will find it impossible to trace anything from before around 1500 CE. Don’t let that put you off though as you never know what you might find!
Key Takeaways on the Oldest Family Names and Records
It’s a lot of fun to think about how old your family is – and what that means for where your family has been. That being said, there’s a definite difference between family legends and what actually happened.
That’s where it can get sticky at times – because some of those family legends (true or not) that can’t be proved really should be shared with a grain of salt. Or at least acknowledged that they can’t be proven!
But hey – if it means that more people are doing genealogy? We’ll take it. Just make sure you cite your sources as you keep digging into your family history. And make sure you read this article we wrote on how far back articles actually go – it’s an interesting read that’ll help you think outside the box (for finding records, anyway!).
When learning about genealogy, it’s important to learn from various reputable sources. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as genealogists.
- Starr, Kimberly. “How Far Back Do Records Actually Go?” GenealogyPals, 2021, genealogypals.com/ancestry-how-far-back-do-records-actually-go.
- Starr, Kimberly. “Selecting the Safest Way to Store Family Documents.” GenealogyPals, 2021, genealogypals.com/selecting-the-safest-way-to-store-family-documents.
- Eaton, Victor. “8 Oldest Family Trees Ever.” Oldest.Org, 5 Sept. 2019, www.oldest.org/culture/family-trees.
- Family Tree Resources. “How Far Back Do Family Trees Go?” Family Tree Resources – Your Definitive Guide to Family History Research, 6 Jan. 2021, www.familytreeresources.com/family-trees.html.
- Lantz, Patricia. “Oldest Known Family Names in America’s History.” LoveToKnow, 2021, family.lovetoknow.com/cultural-heritage-symbols/oldest-known-family-names-americas-history.
- “You’re Descended From Royalty and so Is Everyone Else.” Nautilus, 2021, nautil.us/.
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