You are related somehow and in some way to every person on Earth, living or dead.

  • Sally rideSan tribesmanHuli tribesmanHypatia weiszMarie curieGenghis khanHillary clintonKaty perry
  • Barak obamaKaty perryHuli tribesmanQueen victoriaCharles darwinHillary clintonHypatia weiszEmma watson
  • Katy perryHypatia weiszMarie curieEmma watsonHank arronSan tribesmanAlbert einsteinChief joseph

Evolutionary Genealogy

Conventional genealogy describes the relationships and descent of members of a family or a group of closely related families. This is usually depicted graphically by a family tree. The relationships between brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents are illustrated as points on a branching tree. Most family trees only go back a few generations, but they stop only because of lack of information. They of course really keep going, to great-great-great grandparents, great-great-great-great grandparents, and so on. In fact, if you keep going back in time, your family tree will eventually join up with the family tree of every other person on the planet. You are related somehow and in some way to every other human on the planet, living or dead, whether it be Martin Luther King, Hilary Clinton, Madam Curie, Charles Darwin or Queen Victoria.

Even without a family tree, genetic studies are able to broadly suggest how any two humans are related. Pick any person on the street. Travel far enough back in time and you will meet the common ancestor the two of you share, which makes that person your cousin. Genetic information can suggest when the common ancestor you share may have lived, or to put it another way, approximately how many generations back in time to a common ancestor. If the common ancestor is just two generations back (in other words, a shared grandparent), that person is your first cousin. If the common ancestor is three generations back (in other words, a shared great grandparent) that person is your second cousin. That person's child would be your second cousin, once removed, and their grandchild your second cousin twice removed. If the common ancestor happens to be 30 generations back (in other words, a shared 28-greats-grandparent) that person is your 29th cousin.

‘Every individual living thing is your cousin. And approximately your xth cousin, n times removed.’

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life illustration on this website does the same thing as a standard family tree; the only difference is that it goes back millions of generations, back to the start of life on Earth. It describes the relationships and descent of members of Life's family, of living things past and present. Just as in a standard family tree, the genealogical relationship between members of Life's family can be described. Every living thing, whether it’s a bird, a tree, or a dinosaur, is your xth cousin, n times removed.

As a note, for organisms that reproduce asexually, like bacteria, a family tree description based on numbers of generations, and parents and grandparents, breaks down. Bacteria and other such things are related to us, but we can't describe that relationship in the same way as for a sexually-reproducing organism, like a dog or dinosaur.

Calculating your genealogy with other life forms

To make an estimate of the cousin and removal relationship between you and any other living thing, count up the generations back to the common ancestor on both lines of descent. This sounds easy, but is complicated in practice. First, make an estimate of the number of generations along the human line of descent back to the common ancestor. Use commonly accepted estimates for generation times of humans, as well as those creatures likely to be templates for our successively older ancestors; chimpanzees, other apes, various species of monkey, treeshrews, and so on. Next, apply the appropriate generation times to time intervals defined by ages of meeting points with common ancestors. For example, between 27 and 42 million years ago, that is, between the approximate ages of our common ancestors with old world and new world monkeys, respectively, the ancestor on the human line would be assumed to be a creature somewhat similar to a new world monkey and thus have an average of ten years per generation. In the absence of direct information on generation times for a species, it can be estimated by noting average life expectancy in the wild, years to first birth, and average age at last birth. With this sort of information, one can pick a time midway between years to first and last birth and round it to the smaller figure to get generation time.

Second, calculate the number of generations along the non-human line of descent back in time to the common ancestor with humans. Helpful data would include evolutionary history, generation times of the modern creature, and the generation times of types of modern creatures likely to serve as templates for intermediate forms along the evolutionary path to the common ancestor with humans. In the absence of good data, generation times for intermediate forms can be estimated from likely body size; smaller forms generally having shorter generation times. If no data are found on forms intermediate between the current species and the common ancestor, evenly distribute the change in generation times between the current species and common ancestor along the time between them. A convenient control point is the common ancestor with the human line, whose generation time would apply for some time up from the age of the common ancestor along both the human and non-human line of descent.

An excellent source for animal generation times is http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/

An excellent source for times of common ancestors is http://www.timetree.org/

Other helpful sources are listed on the bottom of our Teachers page

Our cousin and removal estimates encompass chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, other apes and monkeys, treeshrews, rodents, rabbits, dogs and other carnivores, horses, pigs, and other domestic animals, whales, bats and shrews, reptiles, birds and amphibians, fish, and finally, beetles and dragonflies. A sample of the graphic technique used to post these data and make cousin and removal calculations is shown below.

Note: The cousin relationship in formal genealogy is determined by which line of descent has the fewest numbers of generations to a common ancestor. In the chart above, it is always the human line of descent. But for other species, the non-human line of descent has the fewer number of generations to the common ancestor, which therefore should determine the cousin relationship. For example, for frogs, (because of their large, and therefore long-lived, amphibian ancestors that lived during the late Paleozoic), we now estimate they are approximately 98 millionth cousin to humans. If instead the cousin relationship used the number of generations on the human line of descent, it would suggest frogs were 151 millionth cousins to humans. Previously, to avoid confusion, Evogeneao always used the human line of descent to determine the cousin number. But now, we conform to formal genealogy, and trust readers will understand the reason for some stark differences in cousin relationships between humans and similar species. The chart below graphically shows how this works.

The reader will certainly see that there is unavoidably a potentially huge error in any single one of the estimates used to come up with a cousin and removal relationship. The age of the common ancestor, the ages to intermediate ancestors, their likely forms, and their generation times may be poorly known. A big error in any one estimate could push the outcome off base quite a bit. However, it is at least reasonably likely that errors cancel each other out and that the overall result yields a reasonable estimate. The goal of this exercise is not to determine an exact relationship, only to get reasonably close to illustrate the point. In other words, we can be pretty certain our common ancestor with chimpanzees is between our 150,000-greats-grandparent and our 400,000-greats-grandparent, with the most likely number of ‘greats’ being perhaps between 200,000 and 300,000. But the real point is that that individual chimpanzee at the zoo looking you in the eye has a genealogical relationship with you, such that the chimp could be something like your two hundred and eighty-three thousand three hundred and fifty sixth cousin, eleven thousand seven hundred and twenty times removed.

Note that, except for close relations, there is NOT a unique genealogical path between two organisms. It is much more likely to be a tangled web of interrelationships. For example, my wife and I might be, exactly, fifteenth cousins twice removed, as well as thirteenth cousins thrice removed, depending on which tortuous path of ancestors one followed back to the common one. But as long as this is understood, the exercise of counting generations back to a common ancestor is really an eye-opener for all who make the journey.

Species Common ancestor Cousin relationship to present-day humans
Human 0 years ago very close cousins
Neanderthal 600 thousand years ago 24 thousandth cousin, 1.5 thousand times removed
Common chimpanzee 6.5 million years ago 284 thousandth cousin, 12 thousand times removed
Mountain gorilla 8 million years ago 359 thousandth cousin, 41 thousand times removed
Bornean orangutan 15 million years ago 709 thousandth cousin, 12 thousand times removed
White-handed gibbon 19 million years ago 1 millionth cousin, 422 thousand times removed
De Brazza's monkey 27 million years ago 1.7 millionth cousin, 541 thousand times removed
Squirrel monkey 42 million years ago 3.2 millionth cousin, 991 thousand times removed
Philippine tarsier 68 million years ago 6.7 millionth cousin, 16 million times removed
Ring-tailed lemur 75 million years ago 9 millionth cousin, 10 million times removed
Common treeshrew 85 million years ago 12 millionth cousin, 69 million times removed
Desert cottontail 90 million years ago 16 millionth cousin, 46 million times removed
House mouse 90 million years ago 16 millionth cousin, 103 million times removed
Humpback whale 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 26 million times removed
Common bottlenose dolphin 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 27 million times removed
Large flying fox 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 34 million times removed
Harbor seal 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 37 million times removed
Brown bear 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 37 million times removed
Dromedary 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 38 million times removed
Domestic cat 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 39 million times removed
Domestic dog 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 41 million times removed
White rhinoceros 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 45 million times removed
Przewalski's horse 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 47 million times removed
Wild boar 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 48 million times removed
Domestic goat 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 51 million times removed
White-tailed deer 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 51 million times removed
Cattle 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 51 million times removed
Bighorn sheep 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 51 million times removed
Long-tailed shrew 95 million years ago 21 millionth cousin, 114 million times removed
African bush elephant 105 million years ago 31 millionth cousin, 12 million times removed
Aardvark 105 million years ago 31 millionth cousin, 30 million times removed
Giant anteater 105 million years ago 31 millionth cousin, 34 million times removed
Three-toed sloth 105 million years ago 31 millionth cousin, 34 million times removed
Nine-banded armadillo 105 million years ago 31 millionth cousin, 38 million times removed
Red-necked wallaby 160 million years ago 86 millionth cousin, 18 million times removed
Sunnyodon 170 million years ago 75 millionth cousin, 21 million times removed
Platypus 175 million years ago 101 millionth cousin, 6.8 million times removed
Long-beaked echidna 175 million years ago 101 millionth cousin, 6.8 million times removed
Anteosaurus 240 million years ago 27 millionth cousin, 96 million times removed
Ichthyosaur 325 million years ago 50 millionth cousin, 100 million times removed
Diplodocus 325 million years ago 53 millionth cousin, 97 million times removed
Triceratops 325 million years ago 64 millionth cousin, 87 million times removed
Tyrannosaurus rex 325 million years ago 68 millionth cousin, 83 million times removed
Pterosaur 325 million years ago 74 millionth cousin, 76 million times removed
Saltwater crocodile 325 million years ago 75 millionth cousin, 76 million times removed
Eastern box turtle 325 million years ago 85 millionth cousin, 66 million times removed
Common ostrich 325 million years ago 122 millionth cousin, 28 million times removed
Canada goose 325 million years ago 124 millionth cousin, 27 million times removed
American robin 325 million years ago 139 millionth cousin, 12 million times removed
Indian cobra 325 million years ago 146 millionth cousin, 4.8 million times removed
Western skink 325 million years ago 151 millionth cousin, 12 million times removed
Northern two-lined salamander 355 million years ago 82 millionth cousin, 74 million times removed
Mexican burrowing caecilian 355 million years ago 97 millionth cousin, 58 million times removed
Strawberry poison-dart frog 355 million years ago 98 millionth cousin, 57 million times removed
Australian lungfish 415 million years ago 72 millionth cousin, 104 million times removed
West Indian Ocean coelacanth 420 million years ago 65 millionth cousin, 112 million times removed
Atlantic sturgeon 430 million years ago 80 millionth cousin, 101 million times removed
Indian pike conger 430 million years ago 86 millionth cousin, 95 million times removed
Shortnose gar 430 million years ago 103 millionth cousin, 77 million times removed
Sockeye salmon 430 million years ago 117 millionth cousin, 64 million times removed
Yellow perch 430 million years ago 120 millionth cousin, 61 million times removed
Labrador herring 430 million years ago 120 millionth cousin, 61 million times removed
Atlantic cod 430 million years ago 120 millionth cousin, 61 million times removed
Atlantic blacktip shark 470 million years ago 82 millionth cousin, 112 million times removed
Armored fish 550 million years ago 113 millionth cousin, 133 million times removed
Sea lamprey 550 million years ago 223 millionth cousin, 24 million times removed
Pacific hagfish 550 million years ago 247 millionth cousin, 68 million times removed
Lancelet 560 million years ago 257 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Sea squirt 580 million years ago 277 millionth cousin, 68 million times removed
Cookie dough sea cucumber 600 million years ago 273 millionth cousin, 24 million times removed
Spiny brittle star 600 million years ago 297 millionth cousin, 68 million times removed
Red-stalked sea lily 600 million years ago 297 millionth cousin, 68 million times removed
Common starfish 600 million years ago 297 millionth cousin, 68 million times removed
Purple sea urchin 600 million years ago 297 millionth cousin, 68 million times removed
Ammonite 630 million years ago 197 millionth cousin, 130 million times removed
Sea scorpion 630 million years ago 234 millionth cousin, 92 million times removed
Mangrove horseshoe crab 630 million years ago 247 millionth cousin, 79 million times removed
Trilobite 630 million years ago 255 millionth cousin, 72 million times removed
European lobster 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 9.5 million times removed
Lamp shell 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 53 million times removed
Burgundy snail 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 53 million times removed
Chinese red-headed centipede 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 82 million times removed
White-spotted octopus 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 128 million times removed
Common cockle 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 128 million times removed
American giant millipede 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 133 million times removed
Jumping spider 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 137 million times removed
Common redbolt 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 138 million times removed
Blue crab 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 163 million times removed
Signal crayfish 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 163 million times removed
Giant tiger prawn 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 163 million times removed
Stag beetle 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 203 million times removed
Termite 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 247 million times removed
Eastern black carpenter ant 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 250 million times removed
Lubber grasshopper 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Western honey bee 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Ostracod 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Moss animal 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Turquoise shield bug 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Gooseneck barnacle 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Ulysses swallowtail butterfly 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Oriental rat flea 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Madagascar hissing cockroach 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
European hornet 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Flatworm 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Red wiggler worm 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Nematode 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Rotifer 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Flower fly 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 1.3 billion times removed
Body louse 630 million years ago 327 millionth cousin, 2.1 billion times removed
Mint-sauce worm 640 million years ago 337 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Pillar coral 650 million years ago 347 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Trichoplax 725 million years ago 422 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Comb jelly 750 million years ago 447 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Glass sponge 800 million years ago 497 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Choanoflagellate 900 million years ago 597 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
King bolete mushroom 1 billion years ago 697 millionth cousin, 303 million times removed
Amoeba 1.2 billion years ago 897 millionth cousin, 11 billion times removed
Coulter pine 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 1.7 billion times removed
Maidenhair tree 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 1.7 billion times removed
Sago palm cycad 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 1.7 billion times removed
Crown fern 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 1.8 billion times removed
Northern giant horsetail 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 1.8 billion times removed
French rose 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 1.8 billion times removed
Club moss 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 1.9 billion times removed
Pincushion moss 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 2 billion times removed
Irish moss 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 2 billion times removed
Green algae 1.6 billion years ago 2.9 billionth cousin, 2 billion times removed
Diatom 2 billion years ago 6.9 billionth cousin, 13 billion times removed
Sulfolobus (Archaea) 2.5 billion years ago 357 billionth cousin, 1.4 trillion times removed
E. coli (Bacteria) 3 billion years ago 706 billionth cousin, 1.4 trillion times removed
07 06
Chimp