Parents with multiple kids have come under fire recently due to reality stars such as Nadya “Octomom” Suleyman and Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. Critics say their kids lack the proper support for a healthy upbringing.
However, these two look downright infertile compared to the great reproducers of history. Here are 10 people who have the most living offspring and descendants on the planet.
10. Yitta Schwarz
A survivor of the Holocaust, Yitta Schwarz spent her life thumbing her nose at Hitler by replacing many of the Jews that he exterminated. Although she doesn’t have as many progeny as those further down the list, Schwarz deserve honorable mention for directly (and indirectly) producing over 2,000 descendants in her lifetime, a task she considered a tribute to God. She was a member of the conservative Satmar Hasidic sect, whose members often average nine children. Schwarz went above and beyond, having 15 children who, in turn, each averaged more than 10 children of their own. In order to deal with such a massive extended family, she purchased industrial baking equipment to make enough challah for the Sabbath. By the time of Schwarz’s 2010 death, she had over 1,800 great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren – more than a large city high school.
Giocangga, who died in 1582, was the forefather of the Qing dynasty and has 1.5 million descendants living today, mostly in northeastern China and Mongolia. Like many of the other rulers on this list, his line expanded rapidly due to its power and all the coupling partners that came with it. The Qing dynasty was established by his grandson and completely ruled China by 1664. “[They] were a highly privileged elite class, and they had several wives and concubines,” said Chris Tyler-Smith, who worked on the genetic study. A normal Chinese person living in Giocangga’s time only has 20 living descendants today, meaning that he spread his DNA 800,000 times better than the next guy.
8. Niall of the Nine Hostages
If you are Irish, then lift up your pint of stout to Niall of the Nine Hostages. There’s more than a 10 percent chance he’s your forefather, as he is for 3 million men, and approximately one in 12 Irishmen. Niall was a warlord in 5th century Ireland, a chaotic time when Roman rule collapsed in the West and chieftains such as himself took control. He and his descendants filled in the power vacuum, and Niall established a dynasty of rulers that controlled much of Ireland for six hundred years. His line was also prolific with the ladies. A member of his dynasty, who died in 1423, had 18 sons. Thanks to nineteenth-century Irish immigration to the U.S., many Americans also carry his blood, such as 2% of all New Yorkers.
7. Genghis Khan
The 13th-century Mongolian ruler ravaged China, Russia, Samarkand, and the rest of the Silk Road territories, conquering an area three times the size of Rome. As a result, he obtained all the women that come with such medieval victories. Genghis had six Mongolian wives, many foreign wives who were daughters of conquered kings, and concubines obtained by plundering enemy territory. His soldiers explicitly handed over the most beautiful women to him. But the main reason Genghis’ descendants are so numerous is that, for centuries after his death, a Central Asian ruler needed to be his descendant to claim legitimacy. As a result, a true descendant of his had no shortage of coupling partners. Genghis’ oldest son had 40 legitimate sons; his grandson Kublai Khan had 22. Today, nearly 16 million men, or one in every 200 men on earth, are directly descended from Genghis Khan. In the domains of the former Mongolian Empire, that number rises to one-in-eight. You could say there’s a little bit of Genghis in all of us.
6. William the Conqueror
William led the 1066 Norman invasion of England, forever changing the island’s language and genetic makeup. He had nine children, who were married off to European royalty. Due to the restrictive practice of royals only being able to marry other members of their own class, his lineage spread throughout Europe. This started a domino effect, since wealthy members of society had far more children who survived into adulthood than commoners. Today every single family member of a European monarch, and everyone who can claim ancestry to even a minor royal, is descended from William. This includes tens of millions of Europeans, over 1.5 million Americans, and every single U.S. President who ever lived, from Washington to Obama.
5. Gwilym of Many Conquests
This ninth-century Welsh nobleman (and ladies’ man) managed to sire enough children that, today, 7 million people are direct descendants of this smooth-talking common ancestor. A balladeer known for his “gilded, tunic-dropping verse,” folk legend notes that he lacked any standards concerning the age, weight, or appearance of his targets. Notable descendants of Gwilym today include Matthew McConaughey and Joe Biden.
I should mention at this point that Gwilym never actually existed, and his fictional story comes from an Onion article. However, it is a pity he doesn’t exist, since this list is dominated by warlords and statesmen, not Lotharios.
Charlemagne was the first Emperor of Western Europe, following the collapse of Rome and the protector of the papacy. Because he ruled over an area covering Italy, France, Spain, and Germany, and uniting them in culture and religion, many consider him the “Father of Europe.” However, this is also true in the literal sense. He had 20 children, of whom a few carried on his Empire until it fell apart due to infighting among his grandsons. Ironically, this fracturing, along with the Viking invasions, insured that his descendants spread across Europe. They married into Slavic states, Scandinavia, Greece, and the Middle East through the Crusades. Today the number of Charlemagne’s descendants is absolutely staggering, with some estimates as high as half the population of Europe (250 million), 100 million in the United States, and another 250 million across the world.
He founded a religion that today has over a billion adherents, with several million of those claiming direct descent. These people carry the honorary title “Sayyid,” meaning a male descended from Muhammad’s grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Husain ibn Ali. Today, many Muslim dynasties claim to be Sayyid, such as the Alaouite kings of Morocco and the Hashemite kings of Jordan.
The total number of Sayyids are hard to come by. Being a descendant of Muhammad used to mean huge tax breaks. As a result, many people would forge certificates of genealogy. According to Hulya Canbakal, in the 17th century Ottoman Empire, an estimated 300,000 people were imposters. Today, sans tax breaks, 14 million in South Asia claim descent, meaning that hundreds of millions more around the world could be directly related to him.
When God promised Abraham, in the book of Genesis, that his descendants would number like the stars in the sky and the sand on the sea shore, he wasn’t kidding. He is the forefather of nearly every Jew on Earth (14 million) and, as the father of Ishmael, the number of his progeny swells by an additional 500 million. In the generations after Abraham, the Bible boasts that his descendants were quite fecund. In the four hundred years between his son Jacob’s immigration to Egypt, and Moses leading the exodus out of Egypt, his family grew from 72 to almost 3 million. The geometric expansion boggles the mind.
According to the Biblical account, Eve is the mother of all humanity, giving her nearly 7 billion living descendants, and well over 100 billion since time began. However, a 1980 study suggests that an actual Mitochondrial Eve lived 100,000-200,000 years ago in Africa. It analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which passes from mother to offspring, and discovered an unbroken line going back to modern-day Angola. Her ancestors then went out of Africa to Eurasia, Australia, and America, and are currently sitting in your chair at this very moment. The study confirms what many of the other people on this Top Ten list have already shown us – the chances of a stranger on the street not being your distant cousin are much lower than you think. Or in the case of Eve, they are zero.
Michael Rank writes many lists, articles and courses like these at the website Five Minute Courses.