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(Black Bear Pictures)
(Black Bear Pictures)
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in ‘The Imitation Game’ (Black Bear Pictures)

You have to admire the chutzpah in the telling of this tale. The website Ancestry, who specialize in tracing family genealogy, have tried to find out whether Benedict Cumberbatch shares a common ancestor with Alan Turing, the man he is playing in The Imitation Game. There are all sorts of reasons for doing this, but probably one of the most pressing is that people will talk about it. People like us, for example.

So, the exciting news is that Benedict and Alan DO share a common ancestor along the male line. You only have to go back a mere 18 generations—back to the 14th century—to meet John Beaufort, the first Earl of Somerset (born 1373). This makes them 17th cousins.

But of course, if you go back far enough into anyone’s family history, you’ll reach the boundaries of what researchers call “the genealogical paradox,” namely that with two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on, tracing your personal family line back will result in a family tree that demands more branches than there were people alive on the planet at the time. Which means it’s probably quite hard to find two people from broadly the same part of the world that AREN’T related if you go back far enough.

Or to put it another way, 18 generations requires 262,144 ancestors each, although you do have to allow for interbreeding (perfectly acceptable if the ‘relatives’ are distant enough). In 1400 the population of Britain was around 2.5 million, having just been significantly reduced by the Black Death, so roughly a fifth of the population (524,288 people) will need to have been pressed into service just in order to create the future Cumberbatch and Turing lines. That there is an intersection is interesting, but not unexpected.

Although it’s fun to note that both Benedict’s list and Alan Turing’s contain some very noble additions. On the Cumberbatch side (which takes a detour through five generations of Chaloners) we have two dukes and an earl, and on the Turing side there’s a duke, an earl and two monarchs: Henry VII and King James V of Scotland.

The website also investigated the history of the name Cumberbatch, and notes that it’s a popular spelling for a surname that derives from the village of Comberbach in Cheshire. In Old English, the name refers to a valley with a stream.

Miriam Silverman, UK content manager for Ancestry, told the Telegraph: “It’s amazing to think that when stepping into the role of Alan Turing, he would not only be portraying a world class code breaker but a real life relation.”

Which is true, but only if you don’t think about it too much.

See more:
WATCH: Benedict Explains Machine Consciousness in ‘The Imitation Game’ Clip
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Engagement is Announced (in the Times)
Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Shakespeare for BBC Drama Promo
Benedict Cumberbatch Defends Sherlock Holmes’ Sexual Prowess

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By Fraser McAlpine