I'm looking for a word to signify the ancestor from which a family tree is derived. They would be the first, from whom all other family members are descended. Does such a word exist? I imagine, given the long history of creating family trees, that someone at some point decided on a word other than 'the first guy'.

  • see here english.stackexchange.com/questions/172749 (in the comments immediately under the question) Ego. – Frank Jul 12 '14 at 10:47
  • ... teratogen's answer. Good spot, Frank: the title only mentions the other question (naughty!) – Edwin Ashworth Jul 12 '14 at 10:50
  • possible duplicate of What is the name of a "role" in a family tree? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 12 '14 at 10:51
  • @EdwinAshworth This, I gather, is the central person when working backwards from an ancestor (e.g. I would be the Ego for a family tree starting from me and working backwards). I'm going the other way - say, what was Adam to the children of Cain and Abel, etc. – Eamonn Jul 12 '14 at 11:21
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    Depending on creed and level of religious belief, the answer should really be Adam or Eve or some similar pairing (or, in more evolutionary terms, Mitochondrial Eve), since all human family trees are interlaced at least as far back as that. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 12 '14 at 11:37

The word that popped into my own head was progenitor, which the OED gives as sense 1 the following:

A person from whom another person, a family, or a race, is descended; an ancestor, a forefather.

One advantage of progenitor over forefather is that it works for either sex. Well, in my opinion, at least, it does. The words progenitress, progenitrice, and progenitrix do exist and would in theory be available for an ancestral female, just as ancestress would. But I’m not sure that the explicitly female versions of these words get much currency these days.


I think forefather is the word you are looking for:

  • the founder of a family; "keep the faith of our forefathers"
  • That's the idea, but I would consider that any male along the entire depth of a family tree line could be called a forefather (are there 'foremothers'?). I was hoping for an word to signify the role. – Eamonn Jul 12 '14 at 11:23
  • For that matter, plenty of lines have founders as noted in your quote. – Wayfaring Stranger Jul 12 '14 at 11:23

Found it — the term is the apical ancestor. See Wikipedia for details.

  • And I learned apical too! :D – Eamonn Jul 12 '14 at 11:28
  • Which brings to mind apex predator, where a rather different sort of tree is involved. – tchrist Jul 12 '14 at 14:41

I've seen the word "proband" used in genealogy as the person of interest when either all descendants of the person, or all ancestors of the person are being studied.

This term is also used in genetics as the person being studied who has a trait of interest that may be passed to any descendant, and may have come from any ancestor.

See also What is the name of a "role" in a family tree? on Genealogy and Family History Stack Exchange.


"Patriarch" or "matriarch" also might be of use.

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