What Does Descendants Mean?

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the word ‘descendants’ refers to someone who is related to you and who lives after you. Relating exclusively to ancestry, this definition makes a lot of sense.

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For example, your children are descendants of you and your grandchildren are descendants of your children. Seems simple, right?

Well, there are a lot of technicalities when it comes to ancestry, not only for personal reasons but also within the legal world.

In this article, we’ll be explaining how descendants work in ancestry and teach you more about how a person can be classified as a descendant and what it means to be one.

What Does Descendants Mean

What Makes A Person A Descendant?

Regardless of physical proximity or the number of generations between two people, as long as they follow the same bloodline (e.g, one person is a great, great, great grandparent of the other), the younger is classed as a descendant.

The example we just looked at is known as a direct descendant and is categorized purely by biological, blood connections between ancestors. Interestingly, aunts and uncles also count as direct ancestors, making you their direct descendants.

As you might imagine, this can end up getting a bit tenuous as the family tree spreads out. For example, if you’ve ever heard someone say they’re descended from a former president, this might be the sort of thing they’re referring to!

However, descendants can also be classified in ways that don’t relate to bloodline.

An indirect descendant must connect their ancestry with someone else through marriage or cousins. Again, some people consider this important so they can brag about being descended from a famous person from history.

However, there are more important legal distinctions that must be made between direct and indirect descendants, which we’ll get into later.

Basically, what makes a person a descendant is either some connection by bloodline or extensively by marriage or cousins.

See, it’s a little more complicated than you might think!

Lineal And Collateral Descendants

Another distinction that can be made between descendants is lineal vs collateral. This difference is more important in legal terms and can be quite complicated to determine.

Basically, a lineal descendant is the same as a direct descendant: a direct child, grandchild, great grandchild, etc.

However, a collateral descendant is similar to what we established as an indirect descendant.

Definition: A collateral descendant descends from the same common ancestor as the descendant but does not descend directly from that descendant.

If your head hurts after reading that, don’t worry. It basically means that your siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts are all collateral descendants of you.

You might be thinking, why do we need to differentiate between these different types of descendants?

Well, the answer is mainly to do with legal disputes. In most cases, if someone dies and they have no living direct or lineal descendants, the indirect and collateral descendants are the ones who inherit their property.

This is the case in most of the United States, however, laws may differ in other countries and regions so it could be worth looking up what the inheritance laws are in your particular area.

old books and family photos of descendants

Descendants And Heirs

These two terms are commonly confused, despite having completely different meanings and values.

We’ve already established what a descendant is, but to be an heir doesn’t actually require any blood connection between ancestors.

An heir is anyone who is legally named in a will to inherit a person’s property after they die. For this reason, “heir” is more important as a legal term and is less commonly used in the modern day.

However, ‘heir’ also refers to any person who is the legal recipient of a person’s belongings after their death. For this reason, descendants are quite often also heirs.

Legal Implications

Each state in the US has its own set of rules about inheritance without the presence of a will. Obviously, if a will is written which states that a certain person is to inherit someone’s wealth after they die, that person is entitled to it regardless of blood relation.

However, in a lot of cases, people die without a will and the state has to step in and determine who is entitled to their property and possessions.

The rules the state follows are known as the laws of intestate succession and they differ slightly between states and different countries.

In most cases, it will be the living, direct, lineal descendants of the deceased who inherit their property. However, each state has its own way of determining how property is allocated among the descendants.

This is why it’s sensible to write a will. A legally written will can not be overruled by the state and it allows the deceased to have more of a say over how their property and possessions are to be allocated among their relatives or to any named heirs outside their bloodline.

Examples Of Famous Descendants And Ancestors

We now know how tenuous the links between ancestors and descendants can be, so that leads to a lot of unusual connections between famous faces. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Charles Dickens and Harry Lloyd: Charles Dickens is one of the most famous writers in history, birthing classic pieces of literature such as ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘Oliver Twist’. You may not have known that Charles’ great, great grandson is none other than Harry Lloyd, best known for portraying Viserys Targaryen in ‘Game Of Thrones’. This is one of the few examples of direct lineage between two well known names.
  • Kate Middleton and Guy Ritchie: These are two big names from the modern day. Kate is currently the Duchess of Cambridge and Guy is a movie director and producer. According to reports, these two are actually sixth cousins, making them indirect descendants of each other (though, it’s a bit of a stretch to say they’re fully related!)
  • Ashlee Simpson and Diana Ross: These two definitely aren’t as closely linked as the previous two examples. In fact, they’re not really connected by blood at all. Ashlee married Diana’s son, making her an indirect, collateral descendant of Diana. Now that is one musical family!

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