Ocean Crossings and the Colossal Unlikelihood of Your and My Existence

PresidentLincoln03The S.S. President Lincoln which brought my great-grandfather from Slovakia in 1912

The probability that you would exist over the entire span of Earth history is about 1 in 102,685,000, or so estimates Harvard University blogger Ali Binazir.

In his blog, Binazir figures in a number of chance factors. First, he calculates the probability of your parents meeting, ever, as 1 in 20,000 – the chances that they would produce one offspring as 1 in 40 million – the probability of his sperm and her egg combining as one in 400 quadrillion – and the likelihood that each one of your ancestors successfully would reproduce, over the span of 150,000 generations of parents, as 1 in 1045,000.

Weaving in other variables, Binazir came up with his gargantuan number. OK, your head’s starting to hurt, you say. So is mine.

In addition to these calculations, I’ve been wondering what pain and hardship has had to be endured by each of our particular set of ancestors for any of us to exist? What wars and armistices, upheavals, betrayals and tragedies and much more had to occur – for each generation to have been in the right place at the right time on the right day for us to have been conceived?

Was extreme heartache necessary in some circumstances over the continuum of time and space? It’s exceedingly humbling to think we should be so important.

Here are just two tragedies that occurred in my own family tree, without which I myself would not have come into being:

Great-great grandfather James C. Cain (1847-1915) lost his first wife, Rachel Ann (Reid) Cain (1853-1875), after just four and a half years of marriage. She died from a bad cold at the age of 22, leaving him with four young children. His second wife, Margaret Ellen White (1851-1919), was my ancestor and together they produced my great-grandmother, Armena Viancy (Cain) Miner. If the first wife had not died, the second marriage would not have taken place.

Great-great grandfather Madison Ullom (1831-1879) also lost to premature death his first wife, Sarah (Gray) Ullom (1833-1867). She passed at age 34, leaving behind four children under the age of 10. His second wife, teenager Melissa Ann Hupp (1849-1920), was my ancestor, and their son Lantz Hupp Ullom was my great-grandfather. The death of the first wife was necessary for this chain of events to happen.

But life is not always a tragedy, and so I’ve been wondering what leaps of faith by spirited adventurers were taken over the centuries for my being to exist. As an American, that means that somewhere in each branch of my family tree, someone had to leave home and family to board a ship and travel to the United States.

Here are the different surnames in my own tree where an ocean voyage was made. Precise details of most of these are not known. My mind races: what circumstances meshed together to cause even one of these surnamed individuals to decide on a new life in a new world?


  1. Meinert/Minerd – Germany
  2. Weber – Germany
  3. Neün – Germany
  4. Junghen/Younkin – Germany
  5. Scherer – ?
  6. Dorscheimer – Germany
  7. Hartzell – Germany
  8. Settle – ?
  9. Johnston – ?
  10. Owen – ?
  11. Ullom/Woolam – Germany – 1700
  12. Boeshaar – ?
  13. Smith – ?
  14. Kinney – ?
  15. Bowen – Ireland
  16. Hupp – Germany
  17. Hesson – The Netherlands
  18. Thomas – ?
  19. Johnson – Wales
  20. Johns – ?
  21. Hinerman – Germany
  22. Bush – ?
  23. Grim – ?
  24. Cyphers – ?
  25. Headley or Lindley – England
  26. White – ?
  27. Miller – White branch
  28. Miller – Johnson branch
  29. Cain – Ireland
  30. Earlywine – ?
  31. Jagerski – Austria-Hungary/Slovakia – 1912
  32. Nachmann – Austria-Hungary/Slovakia – 1913
  33. Balysh – Byelorussia/Belarus – 1909

So then … what are the chances … that you were conceived … and that you’re reading this post … of mine? A probability so big as to be indescribable, right?

One thought on “Ocean Crossings and the Colossal Unlikelihood of Your and My Existence

  1. I am part Ullom/Boeshaar and I know from 23andme connected somehow to a Bowen. I like your poetic thinking regarding the fates that make our exeistance possible and the suffering that is and integral part of that weave.

    Would like to hear from you.

    Bob Griffin alaskagriff@hotmail.com 206-379-2574


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