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    What is a Generation?

     

    Whenever you are doing genealogy, sooner or later the term “generation” will crop up. For some people it may be a puzzlement as to its correct meaning. Of course everybody is familiar with the terms older and younger generations when speaking of age differences.

    According to the Webster’s dictionary under the word “generation” it is defined as follows:

    The average span of time between birth of parents and that of their offspring

    This being the case, how many years are there in a generation to cover the span of time mentioned? This is the interesting part because different people have different opinions on the number of years, some as low as 15 years and some as high as 40 odd years. In essence there is no fixed value for a generation but one can talk about an average number of years. Here is an interesting take on the subject from the Chinese standpoint.

    In Chinese, the term for a generation is shi (世). Now, this character by itself does not look like much, in fact it is quite simple and fairly easy to write. So what is the history behind its origin? Shown below is the progression of this character from its primitive to final present day form.



    In the above illustration the final character was developed from shi (十) which means the numeral ten in Chinese. So, when there are three tens it would mean thirty and that was how the character began. In the beginning it started with a pyramid of three tens, then it was aligned horizontally, then simplified with less strokes but still aligned (卅) and finally it was graphically enhanced to the present day character (世).

    As can be seen, perhaps over a long period of time the Chinese came to the conclusion that the average span for a generation was 30 years as shown by the development of their shi (世) character. This figure is for estimating the number of generations based on a given timeline for a family tree when looking for the number of unknown ancestors in between time gaps.


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