While any ancestor can be a progenitor, or previous member of a family line, the word is usually applied to someone who was an originator of or major contributor to the characteristics of that line.

The word progenitor can be traced to the Latin prōgignere, which means "to beget," and so is linked to the beginning of a genealogical line. The clue comes in the "gen" part, meaning "birth, procreation," and signifying the genetic contribution of an ancestor to a family line. Prō- means "forward," and the -tor suffix indicates someone doing an action — so a progenitor is someone who gives rise to a family line.

Definitions of progenitor
  1. noun
    an ancestor in the direct line
    synonyms: primogenitor
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    Blessed Virgin
    the mother of Jesus; Christians refer to her as the Virgin Mary; she is especially honored by Roman Catholics
    the mother-in-law of Ruth whose story is told in the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament
    a natural father or mother
    a father or mother; one who begets or one who gives birth to or nurtures and raises a child; a relative who plays the role of guardian
    type of:
    ancestor, antecedent, ascendant, ascendent, root
    someone from whom you are descended (but usually more remote than a grandparent)
Word Family

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