You Are Invited to the Biggest Family Reunion Ever

A.J. Jacobs

There are 7 billion – yes, billion – people on our planet and A.J. Jacobs says we are all related, albeit distantly. Jacobs plans to throw the world’s biggest family reunion next summer in New York.

It all began after Jacobs received an email from a fan in Israel, who informed Jacobs that he was a distant cousin of his wife, and was related to notables like Karl Marx and 80,000 more. The revelation sparked Jacob’s fascination with genealogy, and prompted him to start playing the connections game. So far, he has mapped out his family tree to include up to 77 million distant relatives.

Comment: I’d like to see that database and especially all the source citations. 77 million people? Yes, I can accept that we are all related but I still would like to see the proof.

Jacobs has teamed up with MyHeritage, Geni.com, and WikiTree, collaborative family tree websites, to power the reunion. All you have to do is put in the names of your relatives and the tool will search to see whether your relatives match with any of Jacob’s.

You can read more in an article in the ABC News web site at http://goo.gl/NsGyzx.

20 Comments

Richard Eastman is A.J. Jacobs’ first cousin once removed’s ex-husband’s first cousin 8 times removed’s husband’s daughter’s husband’s 7th great nephew! http://geni.com/rTf1N

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Proof other than DNA and math? :) Mathematicians have been publishing on this since at least the 1980s. It’s impossible at this point to have anyone who is disconnected from the rest of humanity. The models are solid. Same with guaranteed royal descent of some kind if you’re Western or Northern European — that’s been consistently modeled since at least the late ’90s. Jacobs’ thesis is fine; like you said, it’s really just a matter now of how he shows it.

We all know it’s impossible to show “proof” in the Western paper-trail genealogy sense because the broader world and history don’t work that way, but 77 million seems reasonable to me when you look at the size of massive collaborative trees like Geni and emerging competitors in that arena like FamilySearch. (Funny to think of the latter as being new at something. :)) Even accounting for errant duplication of the more popular lines, which I think he’s doing by saying “up to,” I can see it being around that total when you factor in the different trees he might be connecting into. And the citing on these trees is worlds beyond where it used to be; the automatic record matching on Geni via MyHeritage has been game-changing. My guess is that he’s overshooting but not unreasonably so.

So yes, he’s writing for a pop culture audience and not academia, but I don’t think we should be too concerned about whether his central point is right. And I also think he’s smart enough, at least based on what I’ve read and heard from him so far, to know the flaws of GEDCOMs and Internet research and all that and that he will lay that out in his book. I don’t envision him telling people to put full faith into everything WikiTree tells them. The “up to” strikes me as code language to serious genealogists — like, “Don’t worry, I get it and I’ll go over it.” :)

This is just my sense as a stranger listening to podcasts and such, but I think he’s okay. If nothing else, at least he’s getting genealogy in the news and hopefully bringing in some new blood!

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This is a joke. I was VERY excited about it at first. Unfortunately it quickly degenerated from genealogy to a game of “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon”. They don’t deny this and their reason publicly given is that it was too hard to make all the connections. Using AJ’s “connection finder” my connection came because a 10XG grandmother when widowed re-married and one of her new husband’s kids from his first marriage had some sort of connection. If you think that sounds convoluted you’re right! Worse yet they’re calling these convoluted connections “cousins”, a word I thought had a specific definition.

Another issue is while they brag about their use of genealogical standards I know for a fact they have bogus “internet garbage” in their tree presented as fact.

I’m not saying my own work is perfect but I’m working to that goal. I’m just one guy not a “crowd-source” workforce and most importantly I don’t go around bragging about my strict genealogical standards.

The sad part is the junk they’re producing for this bogus world’s record is going to do great long term damage to the hobby because unknowing beginners will get sucked into believing their junk is fact.

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    Who is “they”? It’s him. He has sponsors for the event but I’m pretty sure it’s his project.

    I haven’t been following all the coverage super closely, but in the radio interviews I’ve listened to, he’s always said his focus is on finding connections, not cousins. I think the “cousins” thing is just marketing shorthand. I agree that it’s inelegant, but you really don’t think it’s kinda neat to see how families connect, including through marriage? It’s old-hat for those of us who are experienced, but some people get excited about it. Good for them.

    I guess I’m just not willing to write something off before we’ve even seen it. Maybe it’ll be great. Maybe it’ll be a bust. Who knows. But I’m going to be optimistic for now. We were all amateurs once. We don’t get to keep the field for ourselves. If it gets people interested, it’s a good thing in my view. Everyone always predicts the genealogical apocalypse and it never comes. This isn’t going to be it, either.

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Ashley: They are the people doing the work. Other than a little initial work and sticking his name on the publicity it’s been other people doing the work. Which again points to accuracy as no one is policing it. I could put Mickey Mouse into the tree and someone would eventually notice that absurdity, but if I put your name into a random slot no one would notice or question whether or not it belonged there. In fact I’d bet that with the numbers they’ve collected someone has already willfully invented a phony connection just to get invited the (meaningless) world record event.

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    Ken, you are completely missing the point. The fact is that there are connections between all of us. All we have to do is find them. Now, whether or not a particular path is correct or not is subject to debate and interpretation. But there is no doubt that there is a path somewhere, and that’s the whole point that AJ is making. Folks like you who get too hung up on accuracy and proof issues and can’t see the big picture should read my blog posts at http://schoenblog.com/?p=433 and http://schoenblog.com/?p=471.

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E. Randol: Not at all, I get that we’re all related however the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon and nebulous connections have nothing to do with genealogy or family. Your blog dose nothing but make my point. In spite of the fact that A.J. has bragged about strict genealogical standards there are no standards what so ever. Calling most of these “connections” family is an unbelievable stretch and makes a mockery of true genealogy. The original plan included having this gathering certified as a worlds record for the largest family reunion, a record currently held by someone in Europe. If that happens all it will do is speak to the ethics of who ever is doing the certifying.

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Wouldn’t it be proper to say connections are through a “genealogy thread” of marriages, so not necessarily cousins but a connection to each other? I have found “connections” to other researchers via the “genealogy thread” but we are not cousins. Gail, Canada

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Ken, what makes you think you know anything about genealogy? When was the last time you were on Geni?

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    E. Randol: Date wise I don’t know. I have an account there. After up loading my gedcom the management talked me out of staying because of it’s size. I’ve been following the progress of A.J.’s venture and as I said I was extremely disappointed when it morphed into something that has no relationship to genealogy. If your point is that they’ve backed off their claim of genealogical standards it looks as if you’re right. I no longer see that they’re making that claim which is good because I know they have information in there that is straight up false.

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Ken, you obviously did not read my blog posts. See #2 at http://schoenblog.com/?p=471

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    Yes I did. I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to find a lot of genealogist buying into your facts don’t matter opinion. The info I’m referring to on Geni is not in question or in need of research it’s just wrong. The first one that caught my eye has been known wrong for over a century, and it was posted when they were still touting their strict genealogical standards. What’s really annoying about comparing this to real genealogy is that when I questioned the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon approach I was told that making the genealogical connections was “too hard”.

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    You found a mistake. Mazel tov. There are 77 million connected profiles on Geni, so even if only 1% have errors that is 777,000 mistakes. I notice that you, very typically, don’t even identify the one mistake you found. Nor do you say whether you tried to fix it. Not sure whom you “questioned” and what answer you were given, but the relationship finder algorithm has been improved in the past 12 months. Since you haven’t been on the site since then, you might not be aware of that. Geni is only as good as the information we all put there. Like all genealogy sites, some of it is good; other parts not so good. If you don’t like something, either help fix it, or keep your quiet. No one likes the guy who sits on the sidelines with his arms crossed complaining about other people’s mistakes.

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No I didn’t find a mistake. I found wrong information. Information that is false because something else is known to be true. This speaks directly to their genealogical standards (or lack there of). None of the stuff on Geni is sourced. It’s only as reliable as the individual contributors. I wouldn’t make an issue of it at all but it was they who were bragging about their standards. I’m not about to waste time fixing their work. I have my own to worry about. Before you come up with another smart comment, my work is not likely perfect. I discuss that in my disclaimer and I’ve never bragged about my genealogical standards. My goal is however to move that information towards perfection not to come up with a phony worlds record.

The relationship finder is not an issue. It finds “connections” however most are not relationships. They were the ones who dumbed down the definition of relationship, family, and cousin because finding actual genealogical relationships is “too hard”. Those words came from one of the project leaders not me. They bit off more than they could chew by setting up the “family reunion” before they had anyone to invite. A.J.’s actual ancestors on Geni are very few which is why it’s been turned into 5 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

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    God knows who the “they” are that upset you so much. What on earth is the information that is wrong? Why won’t you disclose it? It’s like you are a third grader playing “I’ve got a secret.” There are millions of sources on Geni. If you know of sources that are missing, then add them. Otherwise just be quiet already.

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    For what it’s worth, I’m a heavy Geni user and have been since 2007. It looks like I have uploaded 1,581 documents to Geni as of this moment, putting me nowhere near the top. Each document of mine typically has at least ten facts being cited; some have literally hundreds (especially with manifests and such). When I can’t easily upload a document, I try to make sure that I include citations in the biography area. Like you, I’m not perfect — I worry more when it comes to my personal desktop tree — but I try my best.

    As a New England Yankee, the vast majority of the people in my part of the tree are direct cousins along well-known paths. (Those Puritans got busy…) It’s exceedingly rare for me to not have a valid direct cousin relationship to someone with English ancestry. And I’d say probably 70% of the profiles I view, skewing towards men of course, have at least short biographies written, usually longer.

    For what it’s worth, when I used the A.J. checker tool thing, it was a pretty clear path; I think he was my 9th cousin’s nephew? I don’t think that’s terrible. He’s Jewish, so it would be really strange if he *did* have super close paths to everyone. That just doesn’t happen much. If he were a WASP like me, this wouldn’t even be a criticism of his research. I can’t hold the guy’s ethnicity and its unique genealogical challenges against him.

    I use Geni, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindAGrave, BillionGraves, etc. I don’t have a stake in this, I don’t know the guy, I’m not even sure I’ll buy the book or go to the event (though I’d like to). But jeez, maybe revisit Geni and the others and spend *substantive* time on the collaborative sites before you get so upset. The Geni of 2007 or 2010 or 2012 does not exist anymore. And the anger doesn’t seem proportionate. :/

    Again, I’ll keep my optimism about the project. You don’t have to. But let’s all try to enjoy ourselves, maybe?

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    Thanks for digging that up; I was trying to remember when it happened. Before that, I remember we users used to do simple text citations (which I still like) or even upload documents as profile photos (which I disliked then and now). And you also could almost always go into the documents areas and pull up .txt files with source data carried over from GEDCOMs.

    It’s been my experience that sources have always been there more often than not as long as you are willing to click a couple times. The number of clicks has simply decreased over time.

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Only on my first post did I state an opinion when I said “this is a joke” from there all I’ve done is state facts as I’ve observed them or as they’ve been presented to me by people close to this project. It’s you that seems to be upset and you that is taking it personally. If you wish to go to a convention of people who are calling themselves cousins when no such connection has be made do so and enjoy yourself.

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By my count less than 40 people have been identified in AJ’s direct chain. (parents, grand parents, great X whatever) A few of those have only been identified by first name only. There’s nothing embarrassing about that, however it is an embarrassment when family is redefined to create the “world’s biggest” family reunion.

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