Q&A with Global Family Reunion Chart Maker Niels Hansen

1[Editor’s Note: Niels Hansen has worked in the wind turbine industry as a development manager in the electronics department. Today he works at a small electronics company making high-end audio equipment. Niels has more than 40,000 people on his tree and about 70% of them live in Denmark. The rest are distant relatives, and some 15,000 individuals are in Utah or other places in the United States. He is our Global Family Reunion Chart Maker. 

A personalized chart by Niels is available, in limited supply, as part of the $200 perk in our IndieGogo Campaign.  See below to view a section of the massive 100 person chart he is developing for the main event!]

What first drew you to the Global Family Reunion?

I think I got a Google hit somehow and read about AJ’s project. I think it was first in April 2014.

Who is your favorite person in your connection to AJ?

It’s definitely the Bush family as it was the first real connection to AJ.

Has your connection changed much as new research has been added?

When I read about AJ’s project I immediately tried to connect to him. I saw he was related to Quincy Adams. I had some Adams in my tree so I saw a possibility. I found the connection 80 steps away and made my way in Wikitree. But I had some troubles when I connected my line to Quincy Adams. The profile owner disagreed in my connection so I had to find another way. I then found it through the Bush family. Later I read that AJ was related to the Russian Tsar family. Then I knew that I could cut a lot of steps off, as I am distant related to the Danish royal family and they are in close relationship to the Russian Tsar family. The distance to AJ was then cut down to 32 steps.

Can you explain a little how you create your connection diagrams?

The connection diagrams are drawn manually in Microsoft Publisher. So it takes quite a time to make a large diagram. But I have standardized the diagram with help lines to align all the boxes.

What inspired you to start making them?

I have some friends in Utah. In spring 2013 I found a family connection to them 50 steps away. When my wife and I visited them in June 2013 I brought a photo book with me I had made as a gift. I wanted to show our relationship on the cover on the book and got the idea to the connection diagram for a good overview of a very distant relationship.

Do you plan on going to the Reunion in June?

The same day as I first read about AJ’s project I said to my wife: “If I find a connection to AJ we will go to the event in New York”. It took three evenings to find the first connection. In August I booked flight tickets and at that early time I got them to a very good price. My wife and I make a vacation out of it and take a 3 week roundtrip in north-eastern USA.

What are you most looking forward to?

I think it will be an amazing event on June 6 and look forward to see how big a crowd there will show up and also look forward to see all the famous invited people.

Who is one person we haven’t connected yet you are hoping to see done?

I really find it interesting to see bad guys connected. So I were happy when I saw Josef Stalin was connected to AJ. It would be fun to see others connected but it might be too much to ask for Adolf Hitler?

Has finding how you’re connected to so many different people changed how you look at those around you?

Yes I agree with AJ that I feel a friendly relationship to people I know I am connected to. I have a lot of Utahan people in my tree. So many that when I attended RootsTech this year many of the people I talked with showed up to be my distant relatives. In Salt Lake City I visited the Family History Library. When I were almost finished I recognized the surname on my assigned helpers name tag and I did know we were related. I looked up in my family tree and she looked up in her’s. And it showed up that I had her parents in law in my tree. We exchanged email addresses and later we have emailed with further information about our common family.

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Ted Allen to Speak at the Global Family Reunion

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Contact: Eowyn Langholf, gfrcousincoordinator@gmail.com or A.J. Jacobs, aj@ajjacobs.com

TED ALLEN TO SPEAK AT THE GLOBAL FAMILY REUNION

IMG_2945The Global Family Reunion is thrilled to announce that Ted Allen will be a speaker at the main event in New York City on June 6, 2015.

Ted is a writer, cookbook author, and television personality. He was the food and wine connoisseur on Queer Eye and has been the host of the TV cooking competition series Chopped since its launch in 2009. As of April 13, 2014, he is also the host of another Food Network show, All-Star Academy, which debuted on March 1, 2015.

In early 2015, he also hosted a four-part special, Best. Ever., which scoured the country for its best burgers, pizza, breakfast, and barbecue. He is a longtime contributing writer to Esquire magazine, the author of two cookbooks, and regularly appears on the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate and other television cooking shows.

Ted is (distantly) related to Global Family Reunion founder A.J. Jacobs. (To be specific, he is A.J. Jacobs’ aunt’s ex-husband’s fourth cousin five times removed’s husband’s fourth great nephew’s husband.).  He will be speaking about food and family.

About the Global Family Reunion

The Global Family Reunion will take place June 6, 2015, and aims to be the biggest, most inclusive and most entertaining family reunion in history. Everyone is invited. It will include presentations by celebrities, genealogists, and famous scientists, music, comedy, games, interactive exhibits and food. The main event will be held on the grounds of the world’s fair in New York, but there will be simultaneous parties around the world. All proceeds from the New York event will go toward Alzheimer’s Disease research and care.  Early bird tickets are available now.

The Global Family Reunion was founded by author A.J. Jacobs, who became fascinated with the idea that every person on Earth is related to every other after entering his name in several genealogy websites and finding he was connected to people all over the globe. “My hope — and I know it’s a bit idealistic — is that once we see how closely we’re all related, we’ll be able to work together better and solve the world’s really big problems, including Alzheimer’s,” he says.

The Global Family Reunion will be the topic of Jacobs’s next book and the subject of a documentary by Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me). Among those participating are actor Daniel Radcliffe, President George H.W. Bush and comedian Nick Kroll. The event has already been featured in the New York Times, People Magazine, NPR and Good Morning America. If you are interested in attending, please see the event website at globalfamilyreunion.com for more information. Plus, take a few minutes and watch Jacobs’ TED talk The world’s largest family reunion…we’re all invited .

Image courtesy of Ted Allen

GLOBAL FAMILY REUNION LAUNCHES CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN TO UNITE WORLD AND FIGHT ALZHEIMER’S

For Immediate Release: Thursday, March 6, 2015
Contact: Eowyn Langholf, gfrcousincoordinator@gmail.com or A.J. Jacobs, aj@ajjacobs.com

GLOBAL FAMILY REUNION LAUNCHES CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN TO UNITE WORLD AND FIGHT ALZHEIMER’S

The Global Family Reunion has just launched a crowdfunding campaign with two not-so-minor goals: Unite the world and battle Alzheimer’s.

The Global Family Reunion will take place June 6, 2015, and aims to be the biggest, most inclusive and most entertaining family reunion in history. Everyone is invited. It will include presentations by celebrities, genealogists, and famous scientists, music, comedy, games, interactive exhibits and food. The main event will be held on the grounds of the world’s fair in New York, but there will be simultaneous parties around the world.

It’s also a benefit to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease. When you purchase any of the Global Family Reunion campaign perks on IndieGoGo, you can feel good knowing that all proceeds — after covering the costs of the event — go toward battling Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association New York City and the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund are the official beneficiaries. The event’s founder, author A.J. Jacobs, watched his grandfather succumb to dementia, and this inspired A.J. to make the reunion about keeping family memories alive.

Visit the campaign page to find out how you can contribute and get involved.

Among the perks available in the Global Family Reunion crowdfunding campaign

–Tickets to the reunion

–A gorgeous computer visualization of how you’re linked to your 20,000 closest relatives by an Israeli data specialist

–Signed copies of A.J.’s upcoming book about the quest to unite the world with DNA and family trees.

–A.J. will even dedicate the book to the first person who donates $10,000 to the Alzheimer’s benefit. (His wife will understand).

The Global Family Reunion believes that massive multi-national family trees serve their own great purpose. Scientists are studying the online mega-family trees to see how diseases and traits are passed from generation to generation. Genealogy has the potential to help us find many cures. The mega-trees – which now number in the millions – also spur students to become interested in history. If you’re related to Abe Lincoln, even if distantly, you’re more likely to want to learn about him.

And the big hope is, once we see that all humans are, in fact, part of the same family, we’ll treat each other with a little more kindness. As cousin John Lennon said, you may call us dreamers, but we’re not the only ones.

About the Global Family Reunion

The Global Family Reunion was founded by author A.J. Jacobs, who became fascinated with the idea that every person on Earth is related to every other after entering his name in several genealogy websites and finding he was connected to people all over the globe. “My hope — and I know it’s a bit idealistic — is that once we see how closely we’re all related, we’ll be able to work together better and solve the world’s really big problems, including Alzheimer’s,” he says.

The Global Family Reunion will be the topic of Jacobs’s next book. Among those participating are speakers Henry Louis Gates and Dr. Mehmet Oz, actor Daniel Radcliffe (live or via video), President George H.W. Bush (via video) and comedian Nick Kroll. The event has already been featured in the New York Times, People Magazine, NPR and “Good Morning America.”

The Global Family Reunion’s partners include MyHeritage, Geni, FamilySearch, Findmypast, WikiTree, 23andMe, FamilyTree DNA and the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

If you are interested in attending, please see the event website at globalfamilyreunion.com for more information. Plus, take a few minutes and watch Jacobs’ TED talk The world’s largest family reunion…we’re all invited .

The Global Family Reunion is officially live!

Big news! The early bird discount tickets are officially available. Check out the latest here.

Remember: The Global Family Reunion won’t just be an outrageously entertaining and historic event, it’s also for a good cause: All proceeds go toward fighting Alzheimer’s.

Through IndieGoGo, cousins can also get a bunch of other rewards such as: Your name in founder A.J. Jacobs’s next book, a customized copy of the Ultimate Family Tree and an all-access digital pass to the reunion, which is the next best thing to being there.

If you want to get tickets, go to the $25 level on the list of perks on the right-hand side of the IndieGoGo page. You’ll also get two additional perks for being an early buyer.

Oh, and A.J. is also going to dedicate his next book to the highest bidder. His wife said she doesn’t mind. For a good cause and all that, she said through moderately gritted teeth.

If you haven’t been connected to the tree yet, the reason is that our researchers are overwhelmed with requests. But if you buy a ticket, you will shoot right to the top of the priority list, and we promise to put all our resources into seeing how you’re related to A.J. and George Clooney and Albert Einstein and Nelson Mandela and everyone in between.

Whether you come in person or to one of the satellite events, we’ve got a wonderful show for you. In addition to Henry Louis Gates, Dr. Oz and comedians Nick Kroll and Michael Ian Black, we also have Andy Borowitz and NPR’s Scott Simon.

Not to mention activities including a family-themed scavenger hunt, story-telling workshops, the world’s biggest family photo, potato sack races, and even Frisbee world champions showing off their mad Frisbee skills.

In other news, it’s been a busy month for spreading the word to all our cousins here and abroad. The GFR team traveled to Utah for the incredibly massive and wonderful RootsTech conference. AJ was a keynote speaker right before his cousin Donny Osmond (who is his aunt’s third cousin four times removed’s husband’s granddaughter’s husband’s great nephew). Just yesterday, A.J. participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) in which they asked him about the Global Family Reunion, and also his favorite cheese. And he continues to appear in People magazine, most recently interviewing actress Olivia Munn, who is half Chinese, half-Irish (pictured above).

And finally, we’d like to welcome more amazing partners, including Findmypast, 23andMe, FamilyTree DNA, in addition to MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Geni and WikiTree.

Now please go buy those tickets and support the fight against Alzheimer’s!

NERGC – Are you attending?

NERGC 2015 Navigating the Past: Sailing into the Future

Genealogists from around New England and beyond are making plans to attend the largest genealogical conference in the northeast.  Join us at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference being held April 15-18, 2015 at the Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, Rhode Island.  We will be in the Exhibit Hall and look forward to meeting you there.

But please hurry! Regular registration is $150 but you can take advantage of the early bird price of $120 which expires Saturday, February 28, 2015.  Register, select your sessions, workshops and meals on-line at NERGC (www.nergc.org).  The program is online, and there is information on the Exhibit Hall under the menu item “Exhibitors”.  Come and visit us at our booth!

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We Are Family

Editor’s Note: Angel Hundley — one of the key members of the Global Family team — wrote a wonderful lay sermon for her Unitarian Universalist church in Huntsville, Alabama about the Global Family Reunion. We’re pasting it below. Angel is the Branch Party Liaison for the GFR’s many satellite parties. She records random thoughts at http://onerandomangel.blogspot.com/

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ~Jane Howard

Family. We all need it.  Today I want us to think about the families that we choose.

In every family there is disappointment and hurt. Sometimes even failures. So when I talk today about an obligation to family, I don’t mean we should stay in hurtful relationships. I mean the “family” that does support and love you. The family that we all need is a network of relationships that can bring us support, joy, fun and connection.

Maybe for some of you when you hear the word family you do picture your birth parents and your blood relatives. For others your family might have come through adoption. Or marriage. Or maybe your family is a group that started out as just great friends. Growing up, my favorite “aunt” was actually my mother’s best friend from high school. And her children were more like siblings to me than even just cousins. Think about that family for you. This is the feeling of family I’d like you to draw from today.

And I know many of you have been working hard for years to fight for marriage rights. To legally have the families you’ve built, or your friends have built in love be recognized in the law. And when we scheduled this sermon for today in the worship meeting even just a couple months ago, I had no idea that when I gave the talk we’d be one day before Wedding Week in Huntsville, Al. Honestly, I never thought we’d be one year from equal marriage rights in Alabama, let alone one day from actual ceremonies being held in Big Spring Park! What a glorious Sunday this turned out to be for me to share with you this extraordinary project about building family.

So why do we need family? I think because we need to know that someone will be there for us no matter what. See, you take care of your family. When Jason and I were first married, we took in my teen-age cousin who had been living as a runaway on the streets. And then a few years later, we took in that cousin’s younger brother after he was released from a juvenile work/farm program. Moved him all the way from Ohio to California with us. We did this because they were our family and they needed a home. We certainly didn’t “need” troubled teenagers living with us when we were newlyweds. But I felt a responsibility to them because they were my family, and I knew I had the means to help them at that time. And Jason felt by marrying me, my family became his family, and so we felt obligated to help them. And I know that Jason and I are not alone in believing you take care of your family. Again, however your family came to be.

So what if we could widen that definition of family? What if we as a society could build a new way of viewing who we are responsible for helping? Who are family really is? I’ve been volunteering with a Project called The Global Family Reunion for the last five months that is attempting to do just that.

Before I get into that though, let me back up and tell you how I got interested and involved in this project. It all starts with my adoration of, perhaps even slight obsession with an author named AJ Jacobs. He wrote the Year of Living Biblically and a few other books. And I love reading every word he writes. He makes me laugh and think. And I can pay no higher compliment than that really. And so when I was looking at recent TED Talks on my Apple TV this summer and saw AJ had a new one, I obviously watched it. It was about his new book project- the Global Family Reunion. The basic premise was that he was trying to build the world’s largest family tree. And he invited people to hook up to the tree and then come to a party in New York, get a bracelet and be in a picture. Well, if someone you’re mildly obsessed with invites you to be in a picture with them, you make every effort to go. And so I decided to start researching my family tree.

Let me be clear, at this point in the story, I had no interest in genealogy or my ancestors. See, much of my “family” is not blood related to me.  Instead my family has been built through second marriages. I could not have loved my step-relatives more. And so I knew that family was much more than blood, so I never really had interest in researching my ancestors. Until AJ Jacobs invited me to a party… And so I got to work.

I’m going to read now from a blog post I wrote on August 22, 2014.
Let’s all meet at the Global Family Reunion!

I just found out I am a cousin of my favorite non-fiction writer, AJ Jacobs. And by cousin, I mean I am a distant relative on his Aunt Jane’s husband’s side of the family. And by distant relative, I mean we have 31 degrees of separation between us on the WikiTree Connection Finder. And that, my friends, is good enough to get me in the family photo!

This photo will be taken at the Global Family Reunion in New York City, June 2015. And you are all invited too. The website describes the event as “the biggest, most extraordinary and most inclusive family reunion in history. Come meet fascinating cousins you never knew you had — and learn about how we are building a Family Tree of the entire Human Race.”

Sounds awesome, right?!? And as for the photo, “Those with a proven connection to the world’s biggest family tree (currently at 77 million people) get a bracelet and take part of the largest family photo in history.” And if all that isn’t enough to get you excited, “Sister Sledge will lead us in the largest sing-along of “We Are Family” in history.” How could you not want to be part of that?!

So in order to connect myself to this Family Tree, I had to do some research. Prior to starting, I literally only knew the names of 4 out of my 8 great-grandparents. And I knew zero about any one else further back on my tree. But I knew I loved reading about all of AJ Jacobs projects through the years, and here was my chance to be part of one. So I started with no other goal in mind really than to get my bracelet and eligibility for the picture.

I actually met that goal pretty early on in my research. Through my great-grandma Rodger’s side of the family. But as I started to add names to my family tree, I kinda got hooked on it. And I’ve learned some really cool things about many of my ancestors.

My 7-year-old daughter’s favorite fact is that I traced one branch of my tree back to King Alpin and Queen Fergusia of Scotland. She asked, “so we are royalty?!?” I tried to explain that we were just distant descendants of Royalty on one branch of our tree. This was pretty much a distinction without a difference for her. So if you run into her one day, and she expects you to kneel, I apologize… Of course she also requested that I trace us back to the first monkey. I told her unfortunately written records didn’t go back that far…

My favorite newly found ancestor by far is my 1st cousin 8 times removed, Mary Elizabeth Greenlee (born McDowell). She was born in Northern Ireland in 1707, and she died in Rockbridge County, Virgina in 1809. She is described in one history as, “a feisty lady. Some people thought she was a witch. The Indians thought she was crazy. They believed bad things would happen to them if they harmed a crazy person and Mary was allowed to freely roam in and out of their camps. Mary probably was not crazy, but was actually very smart, although somewhat eccentric.”

Now that’s someone I am proud to call family…

True confession time, I moved to the South 15 years ago, and I never understood the Southern obsession with family history. In fact, I kinda mocked it. My husband and I hung a plaque marker on our first house that read, “In 1868 nothing happened here.” I really did not get the pride people had in their lineage or in who had lived or slept once in their homes ages ago.

And I certainly did not care about who my ancestors were. What I realize now, is that I did not care because I did not know. Over the last weeks I have developed an unexpected attachment to my roots. I feel part of something bigger than I ever have before. I have felt a little less of just one random life.

It is easy to not care about something when you have little to no knowledge about it. Which is kind of the point of the whole Global Family Reunion Project. When you realize you are literally related through blood or marriage to 77 other million people (and counting) it makes it harder to not care about those other people. And the more knowledge one gets about our great big human family, the hope is the more one will care about our great big human family.

Ok, so I sent the link to that blog post to The Global Family Reunion (GFR) email on their website. Their chief cousin coordinator, who I now know as Eowyn, posted the link on the GFR Facebook page. AJ Jacobs read my post and commented, “Hi Angel, What a wonderful post, my cousin! Thank you so much! And I will DEFINITELY kneel before your daughter when I meet her. I can’t wait. And I love my feisty, eccentric ancestor as well. I’m at aj@ajjacobs.com if you ever have any questions.
AJ”

So if someone you are mildly obsessed with invites you to a conversation, you join in. And so I emailed AJ Jacobs and asked if he’d considered encouraging people to have their own Global Family reunions on June 6th much like the Yuri’s Night Space Party model I’ve been involved with for years. He said they had, but hadn’t quite started figuring out things and would I like to help. Week later I’m on a conference call with AJ and Eowyn brainstorming ideas and I’m the Branch Party Liaison for these new events which I even named. Talk about surreal. I’ve now helped sign up groups like the Cherokee Nation to host their own Global Family Reunion Branch Parties on the same day. And there will be one here in Huntsville in Big Spring Park hosted by CAJA. Details still being worked out.

But back to my surreal start in the project, I mean when AJ first started emailing me he was all like, “hey, this is your cousin AJ” and “hello cousin Angel” and cousin this and cousin that. I felt a little like I had joined a cult. Not going to lie. But eventually the cousin talk became normal. Instead of feeling like I was in some dream world corresponding with a famous author I had loved for years, it began to feel like I really was just brainstorming and working with cousin AJ. And I even send emails out now addressing people as cousin, and it feels totally natural.

That’s one thing I really love about AJ’s approach to this work. He’s not just making it about the science or genealogy. He really is working to build community and redefine human relationships. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First let me review the science and genealogy work involved in the project.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who understands evolution, or anyone even who believes in the creation myth for that matter, that all humans can be traced back to two ancestors. Scientists call them Mitochondrial Eve and Y Chromosomal Adam and they lived in Africa 100,000 to 300,000 years ago.

What is perhaps surprising though is that according to MIT scientists, at most, we are 70th cousins from anyone else on earth. 70th cousins. By blood relationship. That’s less connections between you and every other human on the planet than there are people in the church right now. Think about that for a moment.
Here’s how AJ describes the project in article he wrote for Mental Floss back in July of 2014.

“I’m one of thousands of researchers tackling the biggest challenge in the history of ancestry: We are building a family tree of the entire human race. All seven billion members.

It’s an incredibly ambitious project, requiring countless hours online, billions of obscure records, and unprecedented numbers of DNA tests. And frankly, we’ve got a long way to go. But at least we’ve made a dent: Currently, the world family tree includes some 77 million people in all seven continents (including Antarctica). That’s 77 million people on a single tree, all connected by blood or marriage or (sometimes) both. Which makes for the longest branches in human history. Paltrow is 17 steps from me. Einstein is 21. President Obama is my aunt’s fifth great-aunt’s husband’s father’s wife’s seventh great-nephew. Practically my older brother!

Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to conceive of this megatree. Back then, in order to build your tree, you had to schlep to, say, a Cleveland courthouse or write oft-ignored letters to distant relatives. Then along came the Internet and the Wikipedia model. Several sites—including WikiTree and Geni (which is owned by MyHeritage)—have revolutionized the field with a collaborative, crowdsourced approach to family-tree planting.

So how does it work, exactly? You start small with a family sampling, entering the details you know. If the “A.J. Jacobs” on your tree matches the “A.J. Jacobs” on somebody else’s tree, then you are given the option to combine them. With a click, your tree can double. Repeat this a few times and you will eventually be linked to a worldwide family tree. (Geni’s Big Tree is 77 million, and WikiTree’s is 7 million).

“It’s much easier to collaborate instead of working on your own,” says Gilad Japhet, the CEO of MyHeritage and Geni. “Imagine a million people solving a single multibillion-piece jigsaw puzzle instead of everyone solving their own separate puzzles. In a decade or less, I believe we’ll have a single tree that will include most of the people living on earth.”

Before we get there, we’ve got obstacles to overcome. One big challenge is accuracy. If you’ve got thousands of collaborators, what’s to stop one from changing the tree so that Jimi Hendrix is the son of Chester A. Arthur? Luckily, a core of volunteer experts (they call themselves forest rangers) is trying to verify the connections and make sure they’re well-documented. But this remains an area of dispute, especially the further you go back. (Some branches claim to go back to Biblical times, which requires more leaps of faith than I’m willing to make.)

There’s also the privacy issue. Some traditional genealogists don’t like that family names are out in the open. Instances of sabotage have even occurred, where profiles are deleted and branches cut. Geni and WikiTree do obscure the names of living persons, but privacy continues to be a flash point for modern genealogists.

Some skeptics have asked why we should care about identifying all these branches of our family trees. “This sounds like a nightmare,” one friend told me. “I have enough trouble with the relatives I have already. I don’t want millions more.”

I understand his point, but here’s why I think the mega-tree will be world-changing, assuming we can pull it off. First: the scientific value. A team of MIT scientists is studying the Geni world family tree to see how populations migrate and how diseases are passed down, which will help pinpoint genes and cures. In fact, it’s already yielding insights into the heritability of longevity. Second, and I know this sounds idealistic, but my collaborators and I believe it might make the world a kinder place.”

A kinder place- we’ll get to his world vision in a moment. An update on the stats now-

In July 2014, just 6 months ago, when that article was written the tree included 77 million people, but Cousin AJ told me two days ago it is now at 85 million people! 40 million of whom are alive today. 40 million live people on the same family tree. And we’re throwing a party for them… And oh by the way, when I wrote my blog, I was 31 steps from AJ through my mother’s side. Now my Wikitree connector says I am just 30 steps away from him through my dad’s side! So to review- I’m connected on both my parents’ sides. You see what that means? My parents are cousins too!
So why should we care about this project beyond just curiosity? In one article about the project a Genealogist named Megan Cherie Owens wrote “hardly surprising that well-resourced people in the public eye have well-resourced ancestors in common”.

She added: “It’s a bit of fun, and sweet to think of us all as ‘a global family’. But it’s really just a mathematical exercise, resulting in not very meaningful multiple-degrees-of-separation.”

Not very meaningful degrees of separation. I would agree with her about that if you just strictly look at the research. Building a big family tree might be useful for scientists tracing disease, but how is that going to make the world a kinder place?

Here is where AJs approach and cousin talk comes in. The whole goal of the reunion is to bring people to the table to discuss ideas of family. He has planned it to be part TED Talk part party. There will be scientists talking and Sister Sledge singing and comedians making us laugh. All on the same day. And all of them calling each other cousin.

One of the things AJ likes to point out to people is how we are all closely related to someone like Einstein and someone like Jeffery Dahmer. If not exactly them. The point is none of us have any more reason than any other human to be proud or ashamed of our heritage. Because we have the same heritage if you go back far enough. He also has been working to show politicians how closely they are related to one another. One of my favorite quotes is what Barbara Bush said upon learning the Bush’s were pretty close relatives to Bill Clinton. She said, “‘I always suspected he was my son from another mother.’”

And From an article AJ wrote for the Guardian after the mid-term elections, “It’s been a tough week for the Obama family.

On Tuesday night, Barack Obama’s second cousin – a radiologist named Milton Wolf – lost the closer-than-expected Republican primary for US Senate in Kansas. Wolf and Obama share a relatively recent ancestor, a 19th century farm laborer named Thomas McCurry. Barack leaned left, Milton leaned right – he was a Tea Party candidate who believed his second cousin was “destroying America”. But still, they are, officially, kin.

So now Barack Obama is deprived of having a cousin in the US Senate.

Or is he?

I’m working with a team of researchers who are building the biggest family tree in history. And I’ve got good news for President Obama: it turns out that the man who defeated Wolf, the incumbent Kansas senator Pat Roberts, is also his cousin. Really. Roberts is Obama’s 13th cousin, four times removed.

In fact, we’ve found that Obama has no less than 44 confirmed cousins in the Senate, including Texas Republican Ted Cruz (the husband of Obama’s 14th cousin, once removed) and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake (Obama’s eighth cousin, three times removed). And more to come. In the next few months, we plan to figure out how all 100 senators are connected to each other. One big happy, dysfunctional family…

Maybe we could put up a big family-tree chart in the Senate chamber to remind them of their close ties. (I’m only sort of joking.) Maybe politicians could address each other in debates by yielding their time to the senior senator from Wisconsin – and their third cousin once removed.”

I like this idea of having the senators address each other with their familial ties in the title. I believe words matter. And socio-linguists would back me up on that. Maybe showing someone they’re 12 steps from someone else on a family tree won’t change their perception of family. Or necessarily of the human race. But what if we started to define relationships in the language of family? What if instead of using “race” on census forms we asked for the branch of the family you belonged to? What if we identified groups of people in relation to other groups instead of how they are different?

It’s sort of the “fake it till you make it” strategy on a grand scale. What if we started to use the language of family, which is honestly more scientifically grounded in truth than terms like “race” anyway? Would our natural instinct to feel responsible for family make us somehow feel more responsible to new groups identified enough times as family? I’d like to think it would. I’d like to think we can widen our positive connotations from family- fun, connection, support. That’s what I have faith in.

I have faith in the power of words and our longing for family. I have faith that one day we can understand that our family can be a large, messy, inclusive circle encompassing all. That we can define ourselves by relationships not by differences. I have faith that one day we may all feel some obligation to take in a homeless teen off the streets if we have the means simply because he is our 12th cousin once removed. Because cousins take care of each other.

I hope you will want to join my cousin AJ and me in this effort. I invite you to go to Global Family reunion.com and take a look at the project. Or ask me how you can get involved. And I have faith that one day soon we will all be singing together.

We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Everyone can see we’re together
As we walk on by
and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won’t tell no lie
 all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We’re giving love in a family dose

 We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Seeking Common Identity in our Global Families

Editor’s Note: We were contacted by our cousin Cindy because she’s written a book that talks about the Global family from a Christian perspective. The Global Family Reunion is non-denominational, but we welcome different perspectives.

by  Cindy M. Wu and Todd M. Johnson

My husband David and I (Cindy) did not grow up knowing our extended families. When both sets of our parents left Taiwan to come study in the United States, they left for good. A few years ago my mother-in-law announced that a cousin from Taiwan would be joining us for the holidays. We were stunned—my husband had not even known this cousin existed. When we met the cousin we did a double take—the young man looked so much like David that he could have been his twin! We were delighted to welcome an unexpected family member to our table that year and celebrated the realization that our awareness of “family” had just expanded.

The word “family” can stir up a range of emotions. Depending on how well you get along with your relatives, family reunions can be a wonderful affair or a dreaded obligation. We both (Cindy and Todd) are thankful for our families and enjoy being with them, but we’ve also been challenged to think about how we get along with our “global families”: the global human family and, because we are Christians, the global Christian family.

We were born into the human race. Counting everyone who has ever lived, our human family numbers more than 80 billion people! Today some 7.3 billion people live on our planet. Diverse in languages and customs, the world’s peoples also adhere to a multitude of religions and philosophies, forming communities or “families” centered around belief and practice.

Christians claim membership in one of these faith families, what we call the global Christian family, and relatives are found in every country of the world. Recent dramatic shifts have impacted the ethnic makeup of the global Christian family: one hundred years ago, the global Christian family was 80% white; today it is 60% non-white. This family includes 2.4 billion people—about a third of the global human family.

Every once in a while our global human family comes together for a specific purpose, whether it’s followers on a religious pilgrimage, athletes competing in the Olympic Games, or political leaders meeting in a global summit. Global gatherings can evoke sentiments of solidarity, but sometimes they only underscore our differences. Disagreements on trade, global warming, nuclear weapons, and a host of other issues have driven wedges between peoples and countries. A. J. Jacobs is hosting his Global Family Reunion on the premise that if we could just see how closely we’re all related, we’d be a little nicer to one another and be able to work together better to solve the world’s really big problems.

This is precisely the case we make to Christians in our book, Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Changing World.  Christians have not always been known for cooperating with others. In fact we struggle to even get along with one another! As with any family, there is much that Christians disagree about, and as a result there are now over 45,000 Christian denominations in the world. But we believe there is a strong case for emphasizing commonality, both in the Christian community and in the human community. We believe deep Christian commitment actually promotes unity and concern for all.

What difference does embracing our identity as members of both the global human family and the global Christian family make? What does it look like to come together and work for the common good? Answering these questions requires a broad approach to identity—one that emphasizes universality and commonality.

Emphasizing commonality facilitates cooperation capable of changing the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, wrote, “The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation.” Thus we should accept certain duties related to the whole of humankind, because global issues impact us all.

In our book, we remind Christians that they belong to (at least) two families, the human family and the Christian family. Christians cannot divorce themselves from either of these families. If they identify as global citizens, they will think differently about their role in the world. They will recognize difference but be quicker to look for commonality. They will also be challenged in their hospitality towards others. Such insight often brings unexpected solidarity.

This is what being part of a global family is like—discovering that on this planet are people with whom you share so many traits, you truly belong to the same family. Knowing this makes it easier to come together and easier to get along.

The largest family reunion in history, as recorded in the Guinness World Book of Records, is 4,514 members of the Porteau-Boileve family, who reunited in France on August 12, 2012. A.J. seeks to well surpass that record. On his guest list: all 7 billion members of the global human family. As global citizens we heartily endorse the Global Family Reunion because of its goal to nudge us toward greater cooperation in working for the common good. Come to the reunion and meet your unknown cousins. What a celebration it will be!

Todd M. Johnson is Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Cindy M. Wu (M.A., Gordon-Conwell) is a freelance writer. Their book, Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Changing World, releases February 17, 2015, on Amazon.com.

January News From the Global Family Reunion

Hello Cousin,

Hope all is well with your branch of the family.

Thought you might want to know the latest with the Global Family Reunion, the biggest, most inclusive, most entertaining family reunion in history (all to benefit the battle against Alzheimer’s.)

The global family tree continues to grow with Jesse Owens-like speed. (And yes, Cousin Jesse is on the tree). It has millions of cousins and is expanding all the time. You probably got five new cousins while reading this sentence. And a couple more just now. And now.

If you haven’t yet been connected to the mega-tree, don’t worry: our awesome research team is working to connect cousins as quickly as possible. We’ve been delightfully overwhelmed with requests and we’re plowing through them.

PRESS
MunnPhotoWe’ve been spreading the One-Family gospel to cousins far and wide. Global Family Reunion founder A.J. Jacobs continues his column in People magazine in which he interviews a famous relative. This week? Actress Olivia Munn (Newsroom), who was delighted to hear that her sixth great grandfather was a horse thief. “Sounds like we’ve got a badass family,” she said. Also of interest: her boyfriend, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is her cousin. But it’s distant and through marriage, so we’re pretty sure the relationship is legal in all 50 states.

Other press this month includes The Forward and German magazine Die Welt, which was very complimentary, or at least it seemed that way in the Google translation.

PROJECTS
One of our cousins – Niels Hansen, a Norwegian genealogy enthusiast – is making a supremely cool chart connecting 100 famous and historical figures. We’ll unveil it at the reunion, but here’s a start.

Capture

ACTIVITIES
The reunion will be like a World’s Fair, with presentations, games, exhibits, music and a scavenger hunt. We’re thrilled by our ever-expanding list of presenters. In addition to Henry Louis Gates, comedian Nick Kroll and others, we’ve recently added New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz and comedian Michael Showalter.

We’ll also be unveiling the “Global Family Cookbook,” which we are creating with the website Food52 and editors Sasha Martin, Tami Osmer and Eowyn Langholf. Spoiler alert: There will be prominent placement of Swedish meatballs.

RANDOM NEW MEMBER OF THE FAMILY TREE THAT WE ARE OBSESSED WITH
British soldier “Fighting Jack Churchill.” This guy went into battle armed with a longbow, a broadsword….and bagpipes. In World War II.

UPCOMING
We’re excited to tell you that tickets for the Global Family Reunion will be going on sale very soon in conjunction with the launch of our IndieGogo campaign. All proceeds from the campaign after the cost of the event will go toward battling Alzheimer’s. Stay tuned.

In just a couple weeks, A.J. and the Global Family Reunion team are heading to Salt Lake City for RootsTech and the FGS Conference. A.J. will be a keynote speaker, along with Donny Osmond and Jenna and Barbara Bush. We will also have a booth in the Expo Hall so if you are attending either conference please be sure to stop by and say hello.

EXHIBITORS
We’ve got some great exhibitors, including FamilySearch, MyHeritage and WikiTree. If you’re interested being an exhibitor (and reaching thousands of your closest family members) please get in touch. Details on exhibitor booths will be up on our site soon but if you are interested in learning more now, contact our Exhibit Booth Coordinator, Nina Hoffer, at gfrexhibitors@gmail.com.

HOLIDAY PHOTO THROWDOWN WINNERS
Thanks to all of our cousins who sent us their holiday photos. We had some great entries to choose from and now we’re delighted to announce the winners you voted for here.

As a sample, please enjoy the winner of the Cousin Who was Farthest Away Category: Līga and family of Latvia!

Third Place

Third Place

BRANCH PARTIES
We’re continuing to add to our growing list of official Branch Parties including ones in California, Georgia, Canada and Germany. In Buffalo, the Forest Lawn cemetery will be holding a branch party. Forest Lawn writes that it has “160,000 souls under our perpetual care, including President Millard Fillmore.” Sadly, we can’t count those 160,000 in our total. Still, we’re thrilled.

Some of these parties are on the bigger side. But are you looking for something small and informal? We’d love you to host an gathering of family and friends at your house or apartment. It could be as small as four cousins and a bowl of Cheetos. We call them House Branch Parties.You can stream our great programming and do whatever activities you like, including trivia games and Cheeto-eating contests. (Note: We are not sponsored by Cheetos).

Email Angel Hundley at gfrbranchparties@gmail.com for more info. We’d like to cover a global map with virtual pins of all the House Party sites.

TO DO:

–If you haven’t sent in the names of your grandparents and great grandparents (along with birth dates please!) then shoot an email to us at info@worldfamily.us. (If you have sent this info in previously, we’ve got it! There’s no need to re-send.)

— Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Global-Family-Reunion/223798427785665

— Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlobalReunion15

— Check out all the different ways you can be involved in this epic event!

— Save an official invitation and share it with 10 of your family members and friends

Book your hotel! (Big thanks to NYC & Company for helping secure these great hotel deals for our traveling cousins!)

Stay tuned for more updates coming soon!

Your Cousins,
A.J. Jacobs and the Global Family Team

Winners of the GFR Holiday Photo Throwdown

First, a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in our first ever Global Family Reunion Holiday Photo Throwdown!  We’re delighted to announce the following winners:

BEST DRESSED

Best Dressed

MOST COUSINS

Most Cousins

FARTHEST AWAY (LATVIAN COUSINS!)

Farthest

MOST HOLIDAY-ISH

Most Holidayish

ODDEST PLACE

Oddest Place

MOST CREATIVE

Most Creative

OVERALL WINNERS

First Place

First Place

Second Place

Second Place

Third Place

Third Place

And the WINNER of the WikiTree Sweatshirt is….

WT

Bennett Greenspan to Speak at the Global Family Reunion

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For Immediate Release: Thursday, January 8, 2015
Contact: Eowyn Langholf, gfrcousincoordinator@gmail.com or aj@ajjacobs.com

BENNETT GREENSPAN TO SPEAK AT THE GLOBAL FAMILY REUNION

imagesThe Global Family Reunion is thrilled to announce that Bennett Greenspan will be a speaker at the main event in New York City on June 6, 2015.

Mr. Greenspan is a remarkable entrepreneur, best known for his pioneering work in genetic genealogy, and as the founder of Family Tree DNA, the first American company to offer genealogical DNA testing directly to the general public.

Currently the president, CEO and managing partner of Family Tree DNA’s parent company Gene by Gene, Mr. Greenspan is also the project administrator of several surname DNA projects,  and regularly lectures on the use of genetics in genealogy.

Mr. Greenspan is (distantly) related to Global Family Reunion founder A.J. Jacobs. (To be specific, he is AJ’s second great aunt’s great uncle’s wife’s brother’s wife’s sister’s husband’s brother’s wife’s niece’s husband’s brother’s wife’s second cousin once removed.).

About the Global Family Reunion

The Global Family Reunion will take place June 6, 2015, and aims to be the biggest, most inclusive and most entertaining family reunion in history. Everyone is invited. It will include presentations by celebrities, genealogists, and famous scientists, music, comedy, games, interactive exhibits and food. The main event will be held on the grounds of the world’s fair in New York, but there will be simultaneous parties around the world. All proceeds from the New York event will go toward Alzheimer’s Disease research and care.

The Global Family Reunion was founded by author A.J. Jacobs, who became fascinated with the idea that every person on Earth is related to every other after entering his name in several genealogy websites and finding he was connected to people all over the globe. “My hope — and I know it’s a bit idealistic — is that once we see how closely we’re all related, we’ll be able to work together better and solve the world’s really big problems, including Alzheimer’s,” he says.

The Global Family Reunion will be the topic of Jacobs’s next book and the subject of a documentary by Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me). Among those participating are actor Daniel Radcliffe, President George H.W. Bush and comedian Nick Kroll. The event has already been featured in the New York Times, People Magazine, NPR and Good Morning America. If you are interested in attending, please see the event website at globalfamilyreunion.com for more information. Plus, take a few minutes and watch Jacobs’ TED talk The world’s largest family reunion…we’re all invited .

*Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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