Thoughts from the Chief Cousin Coordinator

Hi Cousins! My name is Eowyn and I’m the Chief Cousin Coordinator for the Global Family Reunion.  I was scheduled to give a speech at the actual Reunion but it didn’t exactly work out that way.  So here is what I would have said had I taken the stage:

eowynWhen I first started on this journey with AJ to plan this epic gathering, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I’m not sure he knew either which was probably not a bad thing.

I heard about AJ’s plans for the world’s biggest family reunion in January of last year when he did an interview about it on NPR.  I also work for an online genealogy site called WikiTree.com which is a collaborative family tree site that is free and accessible for everyone.  The mission of WikiTree is essentially to connect the world together in one big tree where people can work collaboratively on their family history.  That idea fell nicely in line with AJ’s vision of the Global Family Reunion and so we reached out to see if we could help.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of AJ Jacobs.   I became acquainted with him, at least through his writings, several years prior when I came across his book The Know-It-All while roaming a bookstore one day.  Once upon a time, I too had the notion that I would read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica but unlike AJ, I gave up somewhere around aardvark.  I figured if I wasn’t going to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, the least I could do was read the book written by the guy who managed to accomplish such a feat.

It was exciting to hear about his new project involving family history and at WikiTree we were delighted to help him with some of the research he was embarking on.  Even more thrilling, for me, was when AJ called to see if I wanted to be part of his Global Family Reunion team.  Who could turn down an opportunity like that?! Not to mention, we’re only 25 steps apart on the Global Tree, so it’s not like I could say no to family.

I started dabbling in family history research when I was about 14 and I would tag along with my mom to the local LDS church where she was a family history consultant. It was a hobby I turned to off and on for many years until about 6 years ago when it went rather quickly and unexpectedly from being a hobby to a profession.  In all that time, this has to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of.

One of the outcomes stemming from our efforts that I love best is that this idea of a Global Family is lighting a spark in people who either had never thought much about where they came from or who grew up in a less than ideal family environment and have always felt a desire just to belong somewhere.

Alex Haley said “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hallow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness and the most disquieting loneliness.”

This statement resonates with me because I’m adopted. Don’t get me wrong – I have an amazing family with wonderful parents, an awesome brother and two perfect nieces I would do anything for.   I spent plenty of time researching my parents’ ancestors because to me that was my family.  It’s like Boyd K. Packer said “The process of searching, the means of going after those names is worth all the effort you could invest. The reason: you cannot research names without knowing they represent people.  When we research our own lines we become interested in more than just names, we seek to find them – and know them.”

But still, there was always a part of me that wondered about the people I physically came from.  Where were the people who looked like me? Where did they come from?  In 2004,  I accidentally found my birth mother.   See, I’m a birth mother myself, with a child I placed for adoption a few years earlier.  By 2004, I was working in a bookstore and one day noticed there were only 2 adoption books on the shelves, and not only that, but that they were very technically written.  I found this frustrating because adoption is anything but technical, it’s an incredibly emotional experience whether you are the child, biological family or adoptive family. I decided I would write a book about adoption that captured the real essence of it.

A few days later I was on some adoption site looking at statistics and a pop-up window appeared (I was sure I had those blocked). “Click here to see who is looking for you!”, it declared. I rolled my eyes, sure that IF anyone were looking for me, there’s no way it was here. Still, for whatever reason, I went ahead and entered what I knew about my birth and hit submit.  BAM.  A few seconds later I’m staring at a profile that my birth mother and her family had submitted several years prior.  It had her name, her siblings names, my biological father’s name and his siblings.  I about fell out of my chair.  I’d wondered about these people for years but had never really tried to find them, partly because I had no idea where to start looking and partly because I wasn’t sure what I would do if I did find them.  Suddenly there they were.

It took me a few weeks to track down my birth mother’s brother and discover he lived only about an hour from me.  I called him, nervously, as you might imagine.  He answered and I gave him my birth mother’s name and asked if he knew how I could get in touch with her.  “Who are you?” He asked skeptically which sure did not help my nerves. “Ummm….. I’m pretty sure I’m her daughter?”  I tossed out hesitantly.  There was a really long pause on the other end and then he spoke again in a much friendlier tone.  “I guess that makes me your uncle!”  I smiled. “Yep, I’m pretty sure that’s how that works.”  We hung up the phone and shortly after my birth mother called me. Her first question: “Do you hate me?”  I’m forever grateful that I had the opportunity to assure her I absolutely did not and to thank her for the choice she had made.


Me and my birth mother (I’m the one in color)

I have since been able to get to know her, her living family and research many of the ones who have passed on.  It’s been a truly wonderful experience. My biological father’s family is still a mystery but thanks to the amazing advances in DNA I hope to be able to find enough close-ish cousins to piece together his part of my family tree.  These are experiences I would wish for anyone who doesn’t know where they came from.

It’s been an honor and a beautiful thing to help people connect to something larger than themselves, to give them a sense of belonging and to help them know who they are.  That is, to me, in a nutshell, what the Global Family Reunion is all about.

Since AJ first started on this journey two years ago, we’ve received nearly 50,000 requests from people wanting to know where they fit into the Global Family.  In the last year, our dedicated volunteer researchers have worked steadily to find as many cousin connections as possible.  We’ve connected more than 1,000 different surnames in over 100 countries and on every continent except Antarctica.

The idea that we are all connected might not be new to all of us but it is certainly something that should make us stop and think.  What does it really mean to be connected to every person you meet? The other day, I was sitting on a bench in Central Park, watching as people wandered past.  As each one passed, I really tried to take a good look at them and instead of thinking to myself things like “Hey, I like her shoes” or “What were they thinking when they left dressed like that?”  I found myself wondering how I might be connected to them.  What was their story? Who did they come from? Where along our ancestral trails would our paths cross? It struck me that no matter how different someone might seem from me, even if they appeared to be my exact opposite, that somewhere, no matter what, we could find common ground in whatever our connection might be.  That’s a powerful tool that can turn our hearts to people we might otherwise dismiss.

I’m also honored to be part of an event that’s focused on raising money to help fight such a devastating disease, one that wipes away history if it’s not captured.  It’s great and important to look to the past but don’t forget the stories of the people who surround you.  You never know when those precious memories might be gone. Like Paul Simon wrote “Long ago it must be, I have a photograph, preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”  Talk to you parents, your grandparents if you still have them, and find ways to record and cherish the stories that they’ll share with you.

And lastly, this brings me to all of you!   Laurence Overmire gave us this to ponder: “Over the course of the millenia, all these multitudes of ancestors, generation upon generation, have come down to this moment in time – to give birth to you.  There has never been, nor, will ever be another like you.  What will you do with your time on the Earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?”

So, after today, maybe we’ll focus a little more on where we fit into this great big Global Family Tree, what that means in how we treat the people around us and what story we’ll write on our own leaves in the tree.  Just something to think about.

Global Family Reunion Partners with Legacy.com

The GFR family is thrilled to have Legacy.com as a partner. Read the interview below to learn more about Legacy.com, why family is so important to them and what they do to bring families together after the passing of a loved one.

How does Legacy.com work? Legacy.com is the place where life stories live on, where the world pauses to remember a life well-lived. We believe a single life story can provide extraordinary inspiration, even after a person has died. So we champion every life knowing it can connect in unexpected and powerful ways and challenge us to live better, make a difference.

At the heart of Legacy.com are these life stories, including more than 20 million obituaries shared with us by our newspaper and funeral home partners. They send us their daily obits and we add useful bells and whistles like links to floral providers and charities, information about the funeral home, and our Guest Book – a place where friends and family can come together online to offer condolences, share memories, post favorite photos and videos, and read what others have written. It’s used a lot in the days and weeks after a death, as loved ones and old friends learn the news and rush to share their sympathy and offer help. And for many families, the Guest Book continues to be a source of comfort for a long time, sometimes for many years as they go back to read and re-read the stories told by friends. Some even “talk” to their deceased loved ones through the Guest Book, finding comfort in sharing stories, sentiments and the latest family news they wish they could have shared in person.

Each time someone writes in the Guest Book or submits a photo, our team reviews the submission to ensure it’s appropriate. The vast majority are 100% appropriate, but there are times when a submission can’t be posted – due to graphic content, non-family-friendly language, online spam, etc. In these cases, our team ensures that the message or photo does not go online (although we’re happy to work with the writer to edit it as needed and post it). Many families have told us how grateful they are for this review process, which allows the whole family to remember their loved one without worrying about the negativity that can go on in some online comment sections. We also provide the option for a printed, bound book of Guest Book entries for families who want a physical keepsake of the memories submitted by friends.

What are some of the most interesting stories you’ve heard? Through our Guest Books, we see people come together and connect in many different ways. A recent obituary for Clay Shephard discussed the young man’s struggle with drug addiction, sharing the story of his troubled life. The obituary was widely shared on social media, and the Guest Book has been signed by thousands. Most who wrote in the Guest Book didn’t know Clay, but many have a loved one who is addicted or died of an overdose like Clay did. The Guest Book provides them a place to share their stories with others who understand, creating a type of “family” that has been made possible by online platforms like ours. Whether a visitor is connecting with others, venting about their own situation or just offering a kind word to Clay’s parents, they are participating in a community created around their shared experiences.

We hear tragic stories, but we are also privy to heartwarming ones, such as the charming story of lifelong loves Richard and Joan Campagne. After Joan died in 2011, Richard began filling her Guest Book with detailed stories of their life together. Four years later, he still writes very regularly – sometimes talking directly to Joanie, as he calls her, sometimes relating memories: hilarious ones, touching ones, even just the simple everyday moments that make a marriage rich. Joan’s Guest Book itself is a fascinating read, but what makes us love this story even more is the way Richard has become a dear friend to our customer service team. Initially Richard had some trouble getting the hang of signing the Guest Book and adding photos (which he now does very frequently, sharing images of his and Joan’s long life together). Through his many interactions with our customer service team over the years, a bond began to be forged – he’d include a story with his email, and our representative might respond with a similar story from her own life. We’ve watched his family grow as new grandchildren are born and heard about home improvement projects he’s taken on. These friendly email exchanges were so special to Richard that he began sending the team thank-you gifts – flowers, candy, holiday decorations. They’re always warmly received – we’ve sent Richard pictures of the team enjoying the flowers and even posted the pictures on our Facebook page. The personal interaction, and our team’s willingness to treat Richard as a person, not just a customer to be dealt with and dismissed, has meant so much, both to Richard and to the team members who have gotten to know him. In Richard’s own words, “You don’t know how much it mean having (you and yours) accepting Joan and I into your family.” Richard’s friendship is important to our team members, too.

What does family mean to Legacy.com? Family is central to Legacy.com. Families come together after a death, gathering in person and virtually to comfort and remember. We are honored to be able to provide an online space where some of that gathering can take place. And that applies to all sorts of families – those related by blood as well as those whose only connection is the love they share.

In our early days, we were interested to find that we were becoming a resource not just for the bereaved but also for genealogists seeking out family information. As our database of obituaries has grown over the years, this use of our site has become very common. We love being a part of this research, helping to foster connections between family members, whether they’re second cousins finding each other or a new genealogist making
their first crucial discovery toward building their detailed family tree.

Any additional info that you think may be of interest to our cousins attending The Global Family Reunion? We’re global too! The Legacy.com team spans the world, with Legacy “cousins” in Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, as well as Chicago, LA and Boston and beyond. We’re so excited to be a part of the Global Family Reunion.

Global Family Reunion Partners with UPPAbaby

The Global Family Reunion isn’t just for adults – we welcome cousins of all ages. For our much younger cousins and families, we’ve partnered with UPPAbaby. On June 6, they’ll offer several fun activities for the kiddos including:

Say cheese! Escape for the day by taking a photo in one of your favorite UPPAbaby global destinations. No passport required for this adventure!

Curious to see your connection to an UPPAbaby celebrity enthusiast? Discover and create your own family tree!

UPPAgrade my ride! Trade in your gear for a Ub stroller to demo and test various terrains on the event grounds. Take the pit stop challenge and be entered to win!

UPPAbaby is an innovative company with one mission which is to make high-quality baby products that fits the needs of new parents, while appealing to the sense of style they’ve always had.  Not only that, they are also committed to giving back and supporting worthy causes and organizations that align with their mission.

You can learn more about UPPAbaby product offerings, UPPA Gives Back charitable giving and more at uppababy.com.




All About the Second Life Branch Party

The Global Family Reunion

Second Life Branch Party

Saturday, June 6, 2015

8am-5:30pm SLT (Pacific Daylight Time)

in Just Genealogy

~~~What’s Just Genealogy?

  • Just Genealogy is an enduring home for genealogy in Second Life. Founded by Krag Mariner, now Clarise Beaumont and Genie Weezles (Relatively Curious) own the property. Just Genealogy group is the largest in SL devoted to genealogy.

  • Barbara Collazo joined Second Life to “do” genealogy, and has been at Just Genealogy since her first days in SL, though she does many other things too.

~~~What’s the Global Family Reunion?

  • It’s a fundraiser for two organizations devoted to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease:  the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and the Alzheimer’s Association New York Chapter.

  • Goals of the festival are threefold: to find cousins through the new online crowdsourced family trees, raise money for Alzheimer’s Disease research, and have fun!

  • Genealogy and family history have gotten a big boost in the arm in the last decade from inexpensive DNA testing and the growth of online source databases and user-built family trees. A J Jacobs, a writer and editor, plugged himself into several websites and got excited, as many of us do, at the history and connections it opened up.

In honor of his newfound cousins, he is sponsoring a day-long event in New York City with branch parties in other locations—SL is one of the official locations. NYC Events include education, famous speakers, many cousins near and far removed.

In SL we will have educational presentations, talks and discussions, games and prizes, we’ll be live-streaming the New York event, there will be music all day, all in a carnival atmosphere.

  • Held on June 6, 2015, from 8am – 5:30pm SL time at Just Genealogy/Relatively Curious in Second Life,


~~~Just Genealogy Service overview

  • We have educational displays and scheduled discussions about genealogical topics. It’s a friendly community who understands when you start to talk about second cousins five times removed.

  • It’s a great place for people who may be physically disabled or isolated—as for many, Second Life is a lifeline where you can meet people with similar interests.

  • We host a bona fide chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, who strive for the highest scholarly and ethical standards in genealogy research, and who offer a continuing education program monthly.

~~~Just Genealogy and the Global Family Reunion

  • A day of fun and music, live-streaming the NYC event, presentations discussions, prizes and games. There will be dancing all day, and people to help with your own family history if you wish. We invite newcomers to SL to join us and we’ll have newcomer-friendly destinations for you to visit. If you’re new to genealogy, stop by and listen to stories. Or come help!

  • If you’re new to Second Life, begin at https://secondlife.com/ . It’s free. Download the Second Life software, follow the instructions to create an avatar, and enter the world. Search for Genie Weezles or Barbara Collazo in-world, or make your way to Just Genealogy, https://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Wollah/76/43/72 . Note that you must be 18 to use Second Life.

~~~Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you “do” genealogy in SL?

    • First of all, with discretion. We promise anonymity if people want it.

    • Second, with speakers, discussions, webinars, and all the usual high-tech educational tools. Genealogists of all skill levels inhabit SL, and we are always learning.

    • We do focused problem-solving: using group discussion and our varied backgrounds we help people open up new avenues for research.

    • Don’t underestimate the social aspect: for someone physically or socially isolated, it can be a huge relief to talk to like-minded people.

Helpful Transit Info for our Incoming Cousins

Transportation Info For Cousins’ Use


Global Family Reunion is taking place at New York Hall of Science.

Here’s the information you need to get their via taxi, car, or public transportation.

(Note that the simplest and least complicated journey is made via the 7 train on the subway line.)


New York Hall of Science

47-01 111th Street

Corona, NY 11368


via subway

  • from Manhattan, all over Brooklyn, Long Island City, much of Queens

o   7 to 111 St (then it’s a .6 mile walk)

via bus

  • from the west side of Manhattan

o   M60 to 23 Ave/87 St

o   Pick up Q48 to Roosevelt Av/111 St. (then it’s a .5 mile walk)

  • from Forest Hills, Queens

o   Q23 to 108 St/7 Av (then it’s a .4 mile walk)

  • from Hollis, Queens

o   Q88 to Horace Harding Exp/Walding St

  • from Ridgewood, Queens

o   Q58 to Corona Av/51 St (then it’s a .6 mile walk)

o   Q38 to 99 St/Christie Av (then it’s a .9 mile walk)

  • from Elmont, Queens

o   n06 to Hillside Ave + 188th St

o   walk to Q17 and take it to 39 Av/Main St

o   walk to Q48 and take it to Roosevelt Av/111 St (then it’s a .5 mile walk)

via Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)

  • from Garden City

o   Port Jefferson/Ronkonkoma line to Jamaica

o   E from Sutphin Blvd – Archer Av – JFK Airport to Jackson Hts

o   7 from 74 St – Broadway to 111 St (then it’s a .6 mile walk)

  • from Garden City, Stony Brook, Huntington,

o   Port Jefferson/Ronkonkoma line to Woodside

o   7 from Woodside – 61 St to 111 St (then it’s a .6 mile walk)

  • from Montauk, East Hampton, Southampton, Sayville, Lindenhurst

o   Montauk line to Jamaica

o   Transfer to Port Jefferson line, take it to Forest Hills

o   Walk to Forest Hills – 71 Av and take E to Grand Av – Newtown

o   Walk to Broadway/Justice Av and take Q58 to Corona Av/51 Av (then it’s a .6 mile walk)


I Am A Cousin: Meet Gladys Sherrer

Gladys 1107091. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do for work? Fun? Married? Kids? You get that idea.

I am Gladys Hodge Sherrer, granddaughter of Julia Ann Josephine Amason Williams, who is 1st, a grandmother (one daughter, one granddaughter) and a published author of fiction and nonfiction. My current project is a Civil War novel, currently undergoing peer review. I enjoy travel, spending time with family and other singles friends.

2. Do you have a favorite ancestor? Who? Why?

Grandma Julia (noted above) has always been a favorite, to the degree that I named my only daughter after her. Grandma Julia was very loving, always smiling and hugging and making me feel loved in unique ways, like as a child she would my art in her pantry, and my little crayon drawings stayed there for years and years. Today, my granddaughter’s art hangs in my pantry.

3. If you could be related to anyone in history, who would you want it to be and why?

I would be a descendant of biblical Joseph, as the incarnate Jesus (through Mary) descended from him. Maybe there is a chance of this, since I do have distant Jewish relatives?

4. What are your thoughts on the Global Family Reunion? Will you be attending?

I do appreciate the invitation and would like to attend, but not in New York. Hopefully there is a closer one being held, a place like Charleston, SC.

5. Do you come from a big family? Small family? Do you guys have family reunions and do you have any good family reunion stories?

We were a family of nine children, and all previous generations had an average of twelve or more, having annual family reunions, and other spontaneous gatherings of fifty or more.

6. Favorite color? Favorite food? Left-handed or right-handed? Do you like to have breakfast for dinner? Favorite book? Movie? TV show? Song/band? Quote?

Favorite color is yellow, yellow as in roses of that hue. Favorite food is ice cream with popcorn a close second. I’m right-handed. No breakfast for dinner, unless you count occasional bowls of cereal. Favorite book is the Bible.

7. Do you have any funny quirks that you’ve inherited from your family?

This isn’t a quirk per se, nor funny, but we are a long line of fiercely independent women.

8. Do you know much about your family history? Where do your ancestors come from? Would you want to visit the lands they hail from?

I recently researched Grandma Julia’s husband’s family, the Williams, and they are from Wales. Yes, I would like to visit the old country, but likely will not do so.

9. If you could get AJ to invite one person to the Global Family Reunion, who would it be and why?

I would like to meet some of the Browning family noted in your research for my Grandma Julia, and am interested in whether they are the same (a socially prominent) Browning family who lived in Savannah, GA in the 19th century.

10. AJ’s idea is that if the people of the world could see how interconnected we all are maybe we would be a little nicer to one another. What do you think about that?

I believe this to be a cousin 13 times removed from A. J. Jacobs. I am 68 years old. It’s a noble reason to try and connect people, and can only hope he is successful in his quest. Truth is
though, family can be crueler than strangers.

11. If you could share one message with your 7 billion cousins what would it be?

Stop all the fighting amongst yourselves; look at history and learn from the mistakes of our ancestors, and read your Bibles to see how we should live, loving God and others.

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.




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!


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 https://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.

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

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