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.

Breaking News on the Y-DNA of England’s King Richard III

by  Kylen Campbell

Breaking News on the Y-DNA of England’s King Richard III

A scholarly study released on December 2, 2014 informs the world that it’s pretty much as certain as can be that a skeleton found in 2012 under a parking lot in Leicester, England constitutes the remains of that country’s King Richard III (1452-1485); a man infamous thanks to his portrayal by Shakespeare (and the rumor born during his life that he had his nephews murdered in order to be king).

The study, titled “Identification of the remains of King Richard III”*, published December 2, 2014 in Nature Communications (one of professional science’s premier peer revue journals) by a team at the University of Leicester in the UK, conveys the findings and details of a great deal of analyses undertaken on the skeletal remains found there two years ago under a parking lot of a man who’d died in the Middle Ages and had been, allegedly, when he walked the earth, none other than Richard III, last king of the storied Plantagenet dynasty. You might have heard of some of this colorful bunch: Richard the Lion Heart & his Magna Carta-signing brother John; their dad, Henry II (or: Eleanor of Aquitaine’s husband); or one of the Edwards (I – III) or any of the Henry’s (III, but IV through VI are more famous thanks to Shakespeare and Kenneth Branagh).

The study also relates the results of the sequencing of his genome–his DNA–the first time a full rundown has been done on a figure from history, from that time period and from a monarchical family. This includes revealing his Y-DNA and what they found in a comparison carried out between it and that of five living relatives. Y-DNA–the chromosome that determines maleness–is passed generation to generation, father to son practically identically and always fits into one of about 25 particular kinds, or haplogroups, so reliably that this type of analysis allows for enforceable laws when, for instance, a son’s paternity is in question. And it turns out that Richard III’s does NOT match that of the consensus Y-DNA of those living relatives.

What exactly does that mean and why is this big news? The import of this news derives from implications of the information. It could mean, among other things, that the War of the Roses–the well-known struggles over England’s rulership that lasted over 100 years– was more intense and scandal-riddled than already known, because it could mean that one or various kings might not have had any actual blood claim to the throne on which they might’ve sat. Because on paper, i.e., according to the official family trees, all of these guys were and are descended in their male lines–meaning following just their dads and dad’s dads etc–from the same guy, their “uber”-granddad: England’s King Edward III (1312-1377; whose death can also be seen as the precipitant to the “War of the Roses”).



Since Richard III was descended in his dad’s male line from one of Edward III’s sons (3 generations between Ed 3 and Rich 3), and the living guys are descended from another of Edward III’s sons (~20 generations between Ed 3 and them), the Y-DNA from all of them is supposed to match. But it doesn’t. Thus the “on paper” family trees have at least one mistake, and potentially more. And given the many links between Richard III and these living men, determining exactly where the falsely_ reported father or fathers were is very VERY hard to pin down.

And this is why many of us have been on the edge of our seats following this story. The idea was that we’d learn the Y-DNA of a family, the Plantagenets, that gave England 14 kings across 350 years from 1133 to 1485. But since there’s no match, it can’t be said which of the two, if either, is the one that was ostensibly being passed down the line, lo those many years.

It’s quite worth noting that the study does not hold much in the way of speculation, though it does offer context and briefly addresses these matters. We’re expanding on this particular issue a bit so as to offer more context than followers of the story probably have. So who were these Plantagenets? They were the male descendants of Matilda (1102-1167)–granddaughter of William the Conqueror and rightful heir to the English crown–who were fathered by her husband Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, (1113-1151) whose nickname “Plantagenet” became the sort of functional surname of this bunch a couple hundred years after Geoffrey’s and Matilda’s time.

Geoffrey’s Y-DNA (as yet, still unknown) was inherited by his and Matilda’s son, Henry, who, through right of his mother, became King Henry II of England. He passed it on to his sons, two of whom became kings in due time: Richard I and John. The five men who were tracked down and tested for this study are named “Somerset”, and descend from Edward III through his son John of Gaunt (1340-1399), the same son who sired the line of Henry’s IV though VI, but through a different mother than Henry IV. Interestingly, of the five living descendants of Somerset they found, one didn’t match the other four. But that four did match seemed encouraging. Richard III’s not matching definitely thickens the plot.



Among the many father-son links that could’ve been a different dad than who’s listed on Ye Olde Family Tree there are two known cases on the Beaufort-Somerset line of sons’ born out of wedlock (illegitimately). However, these sons were both accepted, openly acknowledged and ultimately legitimated by the fathers in both cases. In reverse chronological order:

Case #1: Henry Beaufort 3rd Duke of Somerset (1436-1464) & Charles Somerset 1st Earl of Worcester (1460-1526). There isn’t really any particular, stand-out evidence that the latter of those might have been fathered by another man. (We’ll report should this change.)

Case # 2: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster & John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373-1410). Beaufort was the first of four kids between the Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford, all of whom were born out of wedlock, and yet all of whom were also not only legally legitimated after John and Katherine finally married, but accepted and claimed from birth by John. That said, though, when they began their affair Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford, a faithful knight of John of Gaunt’s who died in 1372…Beaufort was born, so it seems, in 1373, though this fact seems to elude hard data; point being that when he was conceived, Katherine’s husband Hugh Swynford could very well have still been alive alive. Could he be the actual progenitor of the Beaufort/Somerset line? A hidden reason why the line was banned from any claim to the throne?

Though not mentioned in the study or any of the other press I’ve yet seen on this, there’s a third case that seems worth mentioning.

Case #3: Edmund of Langley, Duke of York (1341-1402) & Richard of Conisborough, 3rd Earl of Cambridge (1385-1415). John of Gaunt’s younger brother married Isabel of Castile, (princess from Spain). It was apparently well known at the time that Ed & Isabel didn’t dig each other, and it was rumored she had an affair with a notorious cad about the court, John de Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter. Could he have been the real father of Richard of Conisborough? (grandfather to Richard III; see chart.)

Depending where your guesswork hypothesizes a different dad than history reports, the implications for possibly pretender-kings shift. It’s important to note that it actually doesn’t bear on Britain’s currently ruling royal family, btw.

Y-DNA of the 4 living guys: R1b-U152

Y-DNA of Richard III: G2a-P278


*King, T. E. et al. Identification of the remains of King Richard III. Nat. Commun.
5:5631 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6631 (2014)

KC 8135Kylen Campbell is a writer and media producer in Oakland, California. He’s been doing genealogy since learning how in the “brick ‘n’ mortar” days of research (i.e., before the internet) at the Mormon’s Family History Library near where he grew up in Arizona. His abiding interest in it–and belief in its value and relevance–went with him to college, and he earned his BA in American Studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, studying under eminent historians Joseph Ellis, Stephen B. Oates and Steve Nissenbaum, writing narrative history based in the lives of some of his ancestors aimed at making history less dry to wider audiences. Later, for the official book commemorating President Clinton’s second inauguration he produced a historical introduction researched in the Smithsonian and enlisted documentary filmmaker Ken Burns to write the essay framing the section. He has been a journalist covering technology trends, including for TV, contributing to an Emmy-awarded program, and a teacher. His writing has appeared on CNBC.com and in the Village Voice covering music. He blogs about being a dad and is finally in the process of becoming a board-certified genealogist.

Global Family Reunion Holiday Photo Throwdown Contest

GFR Holiday Photo Throwdown

The Global Family Reunion (GFR) Team is holding its first ever “I Am A Cousin” Holiday Photo Throwdown.  We want to see how all our cousins celebrate the holiday season. Throwdown winners will receive some amazing prizes!

How it Works:

There are six photo categories that the GFR Team will consider:

  • Most Creative Cousin Photo
  • Most Holiday-ish Cousin Photo (either Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or what have you)
  • Best Dressed Cousin Photo (either fancy clothes or costumes)
  • Oddest Place for a Cousin Photo
  • Farthest-Flung Cousin Photo (measured from New York City)
  • Most Cousins in a Single photo

We’ll pick our top 5 favorites in each category and those photos will be posted to the Global Family Reunion Facebook page where people will have a week to vote for their favorites in each category.

The Prizes:

The submitters of the 3 photos that receives the most votes overall will win:

  • 1st Place (Photo with the highest number of votes): MyHeritage Bundle (PremiumPlus subscription and Data Subscription – $240) and their photo will be included in AJ’s next book
  • 2nd Place (Photo with the second highest number of votes): MyHeritage PremiumPlus Subscription ($120)
  • 3rd Place (Photo with the third highest number of votes): A Geni Pro account ($119.40).

The submitters of the photos with the highest votes in each category will receive a signed copy of one of AJ Jacobs’ books and a Global Family Reunion bumper sticker.

All photo submissions will be entered in a random drawing.  The winner of the drawing will win an “Enjoy Genealogy” hooded sweatshirt courtesy of WikiTree.com.

The winning photos will also be featured on our Global Family Reunion blog.

How to Enter:

  1. During this holiday season take a family photo(s) that shows how you and your family/friends celebrate. Keep in mind the six categories the GFR Team will be looking for.
  1. Submit your photo(s) to info@worldfamily.us by 11:59pm, Friday January 9th, 2015 EST.


  • Photos must include a sign that says “I Am A Cousin”.
  • Photos must be submitted by 11:59pm, Friday January 9th, 2015 EST to qualify.
  • Obscene or otherwise inappropriate images will not be included.

Photo Examples:

Here are some examples to get you going!
















TERM: The Global Family Reunion “I Am A Cousin” Holiday Photo Throwdown (“Contest”) will run from December 9th, 2014 through 11:59 pm Friday, January 9th, 2015 EST.

SPONSORS: Prizes donated by generous contest sponsors include the MyHeritage, Geni and WikiTree.com and AJ Jacobs.

DISQUALIFICATION: Your entry will be disqualified if

(a) It is received after 11:59pm Friday, January 9th, 2015 EST.

(b) It does not include an “I Am A Cousin” sign.

(c) It contains obscene or otherwise inappropriate images.

SELECTION OF WINNERS: The Global Family Reunion Team will choose their 5 favorite photos in each of the 6 categories.. Those 30 photos will be posted in albums on the GFR Facebook page on Monday, January 12th, 2015. People will then be given a chance to vote on which ones they like the best by “liking” them via the Facebook page. The photo in each category that receives the most votes by Monday, January 19th  at Noon EST, will win for the category.  The three photos that receive the most votes overall will win the top three prizes.  The Winners will be announced on the GFR blog on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015.

Return of prize notification as “undeliverable” will result in disqualification and an alternate winner will be selected.

NOTIFICATION: The winner will be notified by e-mail sent to the e-mail address used in their photo submission. The Global Family Reunion is under no obligation to notify winners by any means other than e-mail. The Global Family Reunion is not responsible for notifications that are misdirected or not received because of e-mail addresses or mailing addresses that are no longer correct. If a potential winner cannot be reached after a reasonable effort has been made during three (3) business days from the first notification attempt, such person may be disqualified, with an alternate winner selected. Any prize notification or prize returned as undeliverable will result in the awarding of that prize to an alternate winner.

REDEMPTION: The GFR Team will deliver the prize as follows: Once a prizewinner responds to the notification from the Team, we will contact the winner to arrange for delivery of the prize to the prizewinner.

CONDITIONS: By participating in the Contest, you agree to release and hold the Global Family Reunion and all prize suppliers harmless from any and all losses, damages, rights, claims, and actions of any kind in connection with the Contest or any product purchased, or resulting from acceptance, possession, use or misuse of any prize, including, without limitation, personal injuries, death, and property damage, and claims based on publicity rights, defamation, or invasion of privacy, whether suffered by you or a third party. By participating, entrants agree to be bound by these Official Rules and the decisions of the Global Family Reunion Team and waive any right to claim ambiguity in the Contest or these Contest Rules. All decisions regarding the Contest, including, but not limited to, selecting winners and usage of submitted photos, will be made by the Global Family Reunion Team  whose decisions shall be final.

Win a FREE 3-day Pass to RootsTech 2015!

Would you like to attend the upcoming RootsTech 2015 conference, February 11-14, in Salt Lake City for free? Enter our RootsTech 2015 Giveaway and you could win a FREE 3-day pass ($239 value) for the Conference!

PD10052142_RT_badges_ambassadorRootsTech is an inspiring family history and technology conference has something for everyone. Hosted by FamilySearch, this annual event has become the largest of its kind and every attracts thousands of participants from around the world!  It’s an event where people of all ages learn to discover, share and celebrate their family connections across generations through technology. At RootsTech, there is something for everyone, no matter your experience in family history or your skill level in technology.

Entering our contest is simple:

Just answer this question:  “What does family mean to you?”  Send your response to globalfamily2015@gmail.com.

Responses must be received by November 30th, 2014.  A winner will be randomly selected for the submissions and announced on December 3rd, 2014.  We’ll share some of our favorite responses on our blog and social media!



A Welcome From AJ!

My grandmother was a blogger before the word existed. Before the Internet existed. Before Xerox machines existed.

Every month for more than 40 years, she would type up a single-spaced double-sided “Family News” and send it to about 25 members of the family. You had your weddings, births and deaths. You had at least three references to me having the “croupe.” I’m still not exactly sure what croupe is, but I had it a bunch, apparently.
So in the tradition of my grandmother’s Family News, we’re starting the Global Family Reunion blog. Sadly, there’s no smell of Ditto paper (an aroma my kids will never get to enjoy). But there will be lots of tidbits about the Global Family.

There will be interviews with interesting cousins, links to the Global Family Reunion in the media, tips on how to connect to the Global Family, book reviews – and anything else you guys want us to write about.

Oh, and for those who have arrived here not knowing about the Global Family Reunion: It’s an epic event that will be held in New York City on June 6 2015. It will be a Family Reunion meets a TED conference meets a music festival. There will be games, speeches, music, food – and any proceeds will go to help fight Alzheimer’s Disease.
Thanks for checking in, cousin. And welcome to the family.

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