Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Are You My Cousin?

I love my family, but I’m glad I don’t have to buy birthday presents for all my cousins. I’d be bankrupt within a week.

My family tree sprawls far and wide. It’s not even a tree, really. More like an Amazonian forest. At last count, it was up to nearly 75 million family members. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re on some far-flung branch of my tree, and if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. It’s not really my tree. It’s our tree.

The previously staid world of genealogy is in the midst of a controversial revolution. A handful of websites have turbocharged family trees with a collaborative, Wikipedia-like approach. You upload your family tree, and then you can merge your tree with another tree that has a cousin in common. After that, you merge and merge again. This creates vast webs with hundreds of thousands — or millions — of cousins by blood and marriage, provided you think the links are accurate. One site, Geni, has what it calls the World Family Tree, with about 75 million relatives in more than 160 countries and all seven continents, including Antarctica.

My newfound kin include the actress and lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow, a mere 17 steps away, and the jazz great Quincy Jones, a mere 22. There’s also the former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is apparently my wife’s great-uncle’s wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s uncle’s wife’s son’s wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s brother’s wife’s nephew.

These folks have no clue who I am. They have yet to return my calls. But at least according to this research, we are, in the broadest sense, family


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