Monday, 29 September 2014

I am a cousin

At the beginning of this year I read an opinion piece in the New York Times where the author, A J Jacobs, asked whether I, the reader, was the author's cousin. Jacobs, a journalist from New York, is well known for writing about lifestyle experiments. One that I had heard of before was The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.

Jacobs has discovered genealogy and has decided to hold the world's largest family reunion in June 2015. As well as various newspaper articles he has given a TED talk on the subject.

You can discover whether you are a cousin of A J Jacobs, and many others, by contributing to Wikitree or the World Family Tree on (which is a part of MyHeritage).

Jacobs believes that a large worldwide tree has several benefits.
  • Scientific value - for example data on how diseases are inherited, people's migration patterns
  • It brings history alive to realise you are connected to famous historical people
  • Understanding our interconnectedness. Perhaps our farthest cousin is our 50th cousin.
  • A kinder world if we realise we are all related.
  • A democratising effect. Sometimes genealogy can be elitist but in fact we are all related to famous people.
I decided to follow up on the challenge of determining if I was related by using Wikitree, a free collaborative family tree.

I chose not to upload a GEDCOM file of my existing research but to work slowly and use the opportunity to review my research and ensure I had sources for my links and birth, death and marriage dates. For me this is an great opportunity to follow through on Pauleen Cass's excellent advice in an earlier blog post to revisit, record and revise my family tree.

I wanted to establish a connection to A J Jacobs so I started on the branches of my tree that lead back to the USA as I felt that way I had a better chance of connection. I have connected in 29 steps, including two marriages, through my Dana forebears. My relationship to A J Jacobs defies normal cousin terminology but we are indeed distantly connected. I still have many forebears to add and perhaps there will be a closer connection.

For me it is a different way of thinking about genealogy. I am not interested in my connection to famous people. I am interested in the history experienced by my forebears as I find that brings history alive for me. However, I am happy to collaborate on our shared family history and genealogy. I think it is an interesting idea to acknowledge that we are all related and that we do not own our forebears and their history.

Anne Young

1 comment:

  1. So interesting that you found a connection! I find I follow Paul's excellent advice when writing a blog post or working on my Muir book. Before I start writing, I decide who or which family unit I am writing about and they document, transcribe, recheck, and search again. But One thing I am going to start to do is document my negative findings, based on a comment by Anne. That is something I hadn't been doing.


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