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You’re Invited to the World’s Largest Family Reunion

Writer A.J. Jacobs is on a quest to show that we're all related


But don’t be jealous, because he’s your cousin, too.

No, really. He is. And he’s getting ready to have one of the biggest family reunions ever.

The Strange Email

When Jacobs, an editor-at-large at Esquire, received an email from a stranger that read: “I’m your 12th cousin,” he thought it was a scam. It turned out to be the beginning of a yearlong adventure.

The stranger/cousin was part of a team of researchers and scientists creating a family tree of the entire human race. Jacobs, intrigued, began working with them to find out how everyone — literally everyone — is related to him.

“I have 240 million cousins. I haven’t met them all, and I can’t afford to buy birthday presents for them all, but I love them all,” says Jacobs. “Well, most of them.”

Jacobs has been working with several groups of researchers, including Geni.com; FamilySearch.com; WikiTree.com and FindMyPast.com, in hot pursuit of tracing one big family tree.

Branching Out

Some of the people to whom Jacobs is related? Abraham Lincoln, Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, former President George H. W. Bush, Charles Darwin, Bill Murray and many more. Actually, we’re all related, Jacobs explains — through blood or marriage.

“I just love the idea that I was genuinely connected to these people all around the world. Some are going to be great, and some are going to be annoying, but they are still my family. And I just love the idea of being part of something larger than myself,” says Jacobs.

As you would expect, he’s related to some notorious people as well — for example, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. “I am definitely linked to him, but it is through my wife’s side. I’d like to make that clear,” says Jacobs.

I just love the idea that I was genuinely connected to these people all around the world.

— A.J. Jacobs

Finding out that he is a blood relative to TV’s Judge Judy changed Jacobs’ perspective. “I always found her incredibly abrasive. But then I said, ‘Well, she is my cousin, I should give her the benefit of the doubt,’” says Jacobs. “I became a little more forgiving.”

Jacobs’ wife, Julie, and their sons Jasper, 11, and twins Zane and Lucas, 8, have learned a lot as well. “I can tell my kids how they’re related to say, Albert Einstein,” says Jacobs. “He’s Uncle Albert.”

The Global Family Reunion

As Jacobs discovered more and more family members, he decided to get them together for a party. On Saturday June 6, 2015, he’s holding The Global Family Reunion in New York City on the grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, N.Y. The festival will feature more than 50 speakers, including Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (host of the PBS genealogy series Finding Your Roots). TV’s Dr. Oz will give a talk about his family and humorist Andy Borowitz will tell funny stories. Tickets cost $30 to $50; children under five are admitted free.

It can’t be a party without music and games, and there will be plenty. Sister Sledge will belt out their classic We Are Family. Paul Williams will sing Rainbow Connection, his hit from The Muppet Movie. Ken Jennings, known for the longest winning streak on Jeopardy! will lead the Ultimate Family Quiz, and illusionist David Blaine will perform magic.

AJ-Jacobs-Portrait-EmbedOh, and you’re all invited.

“This is a family reunion you actually want to go to,” says Jacobs.

While the festivities are going on in New York, there will also be more than 30 “branch parties” throughout the world; many will be free (the list of locations is on the Global Family Reunion site).

Jacobs is hoping to break a number of Guinness world records, including the Most Simultaneous Family Reunions Around the World, The Largest Family Photo and The Biggest Family Reunion in One Place. The record for that last one is 4,512, held by a family in France in 2012. “They’re all invited,” says Jacobs.

All proceeds from these events benefit two Alzheimer’s charities: Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and the Alzheimer’s Association: New York City Chapter. Jacobs chose Alzheimer’s because his grandfather had the disease. “It seemed like the most appropriate cause because this is all about family, family stories and family memories,” says Jacobs. “If we lose our elder’s memories, then that’s where we lose what’s so important about family.”

For more information, check out GlobalFamilyReunion.com.

As for how Jacobs and I are related? I’m his aunt’s ex-husband’s wife’s third great uncle’s wife’s great aunt’s husband’s first cousin once removed’s wife’s fifth great nephew’s wife’s first cousin once removed.

Tips on Researching Your Family Tree

Abby Glann, director of Research for A.J. Jacobs and the Global Family Reunion, gave these tips for researching your ancestors:

Ask questions. Record your parents, aunts, uncles and anyone else in your family who can talk about the branches of your tree. Here’s a list of questions to get you started.

Track all the info you find. Seemingly unimportant details will become more important the more research you do. Write down where you got them, whether that’s from Aunt Edna or a birth certificate. Researchers often realize they should have done this and then have to go and re-research.

Take your time. Your family has been around for thousands of years. If you think you can find them all in a couple of days, you’re mistaken.

Don’t trust everything on the Internet or in books. Family historians make mistakes — and sometimes make things up. So look at the sources used.

Still use the Internet. Great sites exist, and many are free. FamilySearch.org is a great place to start.

Don’t give up. Every day, people discover old family bibles. Records are added to the web all the time. Keep looking.

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