1. Several months ago, writer A.J. Jacobs decided to start expanding his knowledge of his own family tree.
“I got an email from a man who’d read one of my books,” Jacobs says. “He said, ‘You don’t know me, but I’m your 12th cousin.’ He said he had a family tree with 80,000 people on it. At first I thought: This guy is going to ask me to wire $10,000 to a Nigerian bank account. But it turns out it’s for real.
“Thanks to DNA testing and the internet, you can now build these massive, mega-family trees. It’s all about collaboration and crowdsourcing. You have thousands of people working on the same family tree.”
2. So far, Jacobs’ tree has a whopping 77 million people on it.
He’s compiled it using crowdsourced genealogy websites, as well as sending off his saliva for DNA genetic testing.
3. Jacobs is attempting to throw the biggest family reunion ever on June 6, 2015, in New York to reunite everyone…
…like him and Nick Kroll, who is Jacobs’ first cousin twice removed’s wife’s second cousin once removed’s ex-wife’s sister’s husband’s uncle’s wife’s brother’s wife’s second cousin once removed.
All 7 billion people on Earth are invited (theoretically!), and the proceeds from the event will go to Alzheimer’s-related charities.
“My hope — and I know it’s a little idealistic — is that once we realize just how closely we’re all related, we will be a bit kinder to each other,” Jacobs said. “A lot of the horrible things humans have done to each other were because one group thought another group was subhuman. We can’t do that anymore. We share 99.9% of our DNA. We’re not just the same species. We’re the same family.”
4. Using researchers at Geni.com and WikiTree, Jacobs has linked himself to a wide variety of celebrities (and hunted them down in real life). For example…
5. Nick Offerman is his aunt’s fifth-great-aunt’s husband’s father’s wife’s fifth-great-nephew’s wife’s fourth cousin’s husband’s wife’s husband’s third cousin twice removed’s husband.
6. Christina Hendricks is his ninth cousin 15 times removed husband’s niece.
“I went to dinner at a restaurant in New York with a friend of mine, a 72-year-old man. At the next table? Christina Hendricks eating alone. I said to my dinner companion, ‘I’m going to embarrass myself and ask her for a photograph.’ He said, ‘Let me make the introduction.’ Before I could say anything, he sidled over to her and said, ‘Listen, this man here is the real deal. And he has a question for you.’ With that, she looked at me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Christina.’ I stammered a bit about how I’m putting on this family reunion for the entire world, and it’s also a benefit for Alzheimer’s, and that I’m trying to show we’re all related. So she agreed to have her photo taken. (Though she did want photo approval. She looked at the photos in case she wanted to delete any.)
Back at our table, I said to my friend, ‘You know that’s Christina Hendricks, right?’
He said, ‘Who?’
Turns out, he didn’t know she was famous. He just thought she was a pretty lady that I wanted to meet and take a picture with. (Though he knows my wife very well!)
On the way out, I said good-bye and thanked her. My friend said to her, ‘Good to meet you. I hear you’re the real deal too.’”
7. George H.W. Bush is his first cousin once removed’s husband’s third-great-grandfather’s wife’s niece’s husband’s sister’s husband’s third-great-nephew.
“I knew the Bushes a bit because I’d spoken at Barbara Bush’s literacy benefit. I flew down to Houston to interview them. I told President Bush that he is related (pretty closely) to Bill Clinton. He seemed pleased. Barbara Bush said, ‘I always suspected he was my son from another mother.’”
8. Olivia Wilde is his first cousin once removed’s ex-husband’s 16th cousin once removed.
9. Jason Sudeikis is his aunt’s sixth-great-aunt’s husband’s second cousin seven times removed’s husband’s nephew.
10. Chrissy Teigen is his aunt’s ex-husband’s seventh-great-aunt’s husband’s great grandson’s wife’s eighth-great-nephew’s wife.
“I interviewed Chrissy for Esquire magazine. I told her about the reunion and she wanted to make sure there was going to be barbecue there. She’s a huge fan of the barbecue. And yes, there will be BBQ.”
11. Abraham Lincoln is his aunt’s first cousin eight times removed’s wife’s second-great-nephew.
12. Ricky Gervais is his wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s uncle’s wife’s second cousin’s wife’s niece’s ex-husband’s ex-wife’s sixth cousin once removed.
13. Daniel Radcliffe is his first cousin once removed’s husband’s third-great-aunt’s husband’s fourth cousin twice removed’s wife’s second cousin’s brother-in-law’s sister-in-law’s son-in-law’s brother’s great-grandson 38 steps away.
“Daniel Radcliffe said on a British radio show that he had read one of my books. So I wrote him a thank-you note through his publicist and begged him for an interview, which he granted. He’s a mix of Irish, Jewish, and South African. He said, ‘We’re all a mix. And I enjoy that I have this muttishness.’ He wanted to know if he’s related to a British runner named Paula Radcliffe. ‘I love running. And I’m quite fast for a short person. I was always crap at any kind of ball sports and teams, but anything that requires running, jumping, and climbing, I excel at.’”
14. He’s currently investigating Chris O’Dowd’s cousinhood.
“I met Chris O’Dowd through his wife, Dawn O’Porter, a very funny British TV documentary maker. Chris told me that he is fascinated by researching his heritage and that he recently discovered his great-grandfather was a bigamist. He said there’s a whole other line of O’Dowds, and one of them — he thinks — is Boy George (whose real name is George O’Dowd). Chris contacted Boy George and Boy George loved that his ancestor might have been a bigamist.”