From the New York Times:
By A. J. JACOBS JAN. 31, 2014
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.
How good are online genealogy websites?
A few years ago, I helped out some relatives, two brothers, trying to find out about their father who had died when they were young. Their mother had remarried and their new stepfather had put the kibosh on all talk of their father. Now they were middle-aged and wished to get in touch with a whole side of their biological family they didn't know anything about.
I was not impressed with the quality and disinterestedness of the commercial genealogy sites I came across in a quick review. I eventually tracked down the newspaper in Whittier, CA in which an obituary of their father would likely have appeared, but only intermittent parts of the archives are online and not the crucial month. (The Whittier College library no doubt has the full newspaper archives on microfilm, but I've never gotten out there to look at them.)
Hopefully, the quality online genealogy has improved over the last few years.
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.
In a few years, we may have a single tree containing nearly all seven billion humans on earth. The Family of Man will no longer be an abstract cliché. We’re all related — we just have to figure out how. ...
Concepts like "pedigree collapse" appear to be ungraspable in the current zeitgeist.