09:00 AM

Why it’s a great idea to only hire your relatives


About four years ago, I was invited to join an unusual social network. It wasn’t LinkedIn – I was already a member of that. No, this social network operated a little differently.

It began with a bizarre email that popped up in my inbox on a Tuesday afternoon. “You don’t know me,” the emailer wrote, “But you’re my eighth cousin.”

Naturally, I thought I was about to get a request to wire $10,000 to a Nigerian bank account. But I didn’t.

My correspondent turned out to be legitimate, and is working on a fascinating project. He’s part of a group of researchers and scientists trying to build the biggest family tree in history. Well, tree isn’t quite the right word. It’s more like a forest. We’re talking literally millions of people from dozens of countries and hundreds of ethnicities — all linked together on one big family chart. All connected through blood and marriage.

The scope of this endeavor astounded me. Family – the original social network – had gone global.

The world family tree is made possible by startling advances in technology. Millions of us have spit into tubes and had their DNA analyzed. Millions more have collaborated online to create an interlocking tree. Think of Wikipedia meets genealogy. Think of thousands of people working on the same jigsaw puzzle. Several services – including Geni, WikiTree and FamilySearch – all have platforms with this model. They’re competing to see who can connect all seven billion humans on earth. Right now, Geni is at 110 million people and FamilySearch has more than 200 million.