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March 10, 2020
Science

The Global Family Tree: Get Involved!

Genealogy is about connecting with family. Learn how to connect with your Global Family using your DNA data, the internet, and science!
By
Tomohiro Takano

For centuries, people have been recording their family history into well-researched genealogies. However, even the best of these genealogies can only show so many generations before the amount of information becomes untenable. Think about it:

If your Great-great-grandparents had two children, and each of these people got married and had two children, and so-on all the way down to you, there would be at least 46 people in this family tree. And that is if each child only had 2 children. Plus, this only takes the genealogy back to roughly the year 1900, only 120 years ago.  

My grandparents come from super large families. My grandfather had 12 siblings, and my grandmother had 10 siblings. My family tree, going back to my great-great-grandparents, would contain several hundred (maybe even thousands) of other people. 

If you take that family tree and go one generation up, everything is multiplied by the number of people in that generation! So, when you really start looking back into history you likely have MILLIONS or HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of people in your family tree. Go back a little further, and every person on Earth is eventually part of your family tree.

This article takes a look at how DNA testing has greatly expanded our ability to track and record genealogies, the idea of a Global Family Tree, why we should call it a Family Web instead, and how you can get involved!

Ancestry DNA Testing and Genealogies

When ancestry DNA testing became a reality with the first at-home DNA test kits, researchers began to realize the value of this data in terms of genealogies. Instead of hand-written notes and scraps of information, DNA data doesn’t lie. If you share a segment of DNA with someone, it means that you have a common ancestor with that person. 

By analyzing your DNA, researchers can estimate how closely related two different people are. They can use this to discover a large number of relationships between many different people at once. The similarities and differences between people can be used to create massive family trees, that go back thousands of years.

Using this information about relatedness, many DNA companies and organizations are currently working hard to connect all of the individual family trees that have been created into a massive Global Family Tree. This tree, unlike your personal family tree, will connect all humans on Earth into a single, massive, and very complex family tree.

Family Tree, or Family Web?

When scientists first started thinking about the relationships between humans and with other animals, they came up with something like this:


The original "Tree of Life" created by Haeckel


Throughout the decades, this “tree of life” idea has caught on. In school, you likely had to study “the tree of life”. We still call a person’s genealogy a “family tree”. Unfortunately, this depiction of relationships is not accurate. Though we are often taught that our family lines are distinct and separate from other people, DNA evidence is proving otherwise. 

To understand this, you must understand the concept of the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA). The MRCA is a hypothetical person who shares DNA with all living people. If the MRCA is very old, it means human lines have become very separated. If the MRCA is found to be more recent, it shows that different groups of humans are closely related.

Humanity’s Most Recent Common Ancestor

Check out this simple calculation of humanity’s Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA). Mathematically, this theoretical ancestor was alive only 3,000 to 7,000 years ago, based on DNA data! Compared to the roughly 7 MILLION years that Homo sapiens (humans) have been evolving since our separation from other apes, an MRCA at only 3,000 years ago shows that human genetic lines are tied together in many different ways and that we have remained connected as a single species that entire time.

Instead of the model of a “tree” to describe this pattern, many scientists are now using the model of a “web”. Instead of a single main trunk that branches out, a web has many interconnections that connect family lines in many different ways from a single point. The entire idea of a “tree” is misleading because it makes it seem as if humans have been diverging since we first evolved. If we think about it as a “web”, it shows how we are connected to many different genealogical lines through our MRCA. 


The Global Family Tree

In fact, the Global Family Tree looks like the graphic below, with the MRCA directly in the middle:


Graphic from FamiLinx.org


As humans migrate around the globe and the global economy pulls previously separated lines back together, humans are forming a massive, complex web of relationships. This is great because it shows that racism, nationalism, and other “my-group-versus-your-group” categories that humans use to fight with each other are simply not backed by science. These groups may exist in our minds, but not in our genes. 

Plus, with so many organizations striving to research human genetic relationships, YOU have a chance to contribute to a Global Family Tree that will help break down barriers between groups and help people realize that all humans are closely related.

Companies Creating Global Family Trees


If you want to be a part of this massive effort to connect humans all over the globe, you have quite a few options! Check out the companies and sites below to get started on your journey!

LivingDNA

LivingDNA runs the “One Family One World” project, which sets out to connect users to the Global Family tree. Currently, LivingDNA has the largest number of reference populations at around 150. This means that LivingDNA can give you the most accurate breakdown of your global ethnicity.

When you contribute your genes to LivingDNA, they use it for internal research on the One Family One World project if you consent. Then, they use the findings from this project to develop educational tools that they share with students and teachers around the globe. That means your data will instantly be put to use helping dispel the ideas of racism by showing kids that they are connected to a wide variety of groups around the globe.

You can read our Full Review of LivingDNA for more on costs, results, and the process LivingDNA uses!

MyHeritage

MyHeritage boasts over 49 million family trees, and the company is actively connecting these family trees together in the FamiLinx project, which was given permission from MyHeritage to study the connections found on Geni.com. MyHeritage owns and operates the project Geni.com, which currently connects over 141 MILLION people in a global family tree. Plus, MyHeritage already has around 3.8 BILLION profiles built out, ready to be connected to family trees!

Using resources available from MyHeritage, users can build and document a family tree using their DNA data and historical documents. Then, that information (in a GEDCOM file) can be uploaded to Geni.com to connect with hundreds of millions of other people trying to document their family history.

The result? One of the world’s most comprehensive Global Family Trees, developed and created by millions of individual users working together. If you are interested in going this route, check out our full article on MyHeritage and what they have to offer!

Ancestry

Ancestry currently boasts the largest number of DNA kit users, with over 14 million! The company even presents reports on Global Family History on their website. 

Like MyHeritage, the parent company of Ancestry also owns a user-driven site meant to help explore genealogical connections. This site, RootsWeb, allows users to create, maintain, and connect a family tree to a much more massive family tree. This information is based on DNA evidence, written family trees, and other information that users can find to support these connections. By joining RootsWeb, you will be contributing to the WorldConnect Project of thousands of researchers and genealogists trying to fill in the web of human genetics.

Plus, with one of the world’s largest historical documents databases, Ancestry is a great place to start building and establishing your personal family tree. Like MyHeritage, Ancestry allows users to create and download their GEDCOM file, which contains all of the information found on your family tree. This information can be used on a number of sites, such as DNAgedcom.com, which can help you connect to many more family trees.

If you want to see what your DNA has to say about your family, check out our article that breaks down all of Ancestry’s DNA test kits!

WikiTree

WikiTree.com hosts The Free Family Tree project. Like other Global Family Trees, this project sets out to completely redefine our understanding of human genetic relationships. Using a huge pool of researchers, volunteers, and others committed to genealogical discovery, the site is trying to create the world’s most comprehensive web of genetics.

Like the sites hosted by Ancestry and MyHeritage, the WikiTree project is a crowdsourcing project, relying on millions of individual contributions. The site has a number of groups that can connect you to specific resources that will be useful in doing your research. Plus, if you don’t know where to start, the site has tons of resources from professionals on how to begin your own family tree.

Unlike many of the other resources here, there is absolutely ZERO cost to get started. With only a few clicks, you can begin building and expanding your family tree. While you may find that a DNA test and historical records database will aid your research efforts, you can get started on WikiTree today for free!



Did you get 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or MyHeritage results back? Upload your raw DNA data to access 200+ traits for FREE at Genomelink!
Tomohiro Takano
Tomohiro Takano
Co-Founder and CEO