Science & Technology



What you can learn about marriage and migration from a 13 million-member family tree

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

It's not the biggest family tree in the world, but it's close.

Armchair genealogists and a team of computers scientists have assembled a massive family tree that includes 13 million individual members and spans an average of 11 generations.

A study describing the tree, published this week in Science, also details some of what we can learn from this crowdsourced data. For example, it reveals when people stopped marrying their cousins, whether men or women traveled farther from home for marriage, and provides clues about how longevity is inherited.

The tree is based on data assembled by roughly 3 million genealogy enthusiasts who have identified the familial relationships of more than 86 million individuals on the website

Kevin Bacon is in there. So is Donald Trump.

You'll find me on the Geni site too. (Thanks, second cousin Scott!)

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Not everyone in the website's database is included in the current study, however. For this work, the authors only used data from profiles that users had agreed to make public.

Before assembling the mega-family tree, lead author Yaniv Erlich, a computer scientist at Columbia University, and his team first had to make sure the entries were accurate and worth using.

This took a lot of time, Erlich said. The data were not pristine, but perhaps not as faulty as you might expect considering they were provided by millions of contributors.

The researchers found that on average there was a 2 percent error when listing a person's father, and a 0.3 percent error for a mother. They also found that about 0.3 percent of profiles included clear mistakes such as a person having more than two parents, or someone being the parent and offspring of the same person.


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