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|Amber Brooks • 8/11/17|
The Short Version: Whether you’re joining a spouse’s family or starting a new family of your own, it’s important to look back and appreciate the complex, interwoven history behind the people you love. Geni can help you research and expand upon your family tree using a vast network of genealogical information. The genealogy website compiles the ancestral information of 115 million people dating back hundreds of years. Over 11 million users have created and maintained the worldwide family tree. By adding your own relatives to this online resource, you can preserve your family history for your descendants and maybe even discover distant relations around the world. On Geni, committed couples can learn about the ancestral lines that unite and define a family throughout the generations.
Recently, my cousin brought a date to a family reunion — which I thought was really brave of her — and we tried to unravel the confusing tangle of how we’re all related, how everyone got their nicknames, and what exactly our family history is. Such discussions often grow boisterous as family members exchange theories and stories, and it becomes abundantly clear that my grandfather and his brothers were fairly lax about telling the truth to their kids.
They were also bad at sticking with one name per person. My poor cousin tried to explain the name changes and nuances, but once you get to the part where our parents go by their middle names when among family, it’s just too difficult for newcomers to keep it all straight. As my brother says “No one goes by their birth name, and everyone is named after everyone.”
Really, what we need is a family tree to help new additions figure out who’s who. If you’re joining a family, having the ancestral history mapped out is a helpful way to get to know your new relatives and get a sense of who they are. It ties people together through a shared narrative. Launched in 2007, Geni gives ordinary people the chance to unlock the secrets of the past by delving into their genealogy in a comprehensive, interactive website.
The extensive site is a useful resource for anyone who wants to delve into the rich history behind loved ones old and new. You can sign up for free and start creating your own family tree online. Geni has an active membership of over 11 million users in all seven continents, with a particularly strong presence in North America and Europe. Most users are mature adults (typically over 49 years old) seeking some connection to the past through their bloodlines.
Mike Stangel, General Manager at Geni, said the team is a productive and dedicated group working to show people where they come from — which is all over the world. With the backing of the parent company MyHeritage, the Geni team passionately develop connective features on the site and support customers in search of familial ties. Many team members have been with Geni since its inception and feel strongly that knowing your history helps you appreciate the present.
Geni’s platform and tools can help family-oriented couples come together and appreciate the traditions, stories, and people behind a surname. It’s a way of passing down the lessons of the past to inform the future. As Mike said, “When dating eventually becomes a more serious relationship, couples will often want to document their family history for their children.”
In January 2007, Geni began on a mission to build a comprehensive family tree for everyone around the world. The website’s creators reject us-versus-them thinking and use the genealogy platform to show that we all come from the same human roots. Millions of members on Geni collaborate to put together a global family tree that unites families everywhere. If you go back far enough, you can find blood connections to people of every race, faith, and nationality. According to Mike, “Geni was founded on the principle that we’re all related.”
“It has always been our hope that realizing the many ways our families are interwoven would help to reduce tribalism,” he said. “How much better the world would be, if we could all see each other as family!”
Today, Geni’s World Family Tree connects more than 115 million profiles in an interconnected and dynamic family tree. A single platform combines the family history of millions of users worldwide. Genealogy enthusiasts maintain the integrity of the World Family Tree by volunteering their time and expertise. Mike told us over 200 expert curators check Geni’s growing user-generated family history for accuracy.
“People are typically drawn to genealogy either to gain a better sense of who they are, or to preserve the family knowledge for generations to come,” Mike noted.
Mike told us the family-oriented tools of Geni appeal to a diverse sect of people around the world. “We love the curious fact that Geni is huge in Estonia,” he said. “Roughly 20% of that country’s population are Geni users!”
Learning about your family tree can have practical benefits in revealing genetic predispositions to certain illnesses — but it can also impart meaningful values and cultural appreciation to families. Everyone comes from somewhere, and sometimes relatives have interesting stories to share. You might find out you (or your significant other) had family members serving in the Revolutionary War or maybe you’re distantly related to notable figures like Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, or Babe Ruth.
Mike’s own interest in genealogy began when researching his mother’s family roots. For 70 years, she believed she had no history of having come from anywhere, or anyone, particularly significant. However, Mike uncovered accomplished and royal ancestors in her family tree.
“We all carry within us the DNA and cultural traces of the best (and worst) humanity has to offer,” he said, “and I think it helps us empathize with each other when we can map that out on a very personal level.
Once you’ve found a relative on Geni, you can confirm their relations using the site’s DNA integration features. A simple test can reveal exactly who your blood relations are. On Geni, it’s all about finding connections and elucidating the past. The team continually explores how DNA tests can help people make sense of their backgrounds.
Sometimes adoptions or affairs can make individuals question where they fit in in a family. Geni offers knowledge and certainty on such personal questions. The DNA features are just one way users can connect with newfound family members worldwide. Geni automatically notifies users about duplicate or similar profiles in your family tree so you can browse through potentially thousands of matches online.
“We also match the information our users enter against the records collection of our parent company, MyHeritage,” Mike explained. “This gives Geni users access to over 8 billion records including census records, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, military records, even newspapers and books.”
The massive family tree grows larger every day as more people add their personal histories to it. You can use this far-reaching informational resource to find out fun facts like how Beyoncé really is royalty because she’s the 11th cousin twice removed of Queen Elizabeth II.
Users have generated nearly 30,000 family trees that go beyond their own blood relations to that of Mayflower passengers, Spanish Conquistadors, and other historical and significant figures. It’s a treasure trove of interesting relationships and gives people a chance to uncover celebrities or acquaintances in their bloodlines.
“We had an office bet regarding which two employees would first be discovered to be related to each other,” Mike told us. “In the end, we found that all but one of us are connected somehow, and we even have a few distant cousins on the team!”
Since the site launched in 2007, many individuals have used the World Family Tree to trace their family’s history and find distant relations. It’s a fantastic way to learn where you came from and expand the meaning of family. “It certainly brought my family together in ways I never thought possible,” said Patrick, a Geni user. “We have discovered family members who we didn’t know existed and have fun getting to know them.”
Geni offers people a way to connect with their living blood relatives. In 1975, Eli Rabinowitz met his first cousin Zara Zeldin in Israel, but they lost touch when she moved to Canada. More than three decades later, Eli reconnected with the Zeldin family in search of Zara, but no one knew where she lived. Eventually, Eli found out her surname was Smushkovich and posted to Facebook that he was looking for her. Within an hour, he’d found his cousin on Geni.
“Another Facebook user found Zara’s late husband, Meir Smushkovich, in a Geni family tree that had been constructed by Zara’s grandson in 2009,” Mike said. “After over 35 years, Eli was finally able to reconnect with his long-lost cousin!”
Sometimes Geni brings together relatives who never would’ve met without the ancestry tools. Genealogy blogger Kitty Cooper used Geni to look into her Bavarian roots because she thought she might have a lost branch in her family tree. According to family lore, Kitty’s grandfather Benedict Reiner was studying to be a priest when he fell for an innkeeper’s daughter and had an illegitimate son named Xavier in the late 1880s.
Kitty believed the scandal was true and wanted to use Geni to find any distant relatives of hers. One day, Kitty logged on to add a marriage license to her grandfather’s profile. She searched Geni for Benedict Reiner and was shocked when two search results popped up — one was the one she’d made and the other appeared to be her grandfather but with a different wife and a son named Franz Xaver Löffler.
Kitty immediately reached out to the person who’d created the profile. Katharina, Benedict’s great-great-great granddaughter, replied that it was indeed the same person, and Kitty found herself talking to a newfound second cousin twice removed.
“Kitty was, of course, thrilled to make such a close connection she never knew existed,” Mike said, “all due to the power of Geni’s World Family Tree.”
Another woman named Angela Sinickas Shiromani was traveling to speak at a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, when she discovered a link to her descendants in a tourist booklet. It said a windmill in Siauliai, just a few miles from her hotel room, had been built in the late 1870s by a man named Gustavas Daniel. Daniel was her grandmother’s maiden name and Siaulaia was the town where she’d grown up, so Angela knew there must be a connection. She looked into the mill’s history and learned Gustavas Daniel was her second great grandfather’s brother. She began building a family tree on MyHeritage in hopes of finding distant relations.
“Without the wonders of today’s online genealogy research, I would have continued to have a big hole in my family life.” — Angela Sinickas Shiromani, a Geni user
In 2015, MyHeritage found a match on the Geni tree, where Angela’s grandmother’s sister was listed. Angela’s second cousin once removed had created the family tree and was thrilled to get in touch with newfound family overseas. “There was so much crying on both sides of the Atlantic,” Angela wrote. In 2016, Angela traveled to Lithuania to spend time with her Daniel cousins.
This emotional reunion wouldn’t have been possible without Geni’s global family tree. Mike told us, “Nothing is more gratifying than learning how Geni has facilitated reuniting long-disconnected families.”
My cousin’s date isn’t the first one to struggle to understand my mom’s side of the family. Before my brother’s wedding, I wrote up a detailed family tree to help my soon-to-be sister-in-law study up on how all of us are related and what random nicknames we go by.
When you’re joining a family, it’s important to understand the values, culture, and backstory that underpins those important relationships. None of us exist in isolation. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and that history is all too easily lost if not collected and preserved by global organizations like Geni.
“I’m really enjoying using Geni. It’s amazing how much my tree has grown and all of the relatives that we’ve gotten in touch with,” — Laura, a Geni user
On Geni, it’s easy to add a profile, create a family tree, upload documents, and cultivate a complete visualization of your family throughout the years. Who knows? You might just discover an ancestral link to someone famous or a distant relation in another country. The DNA technology and global family trees help individuals understand who they are by uncovering where they come from.
“The most important goal for Geni is to continue to expand the size and reach of the World Family Tree,” Mike said. “We hope to expand on features that empower our users to construct and explore the rich tapestry of photos, stories and relationships that is woven uniquely for each of us.”