Sunday, November 12, 2017

Book Review: "It's All Relative" by AJ Jacobs

I received a copy of AJ Jacob's new genealogy-focused book "It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree," and I ended up reading it straight through.  (I received this book for free; however, everything I write will be my honest opinion, good or bad.)  This book traces Jacobs' quest to create a World Family Reunion under the premise that everyone is a cousin--and in doing so gives a pretty good overview of many genealogical concepts.
AJ Jacobs' New Book

Jacobs' journey started after he was contacted by an eighth cousin who had been doing research for years.  (I could totally identify from his cousin's perspective, as I regularly reach out to distant cousins, many of whom are suspicious of me at first.)

Jacobs then got in touch with Randy Schoenberg and Adam Brown, both proponents of and its World Family Tree.  AJ mentions that Geni is controversial with many genealogists (in fact, I've had debates with both Randy and Adam about Geni--and we've pretty much agreed to disagree), as it is easy for incorrect information and connections to be added.  However as an introduction to genealogy, Geni can help draw in potential future genealogy addicts by showing them connections to famous people--which for some may be their gateway drug.

But anyways, Jacobs' idea was that if we could show people how everyone is connected, it would solve a lot of the division that we see in the country--and across the world--today.  Plus, he could use that to throw a pretty awesome party!

He clearly explains some of the concepts I've covered in various blog posts, including pedigree collapse and endogamy.  He discusses various genealogy conferences he attended to learn more about genealogy, including RootsTech.  He even mentioned the Antarctic Jewish Genealogical Society (of which I am a founding member).
A really bad selfie of me & AJ Jacobs at RootsTech 2016
He discusses the positives of DNA testing (very few people are completely of any one ethnicity, and that can help them feel connected to ethnicities other than the one with which they had identified) and some of the potential negatives (people finding out family secrets along with their testing results).

While the majority of the book's genealogy assertions are true (he dispels the myth of names being changed at Ellis Island for example and discusses the fallibility of ethnicity admixture DNA results), I did find fault with one thing--about his own name.  In discussing surnames, he uses his surname "Jacobs" as an example of names chosen from the Bible.  But two pages later he mentions that Jacobs was the Americanization of "Jacobowitz."  This name means "son of Jacob."  So it is more likely that his ancestor that originally took a surname had a father named Jacob rather than the name having been chosen by biblical inspiration.

Jacobs shows the types of documents he found on his family by interweaving family documents and stories into his story of discovery.  From a genealogist's perspective, he gives a really good overview of the types of documents and stories that one can find in research, and he also notes that not everything is online, and in-person research is often necessary.  Beyond the genealogy, this is a plain old good story.  His writing is simple and straightforward, and the story is engaging.  And it was fun to see so many of my friends mentioned along the journey!

You can get a copy of the book via this affiliate link: "It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree,"  Let me know what you think of it!

Note:  I'm on Twitter.  Follow me (@larasgenealogy).

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