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Monday, February 05, 2018

Cousin Jacobs' Newest a Fun, Upbeat Look at One of My Favorite Hobbies

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A couple years ago, my husband and I attended RootsTech, a big annual genealogy conference held in Salt Lake City.  One of the featured speakers that year was A.J. Jacobs, a self-proclaimed "human guinea pig" who enjoys coming up with crazy projects, then writing books about them.  That year, he spoke about his interest in family history.  He had just finished a year-long quest to learn how to research his roots and hold the biggest reunion on record with his newfound relatives (which basically includes everyone in the world, since he discovered we're all cousins in some way or another).  At that time, he was writing about his experience in the book that would become It's All Relative.  Jacobs' presentation was so engaging that I knew I wanted to read all about the project.  Not surprisingly, the book, which came out earlier this year, is funny, upbeat, and enjoyable.  If you're looking for a step-by-step how-to manual on how to research your family history, this is not it (for that, I recommend checking out or hitting up your local LDS research center for free help).  It's All Relative is much more about entertainment than instruction.  

To show you Jacobs' writing style and highlight some of my favorite quotes, I'll leave you with these passages:

"In a sense, family history is simply highbrow Google-stalking of the dead.  And while it can be fascinating, it can also make you feel queasy" (156).

"On the one hand, genealogy is the most self-aggrandizing hobby ever.  Look at all these thousands of ancestors who all teamed up to create their ultimate masterpiece: Me!
On the other hand, once you get started, you see that the tree is enormous and you're just a tiny leaf.  If you flip your perspective, you understand that each of your ancestors spawned thousands of descendants.  You're not the center.  You're nothing special.  Suppose your seventh-great-grandmother time-traveled to the twenty-first century.  She'd barely have time to pinch your cheek before she'd be off to visit her other offspring" (197-198).

And because there are too many "Mormon Mentions" in It's All Relative to do a separate post, here's a few I especially loved:

"The Mormons, as you know, are genealogy superstars.  They dominate the field.  Think of how Brazilians dominate supermodeling.  Or how the Austrians rule skiing.  Or how Floridians excel at driving naked while high on bath salts" (201).

"Why are Mormons drawn to family history?  Partly it's for the reasons I've heard from every family historian: It makes them feel a sense of belonging.  Family is everything.  They owe it to their ancestors who sacrificed so much (and the Mormons were indeed persecuted).  But for Mormons, it's more than that.  It's also part of their religion" (202).  

"The Salt Lake City Global Family Reunion had thousands of attendees—as well as Japanese drummers and bagpipers—because Mormons are better at organizing events than any group of humans on Earth" (273).

Referring to his RootsTech 2016, at which Donny Osmond also performed:  "There's no shame in being less popular than an Osmond in a predominantly Mormon crowd." 

That should give you a glimpse of what you'll find in It's All Relative.  Although I don't agree with everything Jacobs says in the book, I definitely enjoyed reading about his experiences with family history.  If you're into genealogy and don't mind a funny, somewhat irreverent look at the hobby, you'll love this one as well.

(Readalikes:  Style-wise, I'm sure it's similar to other A.J. Jacobs books, although I haven't read any of his others.)

If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), rude humor, and references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of It's All Relative from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


  1. I know someone who might really enjoy this. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Genealogy is so interesting. My grandmother did a great deal of ours and it has now passed on down to my mother.


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