Quantifying My Own Mormon “Small World” on Facebook

This press release from BYU caught my geeky eye:

The group of computer science students developed a Facebook app called “Relative Finder.”

Most other genealogical Facebook applications are based only on your living family and at best can connect you with third or fourth cousins. The Relative Finder app goes back an average of nine or ten generations because it connects to the genealogical information [in new FamilySearch].

It can even show you your relationship to famous historical figures like the signers of the Declaration of the Independence, apostles and prophets from the early days of the restored church, American presidents and many more.

It requires you to have a new FamilySearch login (same as your lds.org login, if you have one of those set up). Setting this up requires you have your Member Record #, IIRC, but is worth the effort because it allows you to access not only the great new tools on new FamilySearch (example: the rainbow-beautiful family tree it can make), but it also provides access to your ward list, ordering temple clothing/garments, and other things. Anyway, back to the Relative Finder app, it will download your family tree from new FamilySearch, and then comb it for ancestors you have in common with famous people or your Facebook friends who have also installed the app.

I have heretofore maintained a strict no-app policy on my Facebook account, however, the prospect of combining my CS geekery with my genealogy geekery has overcome my concerns about privacy, and I installed the app. One disappointment is that it only searches for individuals with whom I share a common ancestor, not those who are related by marriage. For example, if your sister is married to a current apostle, that relationship will not show up in the list of connections to current apostles, even though it is very close. Instead you might get something on the order of 10th cousin. Still, there is plenty of fun to be had. Here are just a few relations to famous people it turned up for me:

David A Bednar: 8th Cousin 1 times removed
Common Relative: C BROWN

Boyd Packer, 8th Cousin 1 times removed
Common Relative: G ABBOT

Mark Twain, 8th Cousin 4 times removed
Common Relative: C REYNOLDS

But more interesting to me than the famous people connections would be to see how I am interconnected with my friends. It seems you can’t take a few steps in the Mormon world without stumbling on a connection of some kind–a co-blogger who used to be in the same ward as an old friend from Seminary, a son of somebody my dad knew from his college Institute days, my sister’s old missionary companion, and so on. It is fun to see on Facebook that a friend and I have a friend in common from a completely different context. To discover if there are common ancestor connections on Facebook, I’ll have to hound a few friends into also installing the app, so their new FamilySearch records can be added.

For those interested in installing the app, please return and report any fun findings! And while you’re over on Facebook, I invite you to “like” our page.


  1. Turns out I’m a third cousin (six times removed) of Joseph Smith, Jr. I’m sure many readers here are much more closely related, but that’s a lot closer than I would have expected.

    More importantly, I’m a 12th great grandson of John Lothropp–a religious trouble maker from the 17th century. I will vow to make my granddaddy proud of me!

  2. My husband and I found out we’re 5th cousins. We tell our kids that the reason why they’re weird is b/c they’re their own 6th cousins.

  3. I’m pretty far from most LDS leaders–Elder Packer and Elder Perry are both 3rd cousins at a remove. John Adams is also a 3rd cousin. Fun to see so many other LDS leaders as well as Walt Disney and Eli Whitney dangling out on farther limbs of the family tree. And I didn’t realize or maybe had forgotten that I had a Mayflower ancestor (Peter Browne).

  4. Coffinberry says:

    Pffft. Because I’m only a 3rd Generation Mormon, my connections to ‘famous’ LDS people are only through my Plymouth Colony ancestors, 8 to 10 generations ago.

    I think the main thing this is proving is that we’re all related some 8 or 9 generations back.

  5. I some sort of cousin to Geoff B.

  6. All I learned from this is that I have not included any of my family history on the new.familysearch.org website. However, somehow it managed to connect me with Lorenzo and Eliza R. Snow. Good times.

  7. Thanks for the pointer, Cynthia. I appear to be related to about half the Quorum of the Twelve (but at the level of 8th-10th cousin), which I’m sure is unremarkable. But more interestingly, you are my 10th cousin (2 times removed)!

    Also, I suspect that all my sisters are indeed my sisters, but there has been some discussion among us about whose parents are actually aliens, so I’m interested to see RelativeFinder’s take on that. ;)

  8. Now we just need to figure out how to rig this thing to detect the family lines of everybody on the banned/moderation list at BCC, so we can ban them to the 7th generation.

  9. Just to be clear, will this app show me connections to Facebook users who aren’t church members, but are relatives? Do they have to be Family Search users for this to work?

  10. Andrea R. says:

    I just found out recently that I’m 2nd or 3rd cousins with Mitt Romney through my Great-Grandfather. Not sure how I feel about that…

  11. @Zefram, it will work for anyone who has installed the app, and to install the app you need to have a newfamilysearch.org login. Currently, newfamilysearch (unlike just plain familysearch) is limited to members. So, bummer, but that’s how it is set up.

  12. I tried to use this yesterday, but the app just thought a lot and I eventually gave up waiting. Could have been because I use a linux box, their server was overloaded (?), my anti-app stance left some setting enabled, or I had just eaten too many cookies that day.

    Regardless & in the meantime, does it require your friends to be using the app as well in order to draw any conclusions?

  13. Edit: I’m in. For those curious: your friends must me using the app too to see if the two of you are related.

  14. @Josh and others who might have this problem: that progress bar/circle thing definitely does crunch for a long, long, long time to download the newfamilysearch data. It does eventually finish though, so don’t give up. Or at least, it did in my case.

  15. This app is pretty cool. Turns out I am related to about every prophet with an average relation of 6th cousin 5 times removed. The closest one for me is Brigham Young as 4th cousin 7 times removed.

    I am also related to Taylor Petry (5th cousin) And to a lesser degree Danithew and m&m.

  16. That was handy in that I knew I was related to 1 Mayflower person: Edward Fuller. I didn’t, however, know I am also related to two others: John Howland and John Tilley.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  17. @Eric: I’m related to m&m too–9th cousins!

    Maybe this app will help us all be kinder to each other on the blogs–we are all family.

  18. w00t! I didn’t click on the “early Mormons” link before, so I missed this awesome news: I’m related to award-winning beards Orson Pratt AND Porter Rockwell. Heck yeah!

  19. Knowing the little bit I do about my family history, I will not be participating in this brand of fun. I believe in letting crazy relatives rest in peace.

  20. Hm. I’m also related to US Presidents Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Millard Fillmore and HW & GW Bush.

  21. “Because I’m only a 3rd Generation Mormon, my connections to ‘famous’ LDS people are only through my Plymouth Colony ancestors, 8 to 10 generations ago.”

    I’m at least 70% original LDS pioneer heritage, so I’m a bit surprised I have so few close collections–lots of connections to famous people, but they’re all very distant (pre-1800s). One current member of the 70 is a 3rd cousin once removed, and that’s it as far as church/family connections go within the last 200 years. So even some of us with ancestors who came over the plains are only connected to famous Mormons through Plymouth Colony Ancestors.

  22. No pioneer heritage. But, wow.

  23. I am a 10th cousin to the Osmonds!

    I think there should be an “infamous americans” and “infamousLDS”

  24. This was really a lot of fun to play with. But as I look at my own links and the descriptions others have given of their links, I think it becomes clear that the early data in FamilySearch is heavily weighted to New England data. None of my links come through my southern US lines. The prophets I’m not related to, Taylor and McKay, are either immigrants themselves, or 2nd generation Americans. I would like to know if the church loaded Mayflower / DAR data into FamilySearch or just that members have an easier time finding such data and so it reultss in a higher proportion of the whole.

  25. Sheldon, the latter I think. Some lines are just more well-documented than others, and Mayflower is definitely on the list. Also, it is probably even more overrepresented in familysearch because it used to be (maybe still is in some circles) super cool to be descended from Mayflower folks, so back in the day genealogists often played loose with things to force a connection to a Mayflower line that may or may not be real. My mom suspects his happened with our line. There was a very common name person (“John Brown”) and there were several in the town, and the person who put together our family line back in the day chose the one (probably on purpose) who connected to Mayflower.

  26. I came up blank on FB friends and only one apostle (RG Scott in the 1600s).

    I am surprised; one of our line includes some prominent New-England Puritan families and it seems like we’ve traced connections to all kinds of folks before.

  27. No relatives amongst famous people or FB friends. I guess that’s what I get for being a Mormon convert with Italian ancestors.

  28. I’m the 301th person to like the BCC facebook page. Do I get a prize?

    I notice a lot of my relations come through that J. Lathrop fellow, my 10th great grandfather it tells me. My mother gave me a book about him years ago, maybe I’ll actually read it now.

    Hey, how bout that? Emily Dickinson and TS Eliot! My English major heart is smiling. Both Romney and Huntsman? Both 9th cousins 1 time removed? Yikes! I might not have voted for either one of them, but now that I know we’re related, who will I chose?

    Um . . . how many wives did BY have again? I might just be related to all of them. Seriously, there are a whole lot of Youngs in my prophets’ wives list, 18 to be exact. And BY was not on my prophets list. That’s kinda weird, right?

    Apparently I’m a 10th cousin with half the quorum of the twelve and also related to the award winning beards already mentioned, which probably makes me related to Cynthia L. When’s the reunion? I’ll bring the potato salad!

  29. I see that I come from a family that likes to live under the radar, even though I appear to have 3 direct connections to the Mayflower (10th and 12th Great Grandfathers). Otherwise I’m hovering around the 10th cousin level and several times removed in any connection that I have. Which basically means that my families been in the states since the beginning but apparently prefer to live in the shadows and mind our own business. BTW, where is the infamous search option, perhaps there is some pirate blood in me?

  30. I’m not usually an app person, either, but this has been fun. To all of my new cousins, I bit a fond hello.

    The downside to all of this is that I worry that people w/o pioneer ancestry (or who haven’t yet had a chance to get their lines back over 10 generations) might feel left out of the fun.

    It all got me thinking last night about Jacob 5, actually.

  31. What I don’t get is that even when I’m logged into the new Family Search, it doesn’t give me any option for building a family tree except a download of a weird family tree wallpaper. What am I missing? Their help is extremely unhelpful. I can’t use this app without info in FS, and FS doesn’t work. But other people seem to be seeing something I’m not, obviously.

  32. Stacer, while I’m not sure we should get into an extended help desk conversation in this thread:

    (a) You’re sure you went to http://new.familysearch.org and not just http://familysearch.org ?
    (b) When you log in, the default page for me says:

    What’s New in FamilySearch
    Learn How to Use FamilySearch
    See Temple Information (Schedules, Driving Directions, etc.)
    See Me and My Ancestors
    Search for Ancestors
    Add Information
    Temple Ordinances
    Sign in to Help Someone Else
    Update My Profile and Preferences
    Help Center

    Seems like Learn How to Use FamilySearch or Help Center would be good starting places for you. To add family members, pretty sure you go to “See Me and My Ancestors,” and it will show you whatever it has so far (maybe nothing), and then from there you should have a link for “Add or Find Child,” for example. Hope that helps. You can email me, sisterblah2 at gmail.com.

  33. Cynthia, I seem to have thought I was on the new FS but wasn’t, which is what the problem was. Apparently it’s not linked at lds.org yet? I was going through that link and logging in, assuming that with my LDS login it’d take me to the new FS, but apparently there are two different ones, and the one at lds.org doesn’t really have anything but the most basic stuff.

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