family tree illustration family tree illustration Science confirms: We are all connected. (Photo: kubicka/Shutterstock)

The world's largest family tree is also a scientific phenomenon

It's been vetted by researchers from Harvard and Columbia and – bonus! – includes Kevin Bacon.

Anyone up for a game of 13 million degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Sounds a bit daunting, we know. But thanks to a group of researchers from Columbia University, Harvard University and Israel's Technion and Weizmann institutes who studied millions of public ancestry profiles, we now have what might be the most scientifically vetted comprehensive family tree ever compiled.

"Through the hard work of many genealogists curious about their family history, we crowdsourced an enormous family tree and boom, came up with something unique," said the study's senior author, Yaniv Erlich, an Israeli-born computer scientist at Columbia University. Among the famous names that can be dropped from the 11-generation dataset: Sewall Wright, a founder of human population genetics, and actor Kevin Bacon.

Actor Kevin Bacon will star in a movie about Yossi Ghinsberg's Amazonian adventures. Man, this guy is everywhere. (Photo: Larry Busacca / Getty Images)

Published in the journal Science, the research sheds new light on marriage and migration in Europe and North America over the past 500 years. But that's not all it revealed; researchers also discovered that the genetic basis of longevity is lower than many have suggested.

old family photo of babies in washtub Tracing your genealogy can lead to all sorts of fun places. (Photo: Elzbieta Sekowska / Shutterstock)

What does that mean, exactly?

Focusing on a subset of 3 million relatives born between 1600 and 1910 who had lived past the age of 30, the scientists compared each individual's lifespan to that of their relatives and their degree of separation. They found that genes explained about 16 percent of the longevity variation seen in their data – on the low end of previous estimates, which have ranged from about 15 percent to 30 percent.

With genetics only accounting for about five additional years onto a person's life span, they concluded that genes have less to do with longevity than conventional wisdom has held. For example, Erlich said, "Previous studies have shown that smoking takes 10 years off of your life. That means some life choices could matter a lot more than genetics."

"We hope that this dataset can be useful to scientists researching a range of other topics." continued Erlich, who's also chief science officer at MyHeritage, an Israeli-developed genealogy and DNA testing company.

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