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Tide turning on lonely nuclear family

Young Britons seeking to expand their tribe in hunger for extended family

The era of the lonely and fragmented nuclear family could be coming to an end, judging by new evidence which suggests young people are driving a change in Britons' attitudes to the extended family.

Following reports that the divorce rate has dropped to its lowest level for five years comes news that modern households are seeking to widen their family circle and build stronger links with distant relatives.

Research conducted by website Genes Reunited into its membership, which has just exceeded the five million milestone, points to a backlash against a trend that has seen families splitting up, moving apart and becoming ever more distant.

Although Genes Reunited was created on the premise that people want a quick and easy way to prise open history and find out who and what their ancestors were, Genes Reunited has discovered that the majority of its members is using the site to track down the LIVING as well.

Around HALF of Genes Reunited members have found even more living relatives through their researches on the site than deceased ones. Nearly a third of both men and women say they now know in excess of 100 living relatives after using Genes Reunited.

The figures come against a backdrop of four decades of increasing social fragmentation. Government statistics report that the number of people living alone has risen fourfold in the last forty years to seven million, while one in four families are headed by a single parent. One in ten families are stepfamilies.

Yet Genes Reunited's figures indicate that the situation is causing most concern among those in their early 20s. While the highest success rate for finding relatives on Genes Reunited site is among the 36 to 45-year-olds, the under-25s are twice as quick at finding relatives than older members.

Around one in five of those aged under-25 take merely A FEW HOURS to unearth a connection, compared to one in ten of the membership as a whole. Sixty percent of users build a link within a month.

Head of Genes Reunited Martine Parnell, said "It's not a 'technical gap' between the generations that is causing this remarkable difference. Because Genes Reunited is so simple to use, you don't have to be an expert genealogist or technical genius to find a family connection.

"Instead it looks like the younger generation is making more of an effort to widen the family circle. They are searching for more name connections, and contacting a greater number of members that they might be related to.

"When you consider this alongside the messages we receive all the time from members, you get the sense that there is a generally widespread hunger for an extended family."

The story of Zoe Linkson, 32, is typical of many Genes Reunited members. As she was growing up, Zoe wasn't really aware of her roots although her grandmother always said that her great grandfather Oscar had been a Manchester United footballer.

Zoe used Genes Reunited to build up a database of possible relations. "I worked out that I didn't just have the three cousins I'd known growing up but in fact there were 18 of us altogether," she says. "I found the eldest child from my Uncle Bob's second marriage. A member of Genes Reunited helped me send her a message and last Christmas I met up with cousins I'd lost touch with when Uncle Bob died."

Zoe says she has so far reunited seven siblings, but her bigger aim is to get all the Linkson family together, including the branches she has found in Australia and Canada, to celebrate the family's 200th birthday.

"Now a year on I have an incredibly close relationship with my cousin Laura who asked me to be her birthing partner for her second child. One day I eventually hope to have all the cousins together in one room to show that the problems of our parents don't stop us being a family," she says.

Lynette Green, 28, knew all her life that somewhere she had a half-brother called Alan and was determined to find him even though she already had 10 siblings. Within days of putting a message on Genes Reunited she received an email from him and they finally embraced a few months later. Alan, 54, still has to meet five of his siblings, but is taking his time as he has gone from being an only child to having 11 brothers and sisters.

Genes Reunited works by inviting members to contribute their own family tree to a vast database, which all members can search for name matches. When a match is found, members are able to contact each other via secure email to clarify the link and possibly develop the tree further.

Overall, nine out of every 10 Genes Reunited members are successful in finding fresh members of their family through the site.

The surge in interest in genealogy and it's interaction with the present is epitomised by the success of TV shows such as the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? which has been moved to BBC1 for it's new third series.

A highlight of each show is the section in which celebrities such as Jeremy Paxman, Vic Reeves and Barbara Windsor, whose family tree are under the spotlight, have an encounter with a living relative they didn't previously know about.

Leading genealogist Anthony Adolph, a consultant to Genes Reunited, said, "Genealogy was tremendously important in ancient societies, here and abroad, but it's a mistake to think people were obsessed with their ancestors.

"It was when genealogy told people how they were connected to each other that it played a vital part in society. This is what people are rediscovering - we're rebuilding our tribal society, but this time on a world-wide scale.

It's becoming normal for Genes Reunited members to find family connections all over the world. It's great for broadening the mind. It's not bad for planning holidays either, as, wherever you want to travel, you may find some kith and kin already living there!"

Notes to Editors - Other Case studies available for interview include:

  • Diane Allen, 56, whose dad died without telling anyone that he had seven siblings. Diane discovered this through Genes Reunited, used the site to trace them all.
  • Antoinette Littlewood believed that her great grandmother had only one sibling, but she was amazed to discover that she was in fact one of nine children. Antoinette's mum is also keen on family history and has used the website to make contact with long lost cousins who were her bridesmaids and other cousins she never knew she had.
  • Susan Walker used Genes Reunited to reconnect with two cousins she lost touch with 25 years ago. She simply put one of the cousin's names into the website and a match appeared for the name, date and place of birth. A few short emails later, it was confirmed that Susan had indeed found her long lost cousins.
  • Kate Strong, 62, has discovered family in all corners of the world: a second cousin in Devon; a first cousin once removed in Canada, a third cousin in Australia and a third cousin in South Africa, each one related to a different grandparent. She says she now knows how she got her travel bug!
  • After just a fortnight on Genes Reunited, Sandra Pugh, 63, found a cousin, Hilary, whom she had not seen in nearly 45 years. Earlier this year, they met and exchanged dozens of family photos and mementoes. It was particularly poignant for Hilary, as she had believed she had lost all of her family members.
  • The parents of Tracey Finch, 35, Majorie and Derek Pinney split in 1974, just before the birth of her younger sister Barbara. Derek stayed out of their lives and Majorie went on to marry again to John. In 1989 when John made enquiries into adopting both Tracey and Barbara, they discovered that Derek had also remarried and three more daughters, Nicola, Joanne and Lisa. For years, Tracey remained curious about her siblings, but did not know where to start looking for them until last year when she entered the surname Pinney into Genes Reunited and found a message from Nicola, also looking for her half-sisters, Tracey and Barbara. Within a week, four of the five siblings were reunited.
  • Jason Evenden, 34, lost touch with his partner Genette, 12 years ago, when their daughter Lauren was eight months old. He had been trying to trace Lauren ever since and had no luck until he put her and her mother's details into Genes Reunited. Not only did he find his daughter again, but he and Genette married last year.

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Notes to the Editor - About Genes Reunited

Genes Reunited was launched in 2002 as a sister-site to the Internet phenomenon Friends Reunited. Since then it has grown to become the UK's largest genealogy website.

It marked a revolution in genealogy and ancestry by combining them with Internet social-networking. Members are able to build their family tree by posting it on the site and investigating which ancestors they share with other members. They can also search historical records such as census, birth, death, marriage and military records.

It currently has over 11 million members and over 750 million names listed. One new name is added to the site every single second.