This article was first published in the ChurchBeat newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

We can’t even manage to send a Christmas card. What am I supposed to do with 48,000+ living relatives?

Have fun, that’s what.

On Sunday, the FamilySearch app notified my phone of a free temporary tool called “Relatives at RootsTech.” I’m pretty much going to beg you to try it now.

I clicked on it and found that I had 35,000 living relatives who had logged into the relative-finder feature or were signed up for RootsTech, the annual FamilySearch conference that starts Thursday and runs through Saturday.

I posted this on my Facebook page:

Immediately, friends from high school, childhood and college started commenting. Turned out we were third cousins once removed, or 11th cousins or ninth cousins twice removed.

In the middle of all this, someone on Twitter was giving me a hard time. I was feeling a little salty and wanted to chirp back. Then I checked myself with this thought: What if we’re fifth cousins? Suddenly, I felt like I was in their shoes and should learn more about them before responding.

By Wednesday afternoon, the relatives tool told me I had 48,305 relatives who’d sign up for the conference or logged in to the tool. Some are very close, like nieces and first cousins I cherish. Some are people I maybe should know better, second cousins for whom my grandparents are great-uncles or great-aunts. That’s pretty darn close!

Some are pretty distant. One person is my 10th cousin, once removed. But our common ancestor is a Captain John Underhill Sr., born in 1597. How cool is that? The distance of the relationship opens an entirely different world that makes us feel closer.

“We love seeing people make these fun, meaningful connections and discoveries about themselves and their family,” FamilySearch’s Paul Nauta said.

I asked Nauta to explain the fascination with the relatives tool, but before I tell you what he said, yes, people are fascinated.

Last year, FamilySearch turned off the tool when RootsTech ended. This year, by popular demand, it will stay on for three weeks afterward, until March 26, so people have more time to send messages through the app to the family connections they find.

And most people will find their connections expanding over the next three days.

As of midday Wednesday, more than 600,000 people had registered for RootsTech. Only 315,000 have logged in to the relatives tool, so the number of relatives you see now will only expand as the conference begins Thursday and more people turn on the tool.

Nauta and I talked about the war in Ukraine and the divisions people experience in society.

“Relatives at RootsTech, in a very real way, shows you how you are part of a larger family,” Nauta said. “When you see that you are part of this larger family fabric, it changes the way you look at yourself and the people around you. That’s the theme of the RootsTech conference, helping people to feel connected in a very familial way and recognize that they belong.”

That larger family fabric makes the world feel, to me, smaller and more connected.

“I think people need unity,” Nauta said. “They need connection. They want to feel like they’re part of something bigger. The more personal that is, there’s a lot of healing and power that comes from that kind of experience.”

If you want more connection, you can try the FamilySearch app’s surname tool. It lets you type in two surnames so you can pick a friend or another person and see if you are related and how.

If you want more fun, try the famous people tool. While my great-great grandfather is George Washington Bean, I’m also distantly related to George Washington (I cannot tell a lie: He’s a second cousin, eight times removed.)

“People are just curious by nature,” Nauta said. “The motivation behind that curiosity differs depending on the age group. For the Gen Z’s, it’s just quick fun for them to be able to just see how many people they are related to and share the results. The millennial generation is interested in connecting. They’re fascinated to see relatives they didn’t know in their own age group or their own generation of the family tree that the family doesn’t know and hasn’t talked about. The older audience is interested in making the connection but is also interested to know more about that common ancestor that we have.”

Nauta is 100% Italian, which means his family tree isn’t as varied. The relatives tool only shows nine of his living relatives who have signed up. A few may not find any, but they are out there.

“We are part of one big family of humankind,” Nauta said. “We literally believe that we are all brothers and sisters. If we had the records and the means to expand the family tree far enough and wide enough, we would see that we’re all connected in a family tree of humankind.”

So, let’s see if we’re related. Feel free to send me a message on Facebook or Twitter, or email me at twalch@deseretnews.com. To see your living relatives, click here. To join the RootsTech conference, click here.

My recent stories

Missionaries at Provo MTC no longer need COVID-19 vaccination, testing; masks now optional (March 1)

First Presidency asks world leaders to seek peace in Ukraine as church closes Kyiv temple (Feb. 25)

About the church

President Russell M. Nelson spoke to members in California during a special broadcast and asked them to seek truth, make and keep covenants and gather Israel.

In an historic moment, Elder D. Todd Christofferson dedicated Gambia for the preaching of the gospel after the government gave the church official recognition and invited it to establish units there.

What I’m reading

Most of us are spending at least some of our time following the war over Ukraine. My suggestion: Listen to the “Plain English” podcast by Derek Thompson. He does a phenomenal job of succinctly providing clear insight in short episodes. He’s done three on the war so far, and I have felt smarter during and after each one.

One episode was about four possible ways the war might end. Author Thomas L. Friedman also offered three endgame scenarios here.

Russia was expected to overwhelm Ukrainian systems with hackers and malware. Here’s why that didn’t happen.

This was an insightful, actually lovely look at a famous photo of Abraham Lincoln that didn’t surface until years after he died, and why. (Wall Street Journal paywall)

Years ago, I read David Guterson’s novel “Snow Falling on Cedars.” It was wonderful. I recently picked up his new book “The Final Case” at the library and immediately reprimanded myself for not reading Guterson for so many years. He’s a beautiful writer. The book is very disturbing, because it’s a novelization of a true story about a girl adopted from Africa who died in the negligent hands of her American adoptive family. It reminded me keenly of my days as a reporter in courtrooms covering murder and child abuse cases. It made me feel. It made my heart sink because at its heart is an evil. It also made me soar, especially in the sweet observations the narrator shared about his wife and father and mother. Here is one that hit close to home about objects his mother struggled to relinquish:

“For her, they were items not to be trifled with in the name of their subtle but tangible resonances. Each was a talisman with magical properties. They were imbued with memory, story and event, and in the course of time had gone from mere phenomena to sacred vessels of personal history. They were simultaneously a nuisance and completely necessary.”

It’s wonderful that two of Wilt Chamberlain’s teammates on the night he scored 100 points in an NBA game are still around to tell us the story. I’m grateful this writer got them back together to share some great little details.

Here’s a smart look at how the NBA might change if it didn’t carry 75 years of baggage. One problem: Arena sizes.