Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hello Cousin?

There you are, walking down the street and you meet someone you've known for years. For some reason you start talking about family history only to find that you have a common ancestor. A smile erupts on two faces, handshakes ensue and there are pats on shoulders. Your old friend, acquaintance, schoolmate, T-ball parent or old girl / boy friend is your cousin! Maybe not a 'close' cousin but a cousin none the less. Who knew?

The question today is why didn't you know? There are so many resources
on the Internet now that you should know your extended family. All it takes is a little research on your part to establish your own lineage for a few generations and then search the popular sites such as FamilySearch to fill in the descendant boxes from your 2nd, 3rd or 4th great grandparents. It isn't hard and very few folks who've had ancestors in the U.S. for 100 - 150 years will fail to find the names of deceased cousins that they have known at some point in their lives. And of course, those deceased cousins had children who you can contact. Hey, doesn't that make the children cousins too?

The populace of the country seems to be constantly moving around but the average move is no more than 50 miles in the U.S. according to a report on NPR radio. We have natural reoccurring reasons to 'run' into folks from 'back home' with some regularity.

Ok, so what if we do have a lot of cousins around us? We don't talk to them all that often or at all unless they are involved in soccer, little league, PTA, or are the nurse who helps with 'all' of the deliveries of our babies. What's the big deal?

The big deal is that some of them are interested in family history research. This provides several opportunities for both of you. Each of you know the events and family members in your respective branches of the family. Each of you have have research information on your common ancestor(s) that the other doesn't have and now a research 'buddy' has been identified to help in The Quest. Two researchers are better than one, four are better than two, etc., so keep looking for your cousins. Starting today, ask your contacts about their ancestors and see if you can end the conversation by saying, 'See ya Cuz. I'll send my research to you this week. I'm looking forward to seeing your data and photos."

How do you find them? Use the Internet to radically increase the odds of finding each other. Create a free genealogy website from Tribal Pages or a great one like Darrin Lythgoe's The Next Generation (TNG) that costs a little money but that you own outright. Remember to only post information about deceased family members on it. Join or create a surname research group on FamilySearch, Rootsweb, Genforum and other websites. Post queries about your 'brick wall' ancestors on these sites. Tell the group the information you've found about your brick wall ancestor and ask for any information that others have found about them. Get your name and e-mail address out on the web tied to your ancestral family. Be sure to use an e-mail address that won't disappear if you change Internet service providers. I suggest you create a GMail or Yahoo account just for family history research. Of course that means you'll have to log in frequently and see if others have sent answers and queries, but the account will still exist regardless of how many times you change Internet services providers and folks finding your postings will still be able to contact you.

I hear from 'cousins' from all over the world on a daily basis via e-mail and a few snail mails. I love these queries, the "Hello cousin" and "Hey, I have this information about this person / family"... 'What do you have?"

My 'cousins' and I have created numerous family research teams that are seeking the same ancestry and we communicate frequently. (Yes, using the Internet, usually using Skype or one of the Messenger programs). Every member of the group has resources available that are unique to them. I never cease to be surprised at the information that is discovered by these cousins teams. Believe that two researchers are better than one and that four, eight, sixteen significantly more effective than just adding up the numbers. Do you think that is a false statement? Start a cousins research team and prove me wrong! I don't expect to hear of any failures in these groups, but I'm anxious to hear of your successes.

Remember to Pay It Forward this week when you have a minute of 'free' time. Make the choice to take a photo of an old ancestral home, a headstone or scan the photo you have of great grandma Mary and post it on the web so others can find it. The dividends from your acts of kindness will arrive when you most need them or least expect them.