Thank God For Cousins.
Recently on another blog I saw the expression “TGFI” - Thank God For the Internet. This play on “TGIF” is so appropriate for those of us who are currently engaged in genealogical research. There are many things that we can be grateful for.
From my own recent experience and that of many others (as I can see from reading genealogy blogs and newsletters), the role in our research that is played by contact with our near and distant cousins engaged in family research seems to be greater than ever before. There has been a boom of stories about such contacts in the past few weeks. These contacts have brought breakthroughs, piles of information and pictures, and even just the feeling “glad to know you and know that we are researching the same families.”
From almost the very beginning of my research right up through today, these “research cousins” have played a huge role in my efforts. I think of that phenomenon as TGFC: Thank God For Cousins. Not only have these cousins provided tremendous assistance, they are also real allies and morale boosters for those of us who get little/no/lukewarm reactions and support from our more immediate families for our research. Two of the first cousins that I ever corresponded with, Eunice and Jo Ann, were my first role models in learning how to do research.
We tend to think of this cousin-oriented way of doing genealogy as a phenomenon of the Internet age, but when I look back at the older research done on my family lines as well as at some of the family correspondence that has survived, I realize that this is not so. As a matter of fact, because most of our ancestors did not have the easy, short-term mobility that we have that enables us to travel to repositories throughout the world (not to mention the Internet), they relied more heavily than we do on the good old family interview as well as on correspondence with far-flung branches of the family. I suspect there was a definite uptick in the frequency of this kind of correspondence as the spread of the telegraph system made it possible for major news stories to be quickly disseminated across broad expanses of territory. In the two cases of family correspondence I have wherein the families “reconnect” and provide one another with family information, it appears that the initial impetus for the contacts were newspaper stories. For the Floyd family, it may have been the newspaper coverage of the gruesome murder of Ransom Floyd, my great-grandfather Charles Augustus Floyd’s younger half-brother. For the Lewis family, it may have been coverage of the exploits of my great-great uncle, Sheriff William Henry Lewis of Dallas County, Texas.
Still, there is no denying that e-mail and Internet searches have made such contact even more common, plus the addition of many electronic conveniences such as scanners has made it far easier to exchange documentary information and pictures.
I cannot think of a single family line on which I have done a significant amount of research that has not involved help from cousins, and in at least two cases the connection led to real “cousin ex machina” types of breakthroughs. For several lines my cousins and I maintain informal mailing lists for sharing research and asking questions. I am not the lead researcher for many of these lines, but I am happy to use my blog as a “clearing house” for contacts and dissemination of information.
Just to take my most recent cousin connection as an example: for my Norman family, my cousin Rebecca provided me with reams of information. A few things I already had, and I was able to provide her with a few things she didn’t have, but still, she had done some major document acquisition, as well as providing some personal family reminiscences that are priceless. And now I have been in e-mail contact with her 87-year-old mother, who was able to fill in many gaps and correct mistakes on a descendant report I had done for one of the common ancestors - talk about a walking repository of information! And she is not the only cousin of 80+ years with whom I have corresponded; perhaps there is at least a little bit of compensation here for all of the years I wasted not asking questions of my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Although many of the nibbles that we get on our “cousin bait” may be just that - nibbles - the fraction that pan out and develop into fruitful cooperation pays many times over for the effort invested.
Cousins live in different places, have access to different repositories, and have different subscriptions, different skills and approaches, and different collections of family documents and memories. We pool the documents and pictures we have. We send each other our information and serve as “data backups” for one another. Think of it - you don’t just hire one genealogist to research your family line, you have hired an entire team. OK, maybe we’re all amateurs to one degree or another, but there are still some pretty serious skills. And that “different approach” thing can be critical to breakthroughs.
So, if there are any cousins out there reading this after finding their families on my blog who have not yet contacted me - please do! Join in the fun! There is no division here based on experience or skills; we are all equal when it comes to the unique nature of the information we have to share. Even if you know little beyond your immediate family, that is something you know more about than I do. To the family researcher, your family pictures are more valuable than the rarest of trading cards.
Just go to the “About Me” Section on the left side of this blog, click on “View my complete profile,” and on that page click on “E-mail.” Come on, you know you want to.