Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Frontiers of Cousindom

Every so often will send me hints about possible relatives.

In general I find that these hints fall into one of two categories.

The first one is “Hey! You have an ancestor with an Incredibly Common Name! We found another person with that same Incredibly Common Name! Go look at this!” The odds of this person actually being the same as your own ancestor are small – sometimes the hint is off by over a century, which is surprising considering that all of the dates are entered into Ancestry as well – but there have been times when they’ve scored so it’s usually worth a glance at least.

The second one is “Hey! We found Your Exact Ancestor! Everything you need to know is in this document, which your account does not actually allow you to view even though we said that it would when you signed up!” I’m not sure why they offer access to as part of their pitch, for example, since in the fifteen months I’ve had an account I have never once actually been able to see a document. I’ve seen plenty of offers to “upgrade” my account in order to do so, but since they lied to me the first time I strongly suspect that they’re lying to me this time as well and all I would be doing would be spending more money to not see the same documents.

But every now and then they do hit the nail on the head and the hint takes me to someone who is a) genuinely related to me and b) accessible through my current account.

This is how I found a cousin of some kind last week.

This man’s grandmother would have been my dad’s great-aunt, which as near as I can tell makes us … cousins, in that grand extended sense of being related in a way that is far too cumbersome to worry about actually defining and which likely wouldn’t be worth the effort even if I got it right. We have common great-great-grandparents and we're a generation apart. That makes us, what, second cousins, twice removed? Something like that, perhaps. 

I’ve ransacked this guy’s public family tree for information and documents and found out few interesting things about someone I didn’t know much about.

This particular great-great-aunt of mine always felt a bit glamorous in some ways, simply because she ended up getting married in Los Angeles in 1919 – a long way from home for a woman born in Philadelphia in the late 1800s – and died in Vermont about the same time I was born. That’s a lot of travel in an age that didn’t make that sort of thing easy, especially for women. There were some new documents and information about that, as well as a few others about where she lived in the interim with information that I didn’t know. I also never knew she had any children but apparently there were two, one of whom was this guy’s mother.

So, cool stuff. Three cheers for Ancestry on this one.

I am tempted to contact the guy and introduce myself – it worked at least once with another long-lost cousin on my mom’s side, a woman about my mom’s age with whom I am still in touch – but I’m not sure what I would say to the guy to be honest. On the one hand, the last time anyone on that side of the family contacted anyone on my side of the family might well have been 1950. They weren’t a dysfunctional family, as my dad used to say, but they weren’t close. On the other hand, perhaps there are stories to be learned.

We’ll see.


Unknown said...

Back in the days before home computers, a distant relative researched family on my mother's side (as well as many others) through 10 generations, back to the 1600s. On my dad's side, it stopped with my grandparents. She published a 750 page volume (with 100 pages of index) back in 1985. All done without computers!

David said...

Impressive! That took a lot of legwork!

Computers make information available, but they're not good about telling us how to use it. Maybe it's a wash. :)