Friday, 25 March 2011

Cousin, where have you been all my life?

In a previous post I suggested a few ways to hook up with cousins whom your family had carelessly misplaced and who were already looking to get back into the fold.  Today I am setting out how I have found those lost cousins who are living their lives in blissful ignorance of you and your desire to find them - definitely the more tricky of my two "lost" cousin categories.

Before we start, a couple of provisos:

Firstly, a word on etiquette.  We all have a right to privacy and your much longed for family reunion isn't going to get off to a good start if your cousin is ticked off that you (and the rest of the world) found them after you placed an advert naming them in their local paper.  So, always be discreet in your enquiries and scrupulously polite in your approaches to prospective cousins.  (More on this later).

Secondly, damp down your expectations.  It is tempting to imagine a joyful reunion with beautiful, grateful people who are over the moon to meet you.  I always remember an old friend who met his cousins for the first time - he was shown into their sitting room and given a seat at the back of the room behind them and was ignored whilst they ate their dinner and watched a soap.  After a couple of hours he made his apologies and left, with a greater understanding of why his branch of the family hadn't kept in touch with theirs!

Thirdly, protect yourself.  You are approaching strangers - they may or may not turn out to be your cousins - so take the usual steps to protect yourself and your identity.  Although you may wish to establish your credentials by giving out lots of family information, hold some back and ensure that your cousin is able to confirm their own credentials. Build up a relationship slowly and at a distance before rushing to meet up. 

So, with these caveats in mind, prepare to find your cousins.  If you have already started your family history research, you have all the skills you need - you are just going to use them in reverse.

1.  Decide on who to find

Look at your tree and family records - who do you have most information on?  Let's say it is your grandfather's brother Albert Smith.  You know Albert's date of birth (let's say 1880) and you know from his medal card that he survived WW1.  Your great-grandfather's will dated 1925 mentions Albert, so he was alive then. 

You now need to search the marriage index to find who Albert married.  He wasn't married during the war, his records show that, so search between 1918 and 1938.  You come up with two possibilities.  You can then search those ladies' names in the 1901/1911 Census - perhaps you will find that one of them lived near Albert's home - she is your more likely candidate.  To be sure, order the certificate.

Let's assume that you find that Albert Smith married Gladys Hunter in 1920 in Plymouth.

Next step - search birth records for children born in Plymouth with the surname Smith, mother's maiden surname Hunter between 1920 and 1935.  Assume you get three hits:  Albert 1921, Gwen 1923 and Alice 1925.  These are likely (but not guaranteed) to be Albert and Gladys' children.

One method of double checking is to search for the deaths of Albert and Gladys and order the death certificate of the one who died last.  The informant on a certificate is often one of their children (if you order the certificate of the first of the couple to die, the informant may well be the surviving spouse and you are no further forward).

Repeat the process for finding marriages for Albert Jnr, Gwen and Alice.  Then repeat the process for finding their children.

You now have a bank of possible names for your first cousins once removed (Albert Jnr, Gwen and Alice) and your second cousins (their children).

2.  Find their address(es)

Again work forward from a last definite address.  Let's say that you found that Albert Smith Jnr as informant for his mother's death in 1965.  His address will be given too.  Use the BT phone archives (find them at Ancestry) to find out how long he lived at that address. Even if Albert is now dead it will be useful to have his last known address if you need to go to step 3 below.

For your second cousins, try using the electoral register (again, on Ancestry follow the Living Relatives tab or use or similar) or current phone books. 

I have recently found two cousins using this process - and I didn't pay for the privilege either!  Viewing full electoral registers costs money, but if you know the full name of both your cousin and his/her spouse it is fairly easy to cross reference people with the same postcode on the limited free view. 

If you do find a possible address, I think that a polite letter is the way forward.  Introduce yourself and give the purpose of your letter - apologise in advance if you have got the wrong person.  Give enough information to establish a family connection, but don't go overboard.  Suggest a couple of ways of contacting you - by post, email, phone and if you have a family website give them the URL.  Make it plain that you completely understand if they do not wish to contact you and apologise again for the unorthodox introduction you are making.  If you can scan an old family photo that is good too - they may recognise a family member which will lend credence to your letter.

Also, don't dismiss a simple Google search - I finally found my cousins in Australia using this method.  Admittedly it took months, but eventually by following newspaper reports, local government records and Googling her work address I was able to send an email and found my very surprised cousin at the other end!

3.  Appeal for information

Many local papers will place a story for you - I have done it twice and both times I have had some information back - not from my family, but in both cases about my family.  The story I placed DIDN'T mention anyone living. It mentioned my ongoing research, my great-grandparents, the names of their children (all long deceased) and the area they lived in.  Of course I gave contact details.  This allows any family to made the decision to contact you (or not).

You can also place a message on a community message board - may be in the last known area.  Again, mention why you would like to contact your family - frame your message so that you don't name anyone whom might be living (eg I am searching for the family of Albert Smith - I believe he may have had a son who lived in the High Street area.  My interest in finding him is that I am researching my family history and my grandfather was Albert's brother.)

I wish you luck - I have been blessed to find a marvellous group of cousins - hope you do too.


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

Dr. Bill ;-)
Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

Dryad said...

Thanks for the warm welcome Dr Bill - I like the idea of daily themes too and shall be working on that next week. Kind regards

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