Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday's Tip: Set Out Some Cousin Bait

With Steven and Carl in Wales
Last summer, I wrote about my fantastic trip to Cardiff to meet my cousins, Steven and Carl, and explore my roots around the border of Wales and Herefordshire, England. I still think of that amazing adventure often, and how it came to be.

It all started with private Facebook message a couple of years earlier from a man saying that he thought we might be related. Apparently, he found my information on a message board where I had posted looking for information on my Bartram family in England and Wales. I immediately replied to Steven that we certainly are related: we are both descended from my great great grandparents, John Bartram and Esther Meredith. Turns out message boards are a great place to lay some cousin bait...

During the last few years, I've received several such messages from people who have stumbled across my public tree on Ancestry.com, unearthed old message board posts with pleas from me to anyone who might have needed information, or found this blog via a random, or well-thought-out, Google search. Some of the people who have contacted me have turned out to not be related at all, but I'm amazed at the number of actual cousins -- LIVE cousins -- with whom I've connected and shared both information and adventures. And, all because they had the hunch, the whim, the guts, to send me a note saying, "I think we might be related...".

In addition to Steven and Carl in Wales, here are some of the cousins I've nabbed with my virtual bait (or, have they nabbed me?):

Sarah Meredith

  • Michelle, who shares with me our great great grandparents, William Calhoun Hunt and George Frances Ann Purser, and who actually got know to my very own beloved Grandma Edith (Hunt) Brittain when she'd travel to Oklahoma to visit her cousin (and Michelle's grandpa), Fritz. Michelle was my first cousin to take the Ancestry bait about four years ago, and I'm now Facebook friends with her, her sisters, and a few other welcoming Oklahoma cousins. 
  • Alan, who found me last year right here on this blog, and who shares with me TWO sets of third great grandparents: Samuel and Harriett (Boast) Bartram from Kelsale, Suffolk, England, and Samuel and Sarah Meredith from Monmouthshire, Wales. That means that we're double fourth cousins. The Bartram sons (John and William) moved from Suffolk to Wales in the 1840s and married Meredith sisters (Esther and Mary). Alan now lives in Canada, and I've had the great pleasure of video Skyping with him as well as several other of my Canadian cousins. He's shared some fantastic information with me about our ancestors, including a photo of our great great great grandmother, Sarah Meredith.
  • Leah and her brother, George, with
    my cousins, Debbie and Wanda
    Leah, who also found my blog and is a distant cousin via my Harriman and Veale line. The two of us had to work to figure out just how we were related because the Harrimans and Veales also stuck close to each other (lots of brothers marrying sisters from the other family), and they had the annoying habit of recycling first names: Clara, George, Elmer, George Elmer -- you get the idea. As it turned out, Leah also knew a couple of my mom's first cousins in Kansas and was looking to reconnect with them. I was happy to oblige, and when they got together later that year, they sent photos of their fun day as well as of my great great grandparents' graves and even a wonderful photo of my great great grandmother Margaret Harriman Veale!

  • Bob, who found my tree on Ancestry.com and shares with Alan and me Samuel and Harriet Boast as our third great grandparents. It turns out Bob lives in Reno, NV, which isn't all that far from Oakland, CA. I went up to Reno one weekend this past October to work on President Obama's re-election campaign, and Bob graciously invited my friends and me to meet him at his home. We had so much fun with him and his roommates that evening. It's amazing how quickly we connected with each other over our shared family ties. We're still sharing information and pictures with each other (I see three new emails from him in my inbox right now), and I can't wait for our next visit!
    With my cousin, Bob, in Reno!
  • Reva, who's great grandfather, Arthur Bartram, was the nephew of my great grandfather, Joseph Bartram. Arthur was the oldest son of Joseph's oldest sister, Louisa, who was also the great grandmother of my Welsh cousin, Carl, and the great great grandmother of Carl's son, Steven (from my Cardiff trip, above). It really is a small world! Reva emailed me the first photos of my great Grandpa Joseph that I had ever seen, and I'll always treasure those. We're also both trying to solve the mystery of the story about how Joseph's (and Louisa's) father, John Bartram, may have died at sea
  • Jennifer, my fifth cousin on my Brittain line, is a cousin that I actually reached out to in my quest to document my Revolutionary War patriot, Nathaniel Brittain, for my DAR application. She's the cousin who originally inspired me to write this blog. Jennifer writes two excellent blogs that you should visit right now: Climbing My Family Tree (excellent cousin bait!) and Sergeant Major Mom
  • Susan is a first cousin who was looking for information about her mom's biological father, and found him right here on this blog. I don't want to spoil the surprises in this very personal story, so look for it in another blog post (probably later this week).
And, there's more where that came from! All because I laid out a bit of "bait" -- in the form of information and queries -- on the internet. 

So, why would you want to set out your own cousin bait? Because getting to know live cousins not only helps us to flesh out the details and solve the mysteries of our ancestors, but it lets us really feel like we are part of a larger world family. It inspires us to think about our immediate family as well as our ancestors in new ways. It connects us in ways that we could never imagine, no matter how far apart we might live. 

So, my challenge to all you family historians out there: take a chance and reach out to someone who just might be one of your distant cousins. Comment on a blog post that you found interesting. Post a burning question on a family search message board. Send a message to a potential distant cousin via Ancestry. Start your own blog about your family research. Strike up a conversation! You never know who might be able to help you break through a brick wall in your research. And, more importantly, you might meet some really cool cousins that also end up being life-long friends. =)


  1. I LOVE cousin bait!! And I'm so happy that I caught you!! :)

  2. I love that you caught me, too, Jen!! I can't wait to meet and hug you one of these days, too!

  3. I've found a few cousins through my blog and via ancestry - it's the best feeling ever! Through one of those cousins I was able to see the beautiful face of our 2nd great grandmother which would never have been possible if we hadn't connected.

  4. Wendy, so glad to see you back...I have missed you! I got brave last year and wrote a note on Facebook to someone I thought was a distant cousin. Turns out that I was right and she is going to share a family history with me that may clear up some questions I have. It would never have happened if I hadn't taken a chance. I figure that if it bothers someone they don't have to respond.

  5. Hi Debi and Heather! So great to see you both, too!! And, that's so sweet that you missed me, Heather (I'm blushing...)! Glad to hear that you're both using cousin bait, too. It really is fun AND rewarding. Hope you're both well, and congrats on your new finds!