Finding distant relatives (who are perfect strangers) on the net.

After looking in a genealogy forum I saw a couple of links to sites by people who share a common ancestor with me. It was strange looking at people’s websites and seeing their pictures and thinking that they were really my very distant cousins. Yet, they don’t seem related at all. For instance one of them is into rowing. No one in my family will come near a boat! And another is a math teacher??

Anyway my first impulse was to write them and say “I am your __th cousin, since we share the same great great grandmother…” and all of that - but then I hesitated. It just seems odd that an email could patch up a century long breach in a family history.

Who knows, maybe there is some natural reason why we end up ‘with distant cousins’. Maybe I am treading on someone else’s family affairs that do not involve me. Then again, I assume if people put pictures of their dog and Uncle Bob on his motorcycle in a webpage - they do it with just these sorts of developments in mind.

Anyway, I doubt I am the only one here who has done this. Any experiences?

I found a distant cousin through a magazine. He wrote an article, and I noticed his last name. Long story short: I called him, and we subsequently became very good friends/relatives.

A friendly email sounds fine. Just don’t expect too much.

Perhaps they’re “distant” cousins simply because the relationship wasn’t close enough to maintain contact, not because there was some family feud. I’m not even in touch with my first cousins, much less those less closely related, but that’s simply how my family is, there’s no bad blood there. But I would be interested in getting an email from someone who was a relative of some sort, because I would find it interesting to hear from someone I didn’t even know I was related to. You’ve got nothing to lose by dropping them an email.

I found a distant relation while trying to trace my family tree. Looking for “Tillotson”, I found “The Tillotson Project” (sounds like a conspiracy title!) which is the web version of my nth-generation photocopy of a mimeographed document that traces my father’s mother’s ancestry back to Richard de Tilston, born about 1096.

The last direct ancestors of this fellow and myself were Samuel Tillotson (b 1758, d 1848) and Sarah Partridge (b 1769, d 1846).

Oh – obviously, “this fellow” refers to the guy I found on the 'net and not Richard de Tilston! (But hey, what’s 750 years anyway?)

I’d definitely do it. What do you have to lose with the e-mail? They might know intersting stuff about your family that you would never find out otherwise. I posted my family tree to a Jewish geneaology site, and got a number of e-mails from all kinds of people, including several of my mom’s second cousins who she hadn’t seen since she was a kid and had lost track of. It was really nice. I also heard from someone who grew up with my grandfather’s sister, and got in touch with a lady who has a family tree with over 2,000 people on it, and she’s quite possibly related to my grandmother (uncommon surname, same area of what is now Poland), although we haven’t figured out the exact connection yet.

The best part: a complete stranger e-mailed me, asking if I was related to one of a list of names. The names were unmistakeably those of my great-grandmother and her oldest 5 children, It turned out that the lady had ordered a microfilm for her own family tree, and was generous enough to contact everyone on the board who had listed one of the other family names that appeared on the same page.

The document turned out to be a record of the ship ticket my great-grandfather, who was already in the U.S., purchased for the wife and kids to make the trip across the pond. New info on the microfilm: the family’s address in Poland before departure, the great-grandfather’s address in the States, and the name of my grandmother’s older sister who had died before my grandmother was born. My grandmother hadn’t even known for sure that this child existed. She was in tears of joy that someone had cared enough to help her learn about her family, since she is the last survivor on her mother’s side and lost much extended family in the Holocaust.

Anyway, I recommend pursuing it. You never know what treasures you might find!

My wife is into contacting “long lost” relatives and has enjoyed it to no end. As a matter of fact as an adjunct to her emails and letters to these people, she keeps getting us invited to reunions all over the country.

I sort of buy into my father’s philosophy more, however. “I’m not especially impressed with most of the relatives of mine I do know. Why should I go looking for ones I don’t?”

Back in oh, 1998 or so, my mother stumbled across one of her mother’s cousins that she grew up with back in the day. They weren’t distant cousins but they weren’t like, 1st cousins either.

Anyhow, she came to our family reunion that year, and turns out she’s a geneaologist too. She brought scads of information with her, some branches going back to the 1400s. It’s like finding her added a thousand names to our family tree.

Email your relatives and say hi. Couldn’t hurt.

I have routinely found and contacted 2nd cousins on the Net doing genealogy research. Got a lot of info, pictures and such about common ancestors. Cool stuff.

I have discovered much further removed folk but don’t see much contacting them. If they don’t know my great-grandparents from a hole in the ground, I probably won’t find out much of interest.

I’ve contacted distant cousins as well (there’s scads of them, being descended from German farm families who always had least 10 kids), most of whom have done a lot of genealogy research, so I don’t have to!

I’ve had nothing but good luck sending e-mails and letters to them. I was lucky enough to visit a small town in Germany (that these people had found out about through their research) where my earliest known ancestor lived in the 15th century, and people I met there recognized my last name. It was a really neat experience.

So go for it!

Not only have I done it, but I do it all the time. My family tree contains over 8,000 individuals - mainly because I spend so much time networking with newly-found distant cousins and sharing the results of all our research.

Probably the best one I ever located was a woman named Linda, married to Frank. She lives in Melbourne (I live two hours from Melbourne), and the family connection had been lost over the years due to the shiftyness of our shared ancestors. Her Grandmother was my Great-Grandfather’s half sister. Now, she has been a veritable goldmine of information (she was raised by her Grandmother), and she has given me so many old photographs and letters that have made all the names in the tree so much more real. With her assistance, I tracked down my Great-Grandfather’s only full sister’s descendants, and it was such a pleasure to talk to them - due to said shiftyness, they had no idea that they had any living relations in the world, and were astonished to discover they had hundreds of cousins living at the other end of Australia.

Best of all, having spent 7 years of my life trying to trace my elusive great-great grandmother, Linda and Frank gave me a framed portrait of her. I can’t tell you the feelings that went through me when I laid eyes on her for the very first time.

Family history is very rewarding, but the best bit is sharing it with others, and exploring mutual connections. Chances are your cousins will be overjoyed to hear from you, and you may be able to help each other out with some tricky bits. Chances are that there never was any family rift as such, just time and distance caused people to lose touch. And frankly - most people don’t remember the rift or don’t care about it when it’s a couple of generations removed.

I wouldn’t mind finding my half-sister. The only problem is - I don’t know her first or last name, how old she is or where she lives. All I know is that she’s my father’s first child and we share the same birth date [January 8th / different years, obviously]. Does anyone know how I would go about finding her?

Broken Doll I’ve seen a few “adoptees searching for biological family” websites out there. I have no idea how legit they all are, but I’d expect that you could find one that is a legit database that’s national. I assume you’d have to shell out some cash though.

I was vaguely poking around one of them once because I was curious to see if someone was looking for me, Long story made short: my father is listed as the “father” on the birth cirtificate of a child that was not his (married a woman who was already pregnant by her first husband who’d divorced her suddenly). So one day my mom started wondering if the child had ever gone looking for the parents listed on the birth certificate.

I did find a website that has our family tree. I encourages, corrections, submissions etc. I sent an e-mail to help update our branch (I’m not listed at all and they have both my deceased grandfather my deceased father listed as being alive.) Never heard back from them and the website was never updated.

I did once get a firendly e-mail from Germany from someone who had the same last name. We’re not related, but it was just a friendly “hello” for kicks. I answered back with a friendly “hello” of my own. We never correspond though.

Oh, yes do it. Nothing ventured nothing gained and maybe more lost.

I don’t know how interested you are in genealogy, but once people start writing you with stories of family members, you can get hooked really fast.

I got hooked 5 years ago and now I’m getting good at family history stuff.
If you don’t know how to start, a site called “Cyndi’s List” can help.
If you post a few questions on GenForum message boards, you’ll be amazed at what you get back. Sometimes it can take a few months but it starts you on an adventure. Before you know it, you’re going to want to visit some of the places. Just don’t take everything at face value. Sometimes, people want exciting stories to tell that they kind of change facts and dates and make connections that aren’t really there. And there are a lot of reputable sources to check the stories out with.

I heard from a cousin I had never met. He wrote me after seeing familiar info I had on a web page. I was thrilled to hear from him! He sent me a picture of my dad when he was 5 years old! That was a thrill. He and I each had answers to the other’s questions so we were able to share family facts and complete our histories.

It’s worth the effort.

Mr. S’s grandafther “vanished” in 1926, and no one knew what happened to him – until last summer, thanks to the Internet. We went to Canada last fall and “reunited” Mr. S’s uncle with his half-brother, and visited his grandfather’s grave for the first time.

Here’s a link.

So, yeah, go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Here’s another vote for making contact. I too have met cousins through genealogy on the net. The worst thing that can happen is that you won’t get a response.