Connecting With Cousins Without a DNA Test

Genetic genealogy is wonderful, but it shouldn't be the only of connecting with cousins. Here are some "old school" methods that can yield results.

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Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 12

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and most other podcast apps.)
Length: 15 minutes.

The Benefits of Connecting With Cousins

Connecting with cousins can be one of the biggest boons to your genealogy research. I don’t mean just finding a previously unknown first cousin. Even making connections with second, third, or fourth cousins has its benefits. 

The first benefit is problem solving. It’s like the adage of many hands making light work. The more people you can get working on a problem, the more likely you are to come up with a solution. You have the research that you’ve done. Combine that with the research that those cousins have done, and you can end up breaking down some brick walls.

The second benefit: You never know who ended up with the family photos or the family Bible. Connecting with cousins can help you uncover those treasures.

DNA has opened up so many possibilities for genealogy. Any more, it’s often the first way that we think of when we try to connect with cousins.

But that only works if the cousins have also taken a DNA test and you have your results in the same place.

As wonderful as genetic genealogy is, DNA shouldn’t be the only way we think of for connecting with cousins.

Facebook

Find Facebook groups and pages that match your research interests. Think about states, counties, ethnicities, and other ways that you might describe your ancestor. Look for pages and groups of genealogy societies, historical societies, and libraries in the areas where your ancestors lived. 

Look also for Facebook genealogy groups that aren’t affiliated with a society or library. Do a search in Facebook for something like Fayette County Pennsylvania genealogy.

Before you post any questions or queries, be sure to read any group rules. Also spend some time lurking to get a feel for the group before you post there. It’ll help you better understand what types of posts and comments are expected in the group. Also read through the posts that are already there. You never know, a cousin might have already posted something!

FindAGrave

FindAGrave is most often used as a place to find your ancestor's burial place, but it's also a great place to leave and find cousin bait. If you know where your ancestor is buried, make a memorial for him or her. On the memorial page, there will be a link to your profile.

If there is already a memorial, leave flowers and a comment including your relationship. “From your 4th-great-granddaughter.” Make sure that your profile is set to accept messages from other FindAGrave users so they can send you messages. 

Flowers that I left on George Debolt's FindAGrave memorial. People can click on my username and leave a message. 

Even if you know where your ancestor is buried, look for his or her memorial on FindAGrave. Contact the person who created the memorial. Also read through the flower comments to see if any of them appear to be related. 

Genealogy Societies

If you belong to a genealogy society, check to see if they publish queries by members. If so, take advantage of it! Submit a meaningful query. Make sure that it’s relevant to that society. Be specific with who and what you're trying to find. Rather than “I’m researching the RAMSEY family in this county,” be more specific. “I’m trying to identify the parents of James Ramsey, who was born in Adams County in 1802. He married Elizabeth Frost. They had three sons: William, Michael, and Thomas. James died in Adams County in 1874.”

Some societies have member directories, where members will list the surnames of the families they are researching in that area. If you’re a member, submit your information and be sure to look up your surnames to see who else is researching those families.

Online Trees

I encourage you to put a public family tree out there. You don’t have to put everyone on it and it doesn’t have to have all of your extensive notes and sources attached to it. At least have something out there so that when someone does a search for your ancestor, your tree pops up. Your cousins can’t find you if you keep everything to yourself.

Don’t stop with just publishing your tree. Look at other people’s trees. If someone has an online tree with your ancestors in it, contact them! Be specific about who it is you have in common. “I see you have Philip Mason and Martha Hibbs in your family tree. They are my 3rd-great-grandparents. I descend through their son Eber. I would like to connect and exchange information with you.”  (By the way, Philip Mason and Martha Hibbs of West Virginia really are my 3rd-great-grandparents and I really do descend through their son Eber. If they’re in your family tree, contact me!)

Also take a look at people who attach photos and sources. We talked about this in episode 10 when we were talking about the FamilySearch family tree and how you can see who attaches photos and sources to people in the tree. You can do something similar on Ancestry. When someone attaches a source or a photo to someone in their tree, you can see who else had attached that same source or photo. Also think about the Smart Matches on MyHeritage. Contact those people!

Publishing Your Genealogy

Publish something about your ancestors. This method takes a bit more effort, but it can pay off big time, especially since it’s one of the longest lasting forms of “cousin bait.” 

It doesn’t have to be a book if you don't want it to be. You can do a blog. Blogs can be a very effective way of setting “cousin bait.” Someone doing a Google search for your ancestor could come across your blog.

Another place you can publish something about your ancestors is with the genealogy society in the area where he or she lived. As a former genealogy society newsletter and journal editor, I can tell you that editors are usually thrilled to get items they can publish!

What you submit doesn't have to be a full-blown biography or a multi-generational report. Do you have a family Bible? Submit a copy or a transcript. You could recap your ancestor’s Revolutionary War pension file.

Have you ever solved a brick wall or untangled two or more people with the same name? Write it up and send it in. Not only is it cousin bait, but it also is a way that you can preserve your research for future generations.

DNA is fine and wonderful, but it isn’t the only way we can connect with cousins. I encourage you to put these old-school methods into your genealogy toolbox. What methods have worked for you?

DNA tests aren't the only way of connecting with cousins. Here are some old-school genealogy tips for finding those relatives. #genealogy #familyhistory

4 thoughts on “Connecting With Cousins Without a DNA Test

  1. Amy, the one that we used to find ALL our genealogy cousins: finding letters or cards in the file of the names of people researching the same ancestors and writing letters to them and then arranging a meeting. Long before the days of the internet and everything you posted above, this was how it was done. This is how we met all genealogy cousins and we still keep in contact with many today, who have become friends as well as cousins. There was genealogy before the internet and doing it the old-fashioned way still pays dividends. Thanks for all your great work. We have enjoyed hearing you speak in person several times. Anita

  2. Hi Amy,
    Great podcast! Coincidentally I just connected with a fifth(!) cousin via DNA results whose ancestral line I did not have going back to her paternal great grandfather. Finding an actual cousin at that distance is a really great experience.

    I have had contact with relatives via Find-a-Grave and Ancestry Trees, and I will share your podcast with my relatives who are also searching. Cordially, Chris

  3. Amy, I have used the contact shared ancestor approach. My paternal grandfather was one of three brothers but I did not know any further back than that. Turns out his father was one of more than a dozen! I sometimes have something like an obscure obituary that I share with a distant cousin for their direct ancestor, or news for one that her grandmother was a published poet in the Yiddish press as well as in volumes of her own work.

    They sometimes are so distant or the only connections are by many marriages but have still met some fascinating friends this way.

    Hearing what they do know about the families and communities of their parts of the mishpocheh (closest I can come is “extended family”) helps my understanding of my parts. The sharing eniches us both, though.

    Ben Karlin
    St Louis MO

    Researching Rajcyn/Reicin/Reizen/Rice of Chernichow, Ukraine
    Karlinsky/Karolinski and Feldman of Yanow ad Pinsk and Motele, Belarus
    Everyone of Kolonya Yakowlewo, Poland (subsumed by Hutava, Belarus)

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