February 12, 2021
Genealogists know that one of the best ways to fill in the branches of their family tree is to talk with extended family. That could mean almost anyone from aunts and uncles to cousins of varying degrees. It’s especially important to talk with older relatives who may soon be lost to us. For those of us who are past the first bloom of youth ourselves, many of those older relatives are no longer available. But don’t give up just because all of your older relatives are gone. The chances are that you still have cousins, and even younger cousins can provide all sorts of clues to help your research, not to mention stories about your common ancestors.
In my case, I have a bunch of first cousins, nearly forty of them. That’s a lot of cousins to try to keep track of, and I admit that I know some of them better than others. There’s a huge age span among the cousins, so I’ve tried to prioritize the older ones when it comes to contacting them. That means that some of my younger cousins, who are decades younger than I am, have been neglected when it comes to keeping in touch.
Recently, I’ve realized why my method is a bad idea. My last living aunt sickened and died a couple of months ago. During that process, her son called and texted me often to keep me informed about her progress. He’s ten years younger than I am, and I hadn’t really spoken to him since he was a child. I was glad to reconnect with him, even under the sad circumstances, and we’ve continued to email and text.
My cousin is not a genealogist, but it turns out that he treasures his childhood memories of our shared grandmother and aunts and uncles. His memories are not the same as mine since he was so much younger, but some of the things he remembers have sparked long-forgotten memories for me. I’ve begun to delve into a couple of family mysteries that the memories gave me new insight into.
It has been fun to reconnect with my cousin, and it has made me determined to try to reconnect with some of my other multitudinous and far-flung family members. I might never get around to speaking to all of my cousins, but I’m realizing that I need to talk to as many as possible. Each of them holds memories that no one else has, and if I want to know my family, I need to talk to them.
Most folks don’t have as many cousins as I do, so losing touch with first cousins maybe isn’t as much of a problem for them. But, I’ll bet most people are not in contact with most of their second cousins, not to mention their third cousins. In my case, those distant cousins number in the many hundreds so I’m sure I won’t ever be contacting most of them. Over the years I’ve contacted a few through our shared interest in family history, and each contact has broadened my knowledge of my family and my place in it.
If you have out-of-touch cousins, now is a good time to try to rekindle a lost relationship or start a new one if you haven’t spoken before. Send a text or write an email if you’re hesitant to call someone you haven’t spoken to for years. My forgotten-about cousin and I are now emailing every week or so, and we’ve been exchanging stories and photos that I’d never heard or seen before. It’s nice to know that even if the older members of my family are gone, I still have family to talk to.
Researcher/Director at Large