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  • William B. Taylor

Reaching Out to Long-Lost Relatives

I have been researching my family history for almost 20 years. Over the years I have tried a number of different ways to research and track down my ancestors. One of the most effective ways has been through using Ancestry.com and I've been a member of Ancestry since 2007. Ancestry is not perfect - you cannot just take "hints" as being correct facts, and still must research every detail thoroughly - but it is one of the most comprehensive tools for a modern genealogist to use as they research their family.


When I signed up for Ancestry I had no idea what to expect, but over the years I have found it to be a great source of information; at the same time it can also be a source of frustration!


Not every member of Ancestry.com is open to communicating with other members, even though they may have a public family tree (as opposed to a private tree) and also may have taken a DNA tests or tests, and have allowed those results to be made public. I really don't understand those members, but to each his/her own I guess!

For those members that are open to communicating with other ancestry members, the information that they can provide about your family can prove to be enlightening most of the time, but sometimes the information that they have can be incorrect and misleading. Fortunately I have been in touch with fellow ancestry members who have been more of a help than a hinderance to my research efforts.


During the 14 years that I've been using Ancestry.com, I have had the pleasure of communicating with dozens of other distant family members on the site. Most - but not all - of them have been both helpful and pleasant to communicate with; I've even met a few distant cousins in person, and have formed some new and lasting friendships with them. It has been wonderful meeting cousins that I never knew existed, visiting them in distant lands where my ancestors lived, and sharing the stories of our different families. I find that there is something almost mystical about visiting places where my many times Great Grandparents once lived, made their lives and died. Walking in their footsteps so many years after they have left this world. Maybe it's just me, but each time I visit an ancestral land, it has an effect of grounding me - giving me a sense of belonging in this ever-changing world.


Not all of my interactions with long-lost relatives have been great, however, and a number of people that I have corresponded with, spoken to or met have left me with a sense of bewilderment. It's those interactions that may explain how families grow apart over the years, and how we often completely lose touch with other family members.


I have had several such encounters, ranging from the distant cousin who told me rather frankly that she was "only interested in learning about dead relatives" and that she had absolutely zero interest in knowing about, or meeting, living relatives. Then there was the distant cousin who had almost 100,000 ancestors listed on his tree, including Adam and Eve - THE Adam and Eve! I'm still trying to figure out who took the census he used to determine this fact if Adam and Eve were the only two people on the planet at the time.


Yet another distant cousin - one who has managed to maintain his noble titles that my family once had in spades - made it very clear that he was not interested in hearing from any relatives who were "commoners" such as myself. I didn't know whether to be insulted or to laugh when that one happened!

Still another distant cousin who owns a historic family farm back in Scotland - one that she now operates as a bed and breakfast - simple ghosted me once I was able to confirm my family lineage. I wasn't looking to take away the family farm, but I was interested in perhaps visiting the farm or spending a night there on one of my trips to the UK. Weird!


I've heard similar stories from other family members that I've communicated with over the years. One cousin went to Scotland to visit a long-lost family member only to be told "I'm not leaving you any money when I die! It's all going to so-and-so!" That particular cousin was so incensed that she left her cousin's place and flew home. She couldn't believe that someone actually thought that she had flown half-way around the world looking for money!

Luckily the good interactions outweigh the questionable ones - at least for me. Most distant cousins that I have been in touch with have been happy to share information and stories about their immediate families, and I have done the same, and I will continue to share whatever information I may have with whomever wants it. It's the least that I can do to help others uncover their family history.


With the myriad of famous relatives that I have in my family tree, I may someday meet one of my more famous distant cousins, but then again, I may not. Celebrities, politicians and members of nobility have an added layer of reasons for needing to be extra cautious when communicating with unknown strangers (and yes, you ARE a stranger even if you share family). I've had enough personal experience with people wanting something from me (usually money) and I am far from rich and/or famous!


If I do ever receive a request for information from one of my many famous distant cousins, I certainly hope that they will be part of the "nice" cousins group and not end up being a footnote in the "wish I hadn't done that!" group. Either way though, I will endeavor to respond in my usual way - with respect and a touch of class - because I think that everyone deserves to know more about their family, even if they turn out to be in the "not nice" group.


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