Sunday 10 February 2013

Sentimental Sunday - how Cousin Catching has changed

A fellow blogger has posted that a previously unknown cousin has contacted her via a comment on Google+ due to her blogs.  That's the best kind of comment for a genealogist I should think and the excitement that would cause must be very similar to the buzz we used to get when we found one obscure record in a Archives after a day of searching through microfiche and musty documents.

It made me wonder how our hobby has changed over the years with the growth of the Internet, sites like Ancestry and Find My Past and, of course, blogs.

Way back (goodness I sound old ... it's only 20 years for me though) when I first started this I joined an assortment of Family History Societies and posted help wanted/offered and family links adverts as recommended.  Living in South Yorkshire but having most of my own family from the North East I joined the Northumberland and Durham FHS and the Cumbria FHS to begin with.  I remember the thrill of seeing my words in print and the nail biting wait to see if anyone would answer.  Several people did - and many letters and packets of certificates and census images crossed in the post. Remember this was pre the days of the census on the internet - you could only get local census records at your local libraries - the only place to go for the whole country was Chancery Lane in London.

I would return the favours by looking up family in Sheffield Archives for people who wrote to me and I joined the Sheffield FHS.  Most of my first husband's family, the family of my children, came from Sheffield so I made more links through that society.  Another  society I joined for that family was the Isle of Axholme FHS, and I wrote my first ever article for them in 1997.

It strikes me, going to the various websites to collect the URLs for this post, that Family History Societies haven't changed that much over the years, despite their very professional looking sites.  They sell information on CDs and DVDs now instead of in paper booklets, and Members' Interests are available on the web instead of in the journals, but in the main they remain experts on their locality and the prime source of information and links for anyone with family roots in their area.  Being volunteers they are willing to give time to queries that local studies librarians just can't afford, and the spirit of getting the knowledge out there so more and more people can access it has not gone away.  Recently I was sent a CD of burial records by the Walker Churchyard Memorial Group which has helped me find out a lot more about my Harle ancestors in a place that I'm not ever likely to visit - it being 120 miles from here and having no real ale pubs for the OH that I can see!

I posted my own family trees on the web some years ago.  This was after an abortive trial of Genes Reunited one quiet pre-Christmas lunchtime at work, which resulted in people contacting me to say they must be related as they had a Mary Taylor in their tree.  When I asked which one, as I had at least twelve scattered across the country from Carlisle to Castleford, they soon lost interest.  Posting my own info meant that people could see what information I had and would only contact me if they were really sure.  Not that I'd rule out Genes Reunited again one day, but I'd post a small segment of a tree, fishing for some particular links, not the whole lot this time!  I've also tried Lost Cousins - a site where you enter your ancestors as they appeared in 1881 and if anyone else has the same entries they can contact you.  I did get one real contact from that ...

It's probably me, but my cousins don't stay caught - I'm not very good at keeping in touch with people, except possibly on Facebook, and that is often a step too far for older relatives and friends - they've heard too many bad things about it.  I have a couple of FB friends who are also cousins  - but we rarely exchange genealogical information these days.  I never did enjoy those first meetings with a new cousin over a cup of coffee or whatever - far too scary for me.  However a regular exchange of letters was something warming and pleasant to look forward to.  I think I lost touch with a lot of penfriend cousins when I went back to work full time in the early noughties.  I just didn't have the time to write chatty letters on a regular basis and email was only just coming into use.  Scarily some at least have passed away now - that's the trouble with a hobby that attracts older people.

Sometimes I succumb to commenting on people's trees on Ancestry - especially if they have something about my family so totally wrong it's worrying.  I hit on someone on My Heritage who claimed to be connected the other day - but she had the wrong town, the wrong occupation and one family member dying before he was born.  I don't think I've ever had a response to those comments.  They probably think I'm a nosey busy body, but I'm just trying to help!

A friend asked me last week how he could send a stamped addressed envelope to Canada in attempt to contact a cousin - of course British stamps wouldn't be any good, did I have any ideas?  I suggested an International Reply Coupon - I remember them from the 'olden' days.  However it seems they have been discontinued in this country at least so it was back to square one for my friend.  I think he's going to write anyway, with fingers crossed that the cousin either a) has an email address and responds that way, or b) is interested enough to stand the postage back to England for the reply.  So what is the accepted way of cousin catching by post these days?

In my own family a possible cousin contacted me yesterday (or the day before - the brain is rather fuzzy this week) about Frederick Elstob Hutton, my 3x great grandfather.  I think he must have found either my web pages or this blog, but he didn't say which, making it hard to know what to send him, but I duly replied with links to all the relevant bits of both.  I haven't even had a swift 'thanks' or a 'I'll get back in touch when I've processed this info'.  Ho, hum.

Update 14 Feb 2013: this gentleman has been in touch now and thanked me - but also says he's too busy with work and caring for grandchildren to take up genealogy in a serious way ... so I guess he won't be buying the certificate we need to prove/disprove the possible link.  At least he wrote back. 

To be honest it did take me over a year to update the Micklethwaite information on one of my web trees after a contact from the relevant One Name Study.  But that's because it was on my ex-husband's branch which isn't at the top of my to do list.  A recent contact with a closer cousin resulted in some extra information and some requests for deletions that I did within a day, so I'm not always so tardy.

We put everything out there on the Internet to try to attract people, but they dip in and out at will, taking what they want and making little effort to check their information and the sources.  I do worry about the mess we are creating for our own descendants, will they believe everything they see on the web 'cos it's in print so it must be right?

All in all I think Cousin Catching has become a much quicker, sharper experience than it was in the days of adverts in magazines (that might take months to be published), big brown envelopes in the post and postage stamps (60p for a First Class stamp yesterday, I had to lean on the Post Office counter in shock!)  I still don't want to actually meet my cousins but a more regular exchange of information on the latest hatches, matches and dispatches would be nice.  


Unknown said...

I hope that anyone that comes along and shares your information appreciates the time, money, and love that you have put into all your years of research. I have been at it less than a year, but it has become a total obsession. I work at it everyday. I can't imagine how many hours you have put in with over 20 years of work.


BarnsleyHistorian said...

Thank you Betty,
It's been a great therapy for me over the years, something to keep me busy when the children were small, an incentive to get some qualifications (Open University), which in turn got me a better job when the children grew up. And now I'm sort of retired it's gone back to keeping my brain from turning to jelly! But you're right - definitely an obsession ...