Monday, June 20, 2011

Cousins I Never Knew I Had

For the relative-deprived, there is nothing like finding a new cousin. Truth be told, that was one of my hopes when I started family research. Besides one sister, the only relatives I had of my own age when I was growing up were mostly a few cousins-once-removed—which is a concept rather difficult for an eight-year-old to wrap her head around during a summer weekend at the lake.

Somehow, I took that prejudice with me into adulthood, and into my adult endeavors in genealogy. I had read somewhere that, if you are willing to post your family tree on your website, relatives you never knew you had will flock to you. I, however, had no appetite for getting into the technical side of the internet and no intention of developing my own website, so I was out of luck there.

Plodding along at my own research, though, I stumbled upon a way to still be found by those unknown relatives. The answer came, courtesy of those genealogy forums I so appreciate.

When I’m stuck on a research problem, I post queries—those short S-O-S posts for genealogical “HELP!”—on two sites: GenForum, a site now hosted by, and the Rootsweb subscriber lists. (Now that I’m an member, I also use the message boards provided by Ancestry and merged with the material freely accessible through Rootsweb.)

What I didn’t realize—well, my head knew it, but somehow it didn’t drop to the heart of my operating system—was that those posts are archived and searchable for years to come.

One day, someone from the Gramlewicz branch of my father’s family sent me an email. Though my Gramlewicz relatives were in America in the early 1900s, this one particular branch had decided to return to Poland, and this person was a descendant of that line. Though she was born in Poland and spoke the Polish language, as a student she had decided to learn English. One day—and this whim hits a surprising number of people—she got to wondering about her family’s origins and Googled her surname to see if she could find anything online.

All those pockets of queries on different surnames and geographic locations that I had posted hither and yon over the years, still aggregated in online archives, found their way to this Polish descendant. Hoping that she could make a connection, she found my email address in the archives and contacted me.

How fun it was to go through the checking process to verify that we were, indeed, talking about the same ancestors! And how wonderful to hear the other side of the story from her perspective.

Of course, the hits are not always right on target. I’ve gotten a number of emails over the years from hopeful researchers desperate to fit my square peg in their round hole. Sometimes the wish is so great to make the fit work! But even the lessons learned from mistakes can be valuable.

I think the farthest-removed relative I’ve met online was a ninth cousin—talk about wrapping your mind around the “once removed” concept!—and this woman from Poland is a third cousin once removed. Besides requiring me to get my relationship lingo down pat, it’s been great fun making connections with relatives I never knew I had.

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