Thursday, June 12, 2014

…But What If I Do?

If you ask almost any genealogist what his or her personal goals are in doing family history research, among other responses would likely be that of finding cousins. "Cousin bait," we often joke, leads to that very result. I've often claimed that goal, myself—until, that is, the threat stood up and stared me in the face.

Spending a long afternoon and evening yesterday searching through digitized records at yielded enough material to locate what may be living descendants of the 1898 Creahan and Quinlisk marriage I mentioned yesterday.

Only problem: I’m not yet entirely sure that the Anna Creahan who married John Quinlisk is actually the A. M. Crahan listed as niece in the 1880 Lafayette, Indiana, household of Mathew Kelly. Of course, the first initial sure fits nicely with a name like Anna. It’s the wildly varying dates of birth given for that Anna, over the years, which has me doubting.

Nevertheless, it was quite easy to trace a family name like Quinlisk. Before I knew it, I had rounded up an entire family constellation of possibilities.

Most of the thanks goes to Find A Grave. I simply went to that website and entered only two search terms: Quinlisk for surname, and United States for cemetery location. That gave me just under two hundred possibilities to wade through—not too bad a task for a quiet evening.

Couple that handy listing with some Google action on specific sibling names, garnering newspaper results as well, and instead of musty old reports of ancestors long gone, I found myself staring at names of people living right here and now—in one case, a potential cousin living not more than an hour’s drive from my own home. Quite a thought, considering I live a good two thousand miles from Lafayette, Indiana.

Could any of those current-day descendants of John and Anna Creahan Quinlisk tell me what I can’t figure out about their ancestors? This is my chance to find out.

That very opportunity, however, is what froze me in my tracks. Suddenly, those "distant" cousins are getting too close for comfort.

True confessions: I may be talkative, but I’m a talkative introvert. I can write pages upon pages of my thoughts and ideas, but when it comes to meeting someone face to face—or even on the phone or through correspondence—I can become almost tongue tied. I’m not given to reaching out glibly to strangers. I didn't inherit my grandfather’s gregarious southern style. I was born a northerner. It’s almost as good as in my genes. Meet me as a stranger in an elevator, and I’ll assume the polite elevator etiquette stare: straight ahead. Saying hello is just too personal a commitment. Sticking my neck out and initiating a conversation with a stranger? I’m not too sure I could pull that one off correctly, even if it were to meet a potential cousin. I’d hate to have the genealogy police out after me.

Regardless, no matter my reticence, I did send out a message to a possible cousin I found through last night’s research. Who knows what will come of it. Actually, I may be more terrified of someone answering than not answering.

Reversing roles, I’m not sure what I’d do if someone reached out to me with a stupendous announcement like, “Hey, we’re cousins!”

On the other hand, isn’t this the very thing I keep wishing would happen? You better be careful what you wish for, my elders used to tell me. Sometimes those wishes come true.


  1. I hope you found cousins of a like mind - not the introverted mind, but the sharing mind. I empathize with what you're feeling because I'd much rather have people approach me first.

    1. Definitely, Wendy! I'd rather be in that position, too. But we can't all wait for that luxury. Someone has to be the first to speak up. I don't know if "loud mouth introvert" would be considered an oxymoron, but I'm willing to step in and fill that role if I have to. But yes, I'd much rather have those proverbial cousins come find me first.

  2. I can write the emails and letters, but cold calling scares me to death. I will say that I have had mixed results. Efforts to find the living have brought me journals and pictures and I now have some really cherished relationships with some distant cousins, but I have also reached out to a few that preferred not to be found. I hope your efforts are sweetly rewarded!

    1. Michelle, I'm envious of some of the stories you've told about connecting with distant cousins! But I also think it's helpful to realize that it's not exactly a skate to summon up the nerve to contact strangers--cousins on paper notwithstanding--and strike up that introductory conversation.

  3. A cousin! Yes!! Smile and be you..shyness and all:)

  4. I was just researching down a distant line. I found 5 of the 6 children. I can't find where Clara died or was buried. I did find the burial location of Clara's only living child. The 1900 census showed Clara had 7 children with just one living. The rest had all died in infancy.

    So I found a death certificate in Iowa that I ordered for Andrew, the one child that lived to adulthood. He had married and had a couple of children. The nice lady at the recorders office sent along a probate record that had the addresses at the time (1977) for the two children. It also included the daughters married name. (good state Iowa btw, only $1.00 per copy!),

    So I use my friend google and find that same 1977 address for that daughter in a 2005 post. I decide to call expecting a "that number is no longer in service" response. I was wrong, the phone rings, it gets answered by a woman. I tell her I'm researching this family, and then I ask "is this Mary Ann?" She said, I am her daughter!!

    We had a nice chat for about 15 minutes. Unfortunately she did not know the names of her great grandparents so no help as to when or where they died. She gave me her email and I emailed a couple of things. The next day she emailed back and told me that she forgot to mention that her mother's middle name was Clara. She said thanks to me she now knows that her mother was named after her grandmother, or the great grandmother of the nice lady I spoke with. It was a great feeling!

  5. No need to be shy!!

    I found a cousin with Marshall's Navy Cap from WWI. He is a super cool guy AND he had a ton of old photos and stories of great aunts and uncles I never knew / met! The reward FAR exceeds the "pain" of getting out of the "comfort zone"!!!


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