Friday, February 6, 2015

Cousin Collecting

Do you collect anything?

When I was in college, it seemingly was the rage to have something to collect. I’ll never forget the time when, just before my birthday, someone asked me, “What are you into?”

“Into?” Not discerning what my friend meant, I had to ask for a re-take on that question. Apparently, the question was meant as a gift-giving query. At the time, people were “into” collecting owls. Or cats. Or sheep. While I do find little lambs to make adorable insignia, the only cat collectibles I might have been “into” would have been Kliban cats—not exactly the kitsch my inquiring friend might have had in mind. So I ended up being the recipient of various useless trinkets designed to represent caricatures of owls.

For inexplicable reasons, some of these are still in my possession.

How can I explain to inquiring friends that my sole object of collection—if you can call it that—would be cousins? Something so intangible as to have escaped the mass marketed promotional hype of that era.

Now? I’m not so sure I am the only one collecting cousins. If you are a subscriber to or or, you are collecting cousins as well. Even more so, those of you participating in DNA testing are doing so for that very reason.

So: we collect cousins. We find cousins of our grandparents. Of our second-greats. Distant cousins we’d never recognize if we met them, face to face. Duly noted, we fill our family history databases with their records and ephemera about their lives and whereabouts. You never know when a collateral relative might help you with that end run around your brick wall ancestor.

While I haven’t been publicly cataloguing my research finds here lately, behind the scenes I’ve been busily accumulating records of as many of these distant cousins as I can find. Remember, I’m the one bent on figuring out how my mtDNA exact-match mystery cousin connects with my maternal line—even though it’s quite possible the line will exceed the reach of genealogical possibility.

Though I’m not talking much about the sausage-making aspect of my genealogical grind right now, you can be sure I’m adding names, dates, and data on every descendant of my Taliaferro and Broyles lines from the point of my fourth great grandparents on down through our current generation. Sometimes, I think this is going to make a mess of my family tree database—and then I remind myself that that is what computer-driven databases are all about: data crunching.

I wince when I think back to the last time I was crazy enough to take on a project like this. I was still using an ancient version of FamilyTreeMaker, a program resident in my desktop computer—yes, the old clunker I am still, for the most part, using. When I lit upon the fact that my mother-in-law’s ancestors all settled in one isolated place—Perry County, Ohio—and stayed there for generations since their settlement in the early 1800s, I realized what a field day I could have, examining how everyone in the community was related to everyone else.

And they were. I have the records to demonstrate it. I can tell you all the ways my husband is related to himself. No joke. That, too, was how my database blew up to hold records on over fourteen thousand individuals.

And now I want to add my mother’s line to that?

I promise I’ll come up for air and let you know my progress if I stumble upon anything interesting in this quest. In the meantime just know that behind the scenes, I’m plugging away, adding Taliaferros, Broyleses and many, many new surnames to my now-cloud-based family tree.

Someday soon—hopefully—the effort will lead to connections with all those DNA matches I’ve gained from my autosomal and mitochondrial DNA tests. Even better, all this work will bring me to the point of connecting with my mystery cousin, aligning two families' stories into one.

Above: Portrait of Dr. Luis Simarro at the Microscope, 1897 oil on canvas by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I collect dust... does that count? :)

  2. Old photos, dice, marbles...way to many things!
    I am keeping my fingers crossed that you collect many cousins:)

    1. Thank you, Far Side. Whether many or few (cousins, that is), it will still prove to be an interesting journey.


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