Saturday, April 15, 2023

Ex-Husbands of Sixth Cousins,
and Me


So there I was, sitting at my laptop and working on the endless collateral lines descended from the surnames I'd been researching earlier this year—names like Broyles and Tilson, with deep roots in this country's colonial history. My self-imposed assignment was to trace each line of descent to the present day for the benefit of placing my thousands of unknown DNA cousins on their proper branch of my family tree.

Working on one family's extensive line, I made it down to the level of my sixth cousin—a suitable stopping place, since the likelihood of two sixth cousins sharing DNA can drop below the two percent mark, depending on which company you choose for your autosomal test. But I'm a greedy researcher, and my mantra sometimes becomes, "Just one more." I wanted to find the next generation for this one particular, married sixth cousin.

In the process of searching for an obituary—those tell-all documents which have become research necessities for those of us smitten with the genealogy bug—I discovered a few things. I found the coveted names of the next generation, alright, but I also discovered the sixth cousin's spouse was actually an ex-husband. Who had remarried. With a spouse whose name sounded vaguely familiar—and triggered a volley of hints on my online tree at

One of those hints was for a listing of all other Ancestry subscribers who also have that name entered in their family tree. One of those trees happened to belong to a friend of mine.

I messaged that friend to ask just how she might be related to that wife of my sixth cousin's ex-husband.

"She's my sister," came the reply.

You know we had to get together for coffee and to compare notes. After all, it isn't every day that we genies bump into friends with connections to the ex-husband of our sixth cousin.

Come to think of it, it isn't often that we even meet anyone who could follow a relationship like the one I just described in that last sentence, let alone name that person.

What a uniquely-organized world we've plotted on our digital family trees, with tools which would seem to be no more than science fiction to the ancestors whose names populate the boxes in our pedigree chart. Our research world has exploded with possibilities. The time it takes to solve a genealogical riddle has shrunken. And the closest route to a sixth cousin can be a distance as short as the span of the table between me and the friend with whom I'm sharing a chuckle over a morning's cup of coffee.  


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