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24 Jan 2011

Finding lost cousins: the power of the internet

This second post is in response to Peter Calver's posting on Lost Cousins.com.

I fully endorse the importance of contacting living relatives against the impotence of transcribing public records which have already been indexed.

The one-stop shop for me to locate distant cousins is 192.com. I have been happily using this site for years. I recently traced a relative to the Sevenoaks postal area. The address format was House name, road name, village name, town name (Sevenoaks). It didn't take long to establish the cousin lived in London Road, West Kingsdown. I then had dozens of relevant postcodes to try followed by ten or more possible house names, but I got there. Many times people opt out of the electoral roll but the phone book reveals they're still at their 2002 address, or nearby. I do a cross check to ensure that the phone book entry doesn't refer to another family listed elsewhere on the roll.

In the good old days 192 would serve up the full postcode if you just guessed the first three components e.g. TW10 8. Also you could guess place names by their format try this one XX. XXXX-XX-XXX, XXXX. But that wasn't ideal as in those days the postal area and county were not shown, so it could be a long hunt.

A later bug on 192.com meant you could copy and paste the concealed address into Notepad and the full latitude and longitude of the address would appear. That was an early Christmas present from the company.

I still use the site and have two useful tips for family history searchers:

1) In some browsers you are not restricted on the number of searches you can make. This helps when you are trying to find someone but have limited information.

2) That by monitoring where your cousin appears in the ranked list of results, and having a local streetmap at your side you can work out in which cluster of streets your relative lives, with just a few searches. I use Proviser to get all roadnames from a given postcode prefix.

I have heard back from a woman in New Zealand who has overcome disability to secure paid work for herself (a true heroine). She was shocked and excited to learn she had family in England, and we can now put her in touch with her uncle here thanks to these four sites:

a) Genes Reunited for helping me find Ellen, born 1852 in Buxton, grandmother of the two siblings. Very hard to find because she married four times nowhere near her birthplace.
b) 192.com for providing the address of the uncle's daughter in Cheshire at no cost
c) NZ government for the death cert for the long lost sister, who had married in that country
d) Google for an address for the niece in North Island

So get in touch with your cousins today!

Finding lost cousins: the strength of weak bonds

The Lost Cousins website is terrific. I am 'agnostic' about the matching service itself, as I'll explain. I avidly read the regular newsletter which comes out in good chunky quantities. I am perhaps destined to be a late adopter of the website.

I find the most rewarding research partnerships come from finding cousins who haven't got years of experience, as these are greater in number and much more likely to have a dormant or incomplete profile on Genes Reunited. I have posted over 120 letters to new cousins I've proactively sought in the last year, most residing in England, most found through either an address at probate or a search for free at 192.com, and importantly, most replying. On LostCousins I found two relatives who match my attributes rather precisely, middle-class, administrators, web savvy. Whereas what provides the synergies in research are acquaintances you barely know, the 'strength of weak bonds', so called. And what could be a weaker bond than 6th cousinship! I have dined like a prince next to Queens Park golf course, had a personal tour of the Free Church N2 and to show it's not all posh, carried an inebriated (lost?) cousin up the steps of his tower block shortly after he confided some valuable information to me in the pub. So these weak bonds powerfully opened the doors to new terrain.

I prefer to be pro-active in my research. I hunt for specific cousins on Genes Reunited who are most likely to be able to help. I've even extracted data from Genes where the cousin themself was reluctant to tell me anything. They hinted of their descent from a couple, Mr and Mrs Smith, who I knew were uncle and niece. Despite the common name, from the information publicly available on Genes I was able to discreetly identify the line of descent, though I've no wish to alert them to the irregular marriage.

My goal is usually to identify a good cousin, who is likely to reply to my letter, and then to retrieve a mailing address for them and write to this warm lead.

20 Jan 2011

I run the Virgin London Marathon for charity - help me raise £1700!

7 Jan 2011

pubs, gyms, parks, churches, roads, closed... but not the mighty pen

this has been a very long Christmas, betwixmas with an interminable crawl back to civilisation following the nadir of New Year's Eve. And so it has proved useful to have 24 letters to pen to new cousins around the world. It takes something of military planning to create and despatch these packages but I shall expect a rich return when I do. I ploughed through all my notes from this Christmas's bumper plunder. I tried to pick a shortlist of one person from each twiglet of the tree. My Swansea Harrises yielded 8 new cousins. My Salisbury Taylers served me 4 new correspondents, Cornwall, Derbyshire and Somerset fished up 4 each across sundry other lines. Many of this last group were the result of intensive work to bring mid Victorian forebears down to the current generation. I especially salute 1) the Times which let me work around Lt Col Hudson's service overseas with the 9th Gurkhas 2) UK phone books on Ancestry which gave me the initials of E H Pearce's
widow in Somerset 3) the LMA marriage records on Ancestry which found me the missing Broad sister, Louisa's, nuptials and thus her offspring hitherto unknown to add to a colourful tree.

3 Jan 2011

Taylors

My aunt gave us a treasure trove of photographs a few years back.  One of these was cousin Joyce's wedding photograph in the Gower peninsula.  We had no idea of the date but I eventually found the marriage record, and Joyce herself, in 1999.  Her mother was one of my Grandpa's large Taylor clan, born in Swansea around the time of the 1901 census.

This last Christmas I decided to sit down for a day or two and worry away at the Taylors.  I've made one or two positive identifications and found several possibles.  I'm proudest of John Jones who lived in Pierce Street Queensferry and married Ellen Louisa Taylor in 1920 - I even have John's date of death (5 Jan), and now an address for his great-grandson. I may have stayed up till nearly 3am.

This could have been a frustrating task as Joyce wrote only a brief letter, told me a few cryptic points on the phone and now, I sadly see, died in 2005.

Update: her major clue, which at the time seemed like wilful withholding of data, was the firstname of her cousin 'in North Wales'.  Believe it or not, this firstname was enough for me to locate her cousin, twelve years later, in her final years, and from this source get all the missing information, and much more.