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24 Jan 2011

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, 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.

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