November 13th, 2013

The Rudeness That Is Genealogy

I have a really big, really developed tree over on ancestry.com which exists partly as an easy place for me to work and do research, but mostly because it's a way to attract the attention of people who are related to me but don't have any other way to get in touch. Some of the genealogy community has a term for this: cousin bait.

I got a blunt message on ancestry.com: How closely are you related to [one of my deceased uncle's]. The person who sent it had a massive tree -- with no detectable overlap. The profile looks like it belongs to a lawyer in Burley, Idaho, who might be Mormon. Hmmmm.

So I sent back something true, but which didn't compromise anyone's privacy and which was intended to make sure we were in fact talking about the same man, and got an explanation: this is the genealogist friend of someone who would like to establish some limited contact with the extended family.

Turns out I have a cousin -- a _first cousin_ -- that I didn't know existed. This is the classic Mystery Relative: the kid born in a marriage you didn't know ever happened.

So I called the uncle's son, to find out if this is even true (I believed it -- it just made too much sense, even with no supporting documentation). He told me that when he was a kid, he and his siblings snooped around and figured this out, so when my uncle was dying and he divulged the Big Secret, well, it wasn't really a Big Secret. My cousin is unsure who outside his immediate family might know about this. I was calling to find out whether he wanted to establish contact; there's a distinct lack of current enthusiasm, which I would expect. Seriously: reconnecting with long-lost/missing/mystery relations is the definition of Fraught. It never goes well, at least not at first.

I also called my sister -- who knew none of this. I checked the Family Register for that side of the family. My uncle lied (by omission) to his uncle, when Aron was compiling the little book. Not a surprise. I feel like I saw an index entry about this marriage a year or so back on ancestry, and wondered if that was my uncle or someone else with the same name, but can find no indication of that index entry now.

So I'm now ready for the next step: start calling my cousin contacts around the rest of the family to try to piece together who knew what when. If this is anything like grandma's Too Early Babies, or her parents being first cousins, there will be a lot of, what? What?!? Fun! In an extremely rude sort of way.

I hope my newfound cousin is willing to connect with me in more detail. I love getting to know my extended family, whether that's via e-mail, phone, FB or other. And I love that technology makes that _possible_, when for so many generations technology mostly just made it easier and easier to run away from each other.