Finding Family the New-Fashioned Way

When I first started doing genealogy, I didn’t even realize “it” had a name, or that I was doing “it.”  I am truly the accidental genealogist.  I simply wanted to find out something about my father’s family.  He died in a car accident when I was in grade school and we didn’t live anyplace close to his family.  I think the nesting instinct had set in.  I was pregnant for my second child.

I did discover some information, but that ended with the memory of older family members.  And then, my genealogy endeavors took a decade long holiday while I finished my master’s degree and other life events happened.

One day, I saw an announcement in the newspaper that the local Mormon Church was having a genealogy workshop.  They invited you to bring your sticky problem and come on by.  I took that same child with me that evening, somewhat apprehensive about the session being a “trap” to get folks into the church.  The Mormon people never use genealogy as a way to entrap non-Mormons – so no worry there.

As genealogists have discovered, one discovery leads to two at least more questions. I was hooked that night at the Mormon church.  We found the marriage record of my Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy on microfiche.  I still remember the awe and thrill of that moment, looking at that scratchy old record.  Anyone who asks when you’re going to be finished with your genealogy just doesn’t understand the blank noncomprehending stare they receive in reply.

What I expected to find, after my initial foray to find some living relatives, was history.  I didn’t expect to find a lifelong obsession.   And I had no idea I’d find other, more distant family, that I would become very close to.

My cousin Daryl comes to mind.  We met over the internet researching a common family line a decade ago.  She has become my sister-of-heart and my travel companion.  In fact, here’s a photo we took, trapped inside a cemetery in Tennessee.  Thankfully, it WAS fenced and the fence was between us and the bull, even if we were trapped inside.  I’m still not sure if that bull was unhappy with our presence in HIS field or hopeful of adding us to his harem.  Yep, these are things you only do with very close friends or family!  And what great memories we’ve made.

Angry Bull

I was thinking this morning about how genealogy has changed.  For years, we wrote letters.  Remember watching for the mailman to arrive and running to the mailbox?  I surely do, especially when you had written someplace for a record and were expecting its arrival.  All genealogists knew exactly what time the mail was supposed to arrive!

As time evolved, the advent of e-mail has been a huge boon to genealogy.  Now, we very seldom write letters and we interact in the space of minutes or hours with new and old cousins.

I’ve also stopped trying to quantify “cousin.”  If we’re related and not a parent/sibling aunt/uncle niece/nephew, then we’re “cousins,” kin, and that’s all that matters.  With the advent of DNA testing, I’ve discovered I’m “cousin” to more people than I’m not!  My, how the world has both grown and shrank in one fell swoop.  I am so very blessed to have so many genealogically discovered cousins, here, as well as many who live in other countries – Marja in Finland who I met in November, David in Australia, Doug in New Zealand who I met up with in England, John in Japan, Yvette in the Netherlands who I’ll meet this year, and the list goes on.

The next big connector was and is Facebook.  Now, the first question you ask a new cousin is “are you on Facebook.”  While e-mails are personal, directed to you individually, you can get to know your cousins on Facebook in another way, by watching what they do and say.  I have a new cousin Loujean, discovered just before Thanksgiving.  We are Facebook friends, and I think I know her better than I know my nieces and nephews who are not on Facebook.  And yes, I’m dead serious.  I have no idea what those nieces and nephews are doing, but I can tell you all about Loujean:)

So, now I’m curious about your experiences with both genealogy and genetic genealogy.  Aside from the answers to historical questions, has genealogy or genetic genealogy enhanced your life by adding people to your list of family that you care about?  Has it changed your life?  If so, how?  You can answer the polls below, or leave comments, or both.



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41 thoughts on “Finding Family the New-Fashioned Way

    • LOL Why do non-genealogists think it’s so creepy to be excited about death certificates in the mail? It’s not a death of a loved one that I’m just now hearing about, after all. It’s just a stronger connection to a family member I already KNEW had passed on and who I probably never met in person….

  1. I met my friend through genealogy when she responded to a query I made about some siblings of an ancestor of mine that emigrated from the Netherlands to the US. She’s a third generation Dutch-American of 100% Dutch descent. She’s researching the same group of people as I, just from the other side.
    My friend lives in Wisconsin while I live in the Netherlands. We met for the first time in 1995 and several times since then. She is my honorary sister to me and aunt to my son and she was a witness at my wedding in 2010. It was great fun that she was finally herself recorded in the civil registration in the Netherlands, after doing research in that source for over 20 years.

  2. So, since I do match Vannoy (distantly), but not Estes, maybe that is why our DNA has not matched up yet!!

  3. I keep expecting to discover we are related when following your blogs we share so many similarities. I have enjoy and learn so much fro what you have written.
    Thank You for sharing your adventures.

  4. In the dark age of internet genealogy…1990s..I made contact with three individuals researching MOREFIELDs. We used ICQ to chat…remember that? One day in 2000 someone suggested we bring all our files and have a “meet and share” of our various bits and pieces of research. We decided to meet in IL, where one individual had access to his local historical society building on the two days it was closed. There were 12 of us, including spouses, who met and later got together, for several years to do research in VA, KY, and NC.
    With the advent of DNA testing, this group has discovered that three of the men, who met in 2000, share Y-DNA. Now we’re trying to unravel the autosomal relationships. I’m sure we’ll solve everything this week. 😉 Thanks for your DNA lessons, Roberta.

  5. Just curious cuz do you like what you know about me so far? As I’ve seen it we both like quilts are both animal lovers and live to travel. Let me know if you’ve found more in common.

  6. Genealogy has meant my very life to me as I suffered through personal turmoil. Beyond that it has continued to bring me a depth perception of a different kind and degree than sighted vision could ever provide. I meet the best people in the world and I let them know I love and care about each one of them – and them, me. We need a new “Love” logo for genealogy!

  7. Hi Roberta, When I received my Family Finder results from FTDNA and was immediately awash in matches. My husband and I have a lot of Quaker ancestors from three different locations. Their ability to keep amazing records plus the inter-marriages between their groups, have kept me overwhelmed with new cousins who share multiple lines of descent with our family. As I have worked my way through the list (Surprise!) I found a listing for your name – range 3rd cousin – 5th cousin, shared relationship 35.17 cM, shared surnames McKee, Cook, Holmes, Hunt, Gilkey.
    Last summer you and I briefly exchanged messages on ISOGG about my Native American 4X great grandmother . Researching my Native American ancestress has been sidelined temporarily due to all the wonderful new cousins. Sadly Family Finder found no Native American, but 23 and Me found just the smallest sliver of West Asian- Native American,about what I thought it would be.
    (Gladys) Mae Betts Canaga (One more cousin)

  8. My adoption records were opened in 2011, at the age of 70. After researching for 4 months, I was led to the one relative who put me in touch with my brothers, that I didn’t know I had, living only 4 hours away. My birth mother had passed 6 years previous. I cannot imagine how long it would, or maybe never would have happened, had I not had access to the computer and Ancestry. Oh yes, the boys didn’t know they had a sister. As my birth mother was 13 when I was born, and having to open her past, maybe that was her reason for not telling them. We’ll never know. My oldest brother has become my rock and my best friend. He is bitter because he feels our mother took me away from him. I love him dearly.

  9. While my ongoing traditional research continues to roam the rabbit warrens of decades and centuries past, revealing real lives of my forebears, I am only beginning to utilize the DNA tool. I had my Mother tested a year ago and myself last spring. Hope to have a brother agree to testing with the handy y chromosome as family lore backed by documentary evidence says we hale from quadroon stock of New Orleans and the West Indies at the turn of the 19th century. My paternal line dates back to 1739 in the West Indies. The Bacusa family were allegedly from Genoa, Italy, engaged in the merchant trade business. Genoa’s jurisdiction was shifting back and forth from Italy and France during that time thereby supporting the theory the Bacusas were French in language and culture. They likely sought out fortune in the new world. Imagine my delight upon the discovery I have a “cousin” living on Genoa! While I have yet to establish contact, this DNA evidence suggests strongly that the legend may well be true. Great Stuff.

  10. Roberta:

    You have already heard some of this…

    Since I have looked at my birth family lineages I have found the Corlee family in Norman, Oklahoma. Michael and his brother Christopher, and their 90-year Dad Lloyd are my cousins. Michael matches me at FTDNA FF as a 3rd cousin with a 93.75 cM. Michael actually found me on and then tested. We have exchanged photos of our common Rawls family, mostly to my benefit since they actually have the birth family photos. I have not talked with Chris, but he knows of my connection. Lloyd calls me frequently, and we will have about an hour long chat.

    Here are some research notes on Lloyd, born in 1923:

    “During World War II, the group’s predecessor unit, the 306th Bombardment Group was the first operational bombardment group in the VIII Bomber Command. It was stationed at RAF Thurleigh, England from 6 September 1942 until 25 December 1945, the longest tenure at one station for any one Eighth Air Force group.

    Lloyd M. Corlee, MSGT, was part of the maintenance crew for the 324th Bomb Squadron of B-17s.”

    What an honor to speak with this cousin in my birth Mom’s maternal line!!

    In my birth Mom’s paternal line, I have visited James Ray in Metropolis, Massac, Illinois, and he has helped me greatly—actually drove me to my birth Mom’s grave after I found she had been buried in Massac County. I met James through Ancestry, as well as our mutual cousin Susan Compton Carpenter who found and sent to me an original photo of my birth Mom at about 9-months. Susan lives with her husband in Washington DC on a boat in the Potomac River, and they spend time in San Francisco. I have not confirmed with them with DNA.

    My cousin Phil Harris and his wife Judy found me through Ancestry, and I have confirmed my birth Dad relationship with Phil through my birth papers. Since Phil is a 1st cousin to my birth Dad, he is a leading candidate for autosomal testing at FTDNA, but I have not mentioned this to him. He and Judy have sent me photos of my birth Dad, and visited my home in Kentucky. Phil needs to do more DNA testing to confirm his probable Jewish connection.

    I have not had any confirmed success connecting paperwork with mtDNA, although I have one full connection, and now two one-step connections.

    I am currently awaiting my Big Y I1 results and my Y-DNA matches most closely with the FTDNA Oakes Project group 6. There is no paperwork success here, but it is a great small group. Floyd Oakes project administrator was thrilled to see my Y-DNA results.

    Frankfort, Kentucky

  11. I started back in 1998, I was 70, just trying to find out about my Grandfather who died before I was born, I didn’t ask my Dad
    either as I didn’t care when I was young. I was the youngest of
    8 kids. Live in Alaska, born in Iowa. I therefore started at age
    70; 1st Darnell from England in 1688 to Maryland

    the Mormon Church also, My Grandfather was born IL.; my
    first Darnell migrated to MD. from England in 1688. Since then
    I have been filling in the ancestors, I an idicted
    the Mormon Church also. I got a good start, then to the message boards. My first Darnell migrated to MD. in 1688
    from England

  12. Thank you for your kind words about the Mormons. As a 40+ year researcher and LDS Church member, my wife and I served two missions working 40 hours a week for months alongside hundreds of other volunteers paying their own way to selflessly serve our worldwide genealogy research community. Why? Because we take the scripture in Malachi (Old Testament) seriously that mentions turning the hearts of the children to the fathers. And what a rewarding time it’s been for Linda and me. It’s been especially rewarding for me since I discovered genetic research and people like you, Roberta, who are just as serious in selflessly volunteering your time to help others. Though we try, we can’t possibly thank you enough for what you do. And thanks for the survey. It was educational.

    • Hi Ron,

      I’m not Mormon, but I have nothing but good things to say about the Mormon people. I have worked with and known many volunteers on missions, like yourself, and loved them all. I have a great respect for them and what they do I think that as a whole the world would be much better if we all adopted the Mormon mission policy, regardless of our faith. Now I have a funny story to tell you. I was in the Hawkins Co., TN archives for a DNA presentation I was giving there a few years ago. There was also a Mormon retired couple that had been there for a couple months filming boxes of records. They attended the sessions. Afterwards, I was sitting down at the table at the archives talking with the volunteer staff there, and the Mormon gentleman says to me, “I think you’re the smartest woman I’ve ever met.” He was looking at me, but I was looking at him and his wife was sitting beside him, so I could see her face too. Let’s just say that from the look she was giving him, there was going to be a discussion about what he said later that evening:)

  13. Roberta,.
    I had always planned on tracking my family, but my husband and I raised a lot of kids, had a business and lots of hobbies, priorities and a faith that we rely on for direction. We lost a infant early on and that may have added to our freedom of choice in the # of children we had. It was a choice that made us work hard to keep them on the path to exploring their own horizons while hopefully keeping a toe tied to the soil.
    We lost a daughter in her 20’s in 2000. I cannot begin to tell the devastation and impact of that event on the entire family. We suddenly grew more interested in each other, gave more hugs, made more time for each other, but I also had trouble sleeping and keeping my mind on track and not settling into depression.
    One of my daughters bought me a Family Tree Maker program that Christmas. My 11 year old son and I would set in the dimlight in fromt of the computer and hunt for ancestors, and sources and such. For mothers day, the family bought me a subscription to Come the next Christmas, I was given some CD’s on different census reports and State Historys that I wanted to explore, again and again, looking for crumbs.
    The whole finding family process, showed me that my life was not bad compared to the ones who have went before. We face the same, growth and challenges, migrations, job changes, branching familys and lost loved ones, usually under friendlier conditions than they had. You come to have
    a bonding with them, the ones that strike you as, a little shady, the stuff shirts, the freeseeking mountainmen, the soldiers and their left behind wives, the multi tiny graves.
    At some point we started combining pleasure trips with research for me, and other interest for my husband, mostly in the south.
    I remember especially One evening standing on in a hilltop cemetery in Missouri, watching the shadows grow in that peaaceful place and the feeling that I had, because the majority of people in that cemetery were related to me or my relations in some way. It was like comming home, Somehow. this is me, little bits and parts of my ancestors, seeking a better life, and holding on to memories of the past. Let it ever be. I am so much more patient with life, understanding that it all comes, the love, regret,hope and heart. These are my people, and I am in some way them
    I have met more family long distance than I ever dreamed. I have had long chats on the phone, listed to their take on life and gave them mine. I am enriched. A lot of people just don’t get it. But for those of us who do, and will do, it is simpley awe inspiring wonderful and with out end of questions or wondrring. One find is worth years of work!
    Boy, I wish I could make more finds with the FF TEST! LOL!
    Tell me Roberta, is it sensible, or not necessary that we would each have a segment for our “big eight” surnames? Or do even those, possibly get lost in that first generation. I have several kits out and am still floundering. Oh I have 7 or 14 hits out of over 2000 choices, but that is not the best odds. I have people from various familys to show which line it may or not be in. A percentage anyway. So how do I find those eight marlkers of my lines?
    There are so many names in my matches that are becomming so familiar to my ear. How do I keep them straight?
    Your blog has been a wonderfull help and a welcome reassurance many times.

    • Than you for your comments. I loved them and can so connect with what you’ve said, especially standing in the cemetery. As for your results, your best bet to figure out who is related to you through which lines is to test your closest cousins on your various lines. For example, my grandfather’s brother’s daughter has tested on one line and when I see someone match her and I, I know for sure which line they match me on. On my Dad’s side, I’ve had several cousins from various lines test. It helps a great deal because when I see a cluster, and I know the genesis of some who are in the cluster, I can then assign it to a particular family line.

  14. I have communicated with many ‘cousins’ through both traditional genealogy and dna related. But some of the best fun I ever had was stoning in the mountains with a cousin who found me through findagrave. I mean, how often do you find someone who will hang out in cemeteries with you – all day? And eat gas station pizza for lunch! I met up with another cousin at a Panera’s Bread while she was on vacation and only a couple of hours from me. Panera’s has free wi-fi and the others eating there didn’t seem to mind that we hogged it for several hours. Of course, we did eat there while visiting. I’m still looking for more cousins to meet up with!

  15. Roberta,
    As a young child, I constantly asked my grandparents about their families and lives in The Old World. I started my genealogy research when I was pregnant with my first child. That was over thirty years ago. Since then, I have traveled as far away as Europe to visit the hometowns of my ancestors and to meet cousins that I had only seen in tattered photos. I have loved every moment that I have spent in cemeteries and archives. My children were quite excited the first time they went to a cemetery with me. I was thrilled. My children liked genealogy! After we walked around and found the correct headstones they asked, “When does it happen?” “When does what happen?” I replied. “When do the ghosts come out?” I finally understood their excitement about the cemetery trip; it was not due to genealogy. I also taught my children how to scroll through microfiche viewers and put in a nickel to print the screen shot.
    Genetic Genealogy has opened my world! I have met some amazing cousins and dear friends. My children used to tell other folks that their mother thought she was related to everyone. Genetic Genealogy proves that if you go back far enough we are all related!
    I have heard you speak at the annual FTDNA conferences. I read your blog as time allows. Keep up the good work! Thanks for all you do to feed my obsessive hobby!

  16. I’ve only done one DNA test so far – the one – and although I’ve tried to contact the people on there, I’ve had no luck in anyone responding back to me. But I do watch that mailbox like a hawk still. I still order my death/birth certificates through mail! 🙂

    • I don’t have much luck at Ancestry either. You can transfer your results to Family Tree DNA for $69 (I think) and you can upload to GedMatch for free. Your response rates there will be better.

    • I’ve done tests on both Ancestry and Family Tree and have actually had much better luck with people writing back on Ancestry. In the last seven months on Family Tree I’ve only had three people reply to my messages. One thing that bothers me about Family Tree is hardly anyone uploads their tree. Plus the trees that are uploaded you are unable to see the siblings….only direct lines. That’s frustrating.

  17. Boy can I related to both ICQ chat AND having keen hearing tuned to the mail truck! LOL Guess I’m telling my age there eh?! LOL

  18. I met my cousin and best friend in early 2009 because of DNA testing. I had just tested my McPherson uncle and she was planning to test her brother, she emailed me to see if we would test and I told her it was already on order, we held our breath together during the wait. Her ancestor was difficult to prove to our OKA because he was not mentioned in the will or other property documents. They ended up matching. And we became fast friends. We still haven’t met in person, I have had seven surgeries since and couldn’t really travel but we plan on meeting in the near future. The funny part is that I had been in email contact with her aunt for years and my great aunt and her aunt had exchanged letters through the years researching together. It’s great to meet new cousins but another thing I love is to have dna matches to ones you have been doing research with for years.

  19. Roberta, I loved reading your story on getting started into family history research. I was hooked at the age of about age ten and I’m now 66. My mom kept one of those ‘baby books’ for me and in the middle sections was a family tree back to all eight of my great grandparents (although one turned out not to actually be a genetic g-grandparent). Mom was thorough too and I was enthralled with it practically memorizing every name, date and location. Life got in the way and I didn’t begin actual research until I was in my mid-twenties. I can remember spending hours in front of microfilm rolls, making that first discovery and laughing out loud. The man sitting next to me doing research too just turned and smiled. He understood. There were times my two-year old son sat between my legs and played while I researched rolls of microfilm.

    I can also relate to tromping through cemeteries with my husband sometimes in very strange places. There was even a farmer in West Virginia who took us across fields on a four-wheeler to get to a cemetery. My husband is very sweet about it but basically not interested in genealogy himself. Plus, he gets that blank, uncomprehending look from me when he asks when I’m going to be finished with my research :-).

  20. My little family tree (3400 people) started when I was trying to fill in our son’s baby book. Thirty five years later I am still at it.

  21. I have a very unusual Irish last name of O’Guin. Growing up in the military we traveled a lot, and the first thing we did in the new town was to check the phonebook for other O’Guins. I have been a member of Ancestry from their beginning. Over time I noticed postings on the O’Guin message board from a man I’ll call “H”. I posted several messages asking him to contact me because I had a copy of a letter that I knew he would be interested in, but either he didn’t see them or he thought I was a nut job. Finally we connected by way of Facebook, of all places. He only friended me because our last names are the same 🙂 He invited me to the family reunion that was to take place in St Louis last July, but I could not make it on short notice. I brought up the subject of the letter again, and he said “Give me a call anytime, I am retired and home during the day”. As I am also retired, I called him. I asked if he remembered a time when his father John was contacted in St Louis to meet another O’Guin during the 1940s. He said YES, that he, as a young boy, had accompanied his father to that meeting. He asked me how I knew that! I said the story had been passed down in the family how this other O’Guin wanted to meet the John O’Guin from whom he had received a letter saying he (John) worked at the Post Office and knew of the other O’Guin family. So they set up a meeting. When the man saw John O’Guin he turned and left, without saying a word. John O’Guin was black and my great uncle Lester was white. I apologized for my long dead uncle Lester. I told him I have a copy of that letter that was written by his father and if he wanted a copy of it, I would be thrilled to share it.
    We have been great “cuzins” and friends since, emailing back and forth. He mailed in a dna kit for me to FTDNA yesterday. He descends from a John O’Guin who owned “H’s” great-grandfather in the 1850s. We both want to know how his John and my Hardy intersect. We both want to know which county in Ireland we are from. I want to return to Ireland again and walk where they walked, see what they saw.

  22. Hi Roberta,
    I am a male and would like to find my father or at least some information about the paternal side of my family. My mother does not know who my father is. I have been trying to research this a little on the internet and it seems like I could find out some info using the at home DNA tests but I am really not sure which one(s) to try. Should I use an autosomal test or am I better off using a Y DNA test? I’d appreciate any help with this. Thank you.

      • Thanks so much. I see that the combination of tests is $268 on the website. Is there one you would recommend I start with and then if I need more info, to do the other? Or do you think it is absolutely necessary to do both right off the bat? I’m new to this stuff and I admit I’m a little afraid to spend all the money to come up with nothing. I do, however, understand it’s a chance I’d be taking. Thanks again for your help.

        • You won’t come up with nothing. But you might not come up with exactly what you expected. The Y line may give you a paternal surname. The autosomal will give you people you are cousins to. Very different results and objectives. You can have no matches on the Yline and hundreds on the autosomal – just depends on the DNA and there is no way to predict that.

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