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Connecting with Cousins

Posted by Juliana Smith on July 23, 2014 in Juliana's Corner
20140723ValandDave

Val and Dave with the photo of Catherine Huggins, March 2012.

For years, I battled with the decision over whether to make my tree public or private. What if there was something wrong in it? I do a lot of my research offline and a lot of my pre-computer research resides in binders. I’ve used that and more recent research over the years to construct timelines in Word documents that I use for analysis, and while some have been hung on the tree, there just never seems to be enough time to get everything out there. So why make my tree public in an incomplete and possibly imperfect state?

Simple. Cousin bait. I wanted to see if there were other people out there working on my family. So I took the plunge and for years my mom and I waited. And waited. And waited.

How was it possible that no one was related to us? There had to be another family historian somewhere. It’s in our genes!

Finally, one day we noticed that someone was attaching records from our trees to one of Mom’s paternal lines. Could it be?

It was a lovely lady named Val, and after reaching out to her, it didn’t take long before we figured out that our most recent common ancestors were William H. Dennis and Catherine Huggins. Val’s great-grandmother and my mother’s great-grandfather were brother and sister. Whoohoo!

So we started exchanging notes, and then one day we noticed that we were getting hints to a photograph of Catherine Huggins in our tree. Catherine was an Irish famine immigrant and her story is a pretty compelling one. Her parents came over without her and two of her siblings in 1844. I found an arrival for the three children in 1849. That meant the children, aged 7, 9, and 11, had ridden out the famine in Ireland while their parents were here in the states. I can’t imagine having to leave babies across the ocean and then knowing that this horrible tragedy was unfolding around them. The children all survived the trip, but nearly 9% of the people on that ship perished.

I had always marveled at the strength of that family and now, thanks to Val, I have a photograph of Catherine that I can look at whenever I feel like I need to draw a little strength. Her story makes our troubles seem kind of trivial.

Best part of it all, though, was a couple years ago when we were traveling to Val’s home state for a nearby speaking engagement. We were able to meet Val and her husband Dave and had a lovely dinner with them. It was my birthday and she made me a delicious cake and we shared stories that had been passed down through our families. It was a wonderful evening and one that we hope to repeat someday soon.

We’ve also had other cousin connections, including a gentleman from Massachusetts who shared a photograph of my mother’s aunt. That aunt had helped Mom launch her research back in the 1970s, and although they communicated by mail, they were never able to speak to each other or meet in person. Our first glimpse of that aunt came through that photograph.

So if you’ve been sitting on the fence, trying to decide whether to make your tree public, don’t wait for “perfect.” Get working on it and put it out there. There are cousins out there waiting for you.

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