When I started composing this post in my head, I intended it to be about cousins – I’ve had some remarkable luck over the past couple days in breaking down a brick wall through the generosity of a far-flung cousin who was willing to share some information with me. This is one of several times I’ve made contact with a distant cousin since I started my genealogy research, and every time – whether brief or a more lasting connection – it has always been wonderful and helpful.
But then I started thinking how lucky I was that I live in an age of technology that allows us to find such cousins with greater ease in the first place. When I read the letters of Phineas H. Howe, so many of them begin with ‘I rec’d your letter dated ______’, and I wondered why – until I realized that, as often as not, the letters would begin with ‘Forgive me, I never rec’d the letter you refer to from this past winter, I never meant to ignore you…’ These letters were only written 150 years ago, albeit in a part of the U.S. that was still considered ‘Wild West’ country – Idaho in the 1860s and 1870s, but the mail system then was less than reliable. Mail often simply never arrived. In one of the cases, I have letters from Phineas and one of his sons who joined him out West written to the other son still in Maine, Osborn, wishing him a swift recovery from an illness. But when I look at the dates on the letters and the date of Osborn’s death, I realize he was already dead before those letters were even sent. So slowly did word travel in that era, and so tenuous were those connections and the passage of news, that we forget how out of touch parts of the world were with events happening elsewhere.
Today, we not only have radio, telephone and television, but we also have the Internet, Skype, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, E-mail, cell phones, GPS…it’s impossible to imagine being as disconnected as they were. This is sometimes a curse (like when one wishes to go on vacation and really try to disconnect from the office…), but also a blessing. It’s much easier to find people and keep in touch. The internet has allowed me to find several cousins from both sides of the family, especially Ancestry.com’s Member Connect service. As part of that service, when others use the same records I’ve used, it tells me about the activity, and I can keep an eye out for people working on ancestors that I’m stuck on.
Just two days ago, Ancestry’s Member Connect service notified me that someone had added information on a woman I was stuck one: Lusana ______-Gibbs-Germiquet-Audiss. I didn’t know her maiden name (it’s Bell! :)) and lamented of ever finding it. And then the wonders of modern technology helped me connect with a cousin that had a scrap of paper that turned my brick wall on its head. Simple as that, it was busted, smashed and obliterated. I had done the research to connect Lusana to the Gibbs and Audiss family but could get no farther back. This cousin had the paper with the names of her parents and grandparents, but it was more akin to hearsay than fact to her until she saw my tree. So, while I may be wary of those addictive shaky leaves, these are the times I appreciate them immensely! Collaboration with a newly-found cousin and helping one another to make connections that were nearly impossible alone is what makes this sort of technology so worthwhile in these applications. Could we have found each other without it? Could we have gotten back farther without sharing that information? Maybe and maybe. But it would’ve taken a lot longer – and been a lot less fun. This week, I found a new cousin and a new genealogy friend, and today’s amazing technology helped me do it. I’m grateful for both.
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