Saturday, July 30, 2016

Finding New Cousins

The focus of much genealogical work is tracing one’s family tree back through the generations. And I have done a good amount of that. But I also decided that I wanted to find all my Russell cousins who were still living. While finding ancestors has many challenges, finding living relatives has its own set of challenges. Some of these are (1) census records are not released until 72 years after they are taken, so many of your relatives may not be found in places like; (2) it’s a moving target – both geographically as more recent generations are much more likely to change locations, but because new family members are always being acquired through marriages, birth of children, etc.; and (3) if one of your relatives has built a family tree in living individuals are screened from view of others.

I have two fairly large documents of descendant Russell family that I have been building. One is all the descendants of my great-great-grandfather, Walter J. Russell (1852-1895). These would be all my first, second, and third cousins. The other goes back one more generation to Silas Russell (1803-1886) and contains all my fourth cousins. This latter document still has a lot of “holes” and unfinished research, so I’ll focus on the first document in this blog.

Walter was married twice. He had six children with his first wife and four with his second. However, three of these children never married, one married but had no children, and one I have not been able to find any further information on. Still that leaves five family lines to try to trace and find all the living individuals at the end of each branch. Here are some of the methods I used to fill out this extensive family tree.

Personal Knowledge

A good place to start any investigation is by recording what facts you actually know yourself. In this case, I knew all my first cousins, all my aunts and uncles, and many of my great-aunts and great-uncles. Even if I hadn’t seen some of them in over 50 years, I recorded what/who I knew and approximate ages, relationships, etc.

Phone Calls

I used to try and find phone numbers for any of the near relatives who appeared to be living in the towns where I knew them. If I could get a phone number, then I called them, introduced myself to them (for some it had been 50 years since we had communicated), then asked them about other family members.


A good source of information are obituaries which can be found in the archives of the newspapers or funeral homes where the individual had their funeral. Many of these are searchable via google and give details like dates, names of parents, maiden names, names of children and their spouses and where they were living at the time, etc.

Google Searches

Sometimes just open-ended Google searches may locate information for you. I’ve gotten pretty good at structuring searches to locate individuals.

While there are not as many resources that contain information on living individuals, there is some – if you know where to look for it. One that I’ve used on a couple of occasions is a database of all marriages in CT between 1959 and 2001. Since I, and many of my relatives, are from CT, this has been quite useful.

DNA Matching

Although I had documented what I thought were all of my cousins, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, I was surprised to find a new cousin through DNA matching.


Once I have found one relative through the above methods, I often see if they have an account in Facebook. If they do, then I look through their friend list (assuming that it’s public) and see what other people with the same last name they have as friends. I note all the ones I find and use this as a starting point for trying to find other of my relatives.


It takes a lot of work to do this sort of “forward searching” instead of the more typical ancestor searching. But the results for me have meant making connections to many cousins whom I did not know existed before and some new friendships.