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  • William B. Taylor

Contacting Unknown Family

One of the great things about researching your family history is discovering previously unknown, or long-lost relatives. In some cases, you may even find details about living relatives, either through information contained in other family trees, or through DNA test results.

In my own experience, I have found thousands of ancestors, and a large number of living relatives that I had not known about as well. Some of my living relatives were discovered through my family tree on Ancestry, which I have published as "public", meaning that anyone with an Ancestry membership is able to search it. I have also discovered a large number of relatives through my, and my parent's DNA tests. I have also marked the DNA tests as public, also allowing them to be searchable.


Over the years that I have been finding long-lost ancestors, I have made contact with a number of my living relatives. Most of the contact has been by email and generally the responses have been upbeat and helpful, but that is not always the case. In fact I have had some distant relatives act rather oddly when I have made contact with them, with one relative emailing me that she is only interested in her dead relatives, not living relatives!


I have also met with several of my distant cousins, but only after a lot of email and telephone conversations. So far all of my meetings have gone well, but I attribute this to my vetting process. You must remember that, while these distant relatives are related to you, they are, in fact, strangers and you really don't know anything about them. Not all family members are necessarily upstanding and honest people (trust me, I have some relatives that I would not trust any farther than I could throw them, and for good reason!). If you dig deep enough into your family history, you are most likely going to find some less than desirable relatives, and those "bad" genes can be passed along just as easily as good ones. Remember that even felons have families!


To date I have met a dozen or so distant and not so distant cousins in person. Each of my initial meetings have taken place in a public setting (restaurant, coffee shop, hotel lobby, etc.) and everything has been just fine. Most of the cousins I have met in person I have remained in contact with, but some I have chosen not too. A couple of cousins that I met turned out to be the type of people that I did not care to associate with. I wish them no ill will, but I really do not need them in my life. This may sound harsh, but when I meet people who have ethics and morals that simply do not match my own, I know that a continued relationship will soon end up toxic. Besides, I have managed to live a half-century (plus!) without them in my life, or with me in their lives, so I think we will both be just fine going back to the way things were before we met.


It is always great to make new connections with long-lost or distant relatives, but remember to use your head when you are meeting someone, either online or in person. These people may be related to you, but until you get to know them, they are strangers!


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