How Basic Ancestry Research Can Introduce Cousins Around the World
How I Got Started on Researching My Ancestors
I have cousins around the world, and it was the last thing I ever expected to discover when I started researching my family tree. (Note: all names of living people have been changed to protect their privacy.)
I had always been vaguely interested in learning about my ancestors, but had never had the time to start looking. This is unfortunate, since by the time I did get started, my parents and grandparents had all passed on; I had lost invaluable sources of information. However, I do have a good memory for conversations held over the years, so when I finally did start, I had some facts to go on.
What finally motivated me (and so many other people) was the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?" I watched a couple of episodes two years ago, and then awoke one Saturday morning with a little free time available. "Hm," I thought. "I think I'll log onto that genealogy site and see how it works." (The two-week free trial period was another inducement.)
It Only Takes a Few Facts to Get Started
The facts I knew for sure were my parents' names, birth dates, and places of birth; all four grandparents' names; and four of my eight great-grandparents' names. I started my family tree with that information. I also remembered my dad saying that a lot of the women in his family had colorful Irish names like Minnie Kelliher and Maggie O'Grady. I didn't know where they fit in, so I tried entering them as my dad's grandmothers.
As I was filling in some minor details, I suddenly noticed I had a message on the site from someone whose name I didn't recognize. "What does he want?" I wondered. Hesitantly I opened the message and found a cheery note beginning, "Hi, I'm Tim Ralston, and I see you're related to Margaret Grady, who married Frank Maher in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1885. My wife is Margaret's great-grand-niece, and we have all kinds of information about her family..."
I jumped right out of my chair. I had unwittingly entered my two great-grandmothers' names in the correct places! The "O' " in Margaret's name turned out not to belong there, but my dad had gotten the rest of the information correct. Tim had been researching his own and his wife's families for many years, and proved to be a gold mine of knowledge and documentation on Frank and Margaret's branch. He had birth, baptismal, marriage, and death certificates, census records, and even knew where Frank and Margaret were buried, as well as many of their relatives.
Cousins from Ireland and Australia
The Maher/Grady branch of my tree was growing, but I hit a dead end on my dad's other grandparents. I contacted my dad's youngest and only still-living sister, who confirmed that their names were David Allman and Minnie Kelliher, and told me they'd immigrated from Ireland. She had been trying unsuccessfully for years to find out more about them, and I initially had no better luck.
Remembering my happy encounter with my second-cousin-by-marriage Tim, I thought I'd leave a message on the site's message board asking for information about David and Minnie. Three months went by without a response, and I'd nearly forgotten about it when one morning a message appeared. It began, "David Flynn Allman is my great-great-granduncle," and was sent by Harry O'Shaugnessey of Dublin, Ireland. Another cousin! (I immediately called my aunt, screaming, "We've found David! We've found David!") Harry is his family's historian, and provided the Allman history back to David's grandfather, John Almon, in the mid-1700s. In addition, he had dozens of old family photos which he generously shared with me, a wealth of information that included pictures of the house John Almon built for his family, Rockfield, which still stands today. My aunt remembered that her mother, May (David and Minnie's daughter), had named their vacation cabin "Rockfield," but had never known its significance to her family.
While my aunt and I were still celebrating these discoveries, I received a message from a Phillip Bailey in Australia which began, "Hello, Daniel Allman was my great-great-grandfather..." Daniel Allman was David Allman's father, and therefore my great-great-grandfather as well. David's older brother, John Daniel, had emigrated to Australia, and Phillip, his great-grandson, is therefore my third cousin. Phillip has provided my aunt and me with photos and a great deal of information about the previously undreamed-of Australian branch of the family.
Two More Irish Cousins
As happy as we were to have found the Allman branch's information, my aunt and I were frustrated by our inability to find anything about Minnie Kelliher's parents or history in Ireland. This time it was an unknown American cousin who came to our rescue. I was working on another branch of the family one day when I received a message from a Grace Donnelly, who introduced herself as the Irish-born niece-in-law of "91-year-old Uncle Eamonn who lives in Dublin..." Eamonn, to my delight, turned out to be the grandnephew of Minnie Kelliher and a prodigious historian in his own right who could answer all of the questions my aunt and I had had about Minnie's family and history. (Lots of happy jumping up and down and more phone calls to my aunt.) He also had photographs of David and Minnie from before they emigrated to America.
An American Cousin on Mom's Side
Identifying my mom's ancestors proved equally challenging. I remembered Mom telling me that her father's family was of French descent, and that their family name had been changed from Dutour to Cadore after the first one arrived in the United States. In later years my sister found a family photograph of mom's father's family, and Mom identified her father and his siblings, but couldn't remember her grandparents' names.
While surfing the net shortly after my mother passed away, I googled my grandfather's name to see if anything came up. I gasped when I saw a post left on an early version of the genealogical site beginning, "Have any of you run across a Dutour-Cadore family member?" It went on to give the names of Mom's maternal grandparents, Frank and Heloise Cadore, as well as her father and his siblings, so I knew I had found my great-grandparents. I saved the information, and when I began researching my family tree in 2010, I plugged it in. Not long after, I was contacted by Penny Barlow, whose husband, Fergus, is the great-great-grandson of Joseph Dutour-Cadore, which makes him my third cousin. Penny and Fergus are Civil War enthusiasts, and were able to provide fascinating information about the Dutour-Cadores during that period.
American Cousins From the German Side
With help from cousins around the world whom I had previously not known, I had now identified and found considerable information on six of my eight great-grandparents. The remaining two were my mother's mother's parents. I had once asked my mother what their names were, and she replied, "Charles and Bertha Schultz. Mom used to say it was Christian and Bertha, but that's ridiculous!" Why she thought it was ridiculous I don't know, but after researching dozens of pairs of Charleses and Berthas, none of whom was right, I tried searching on "Christian and Bertha Schultz" and found them immediately in the 1900 Federal Census, with my 11-year-old grandmother Agnes listed beneath them.
I couldn't find much else on them, though I found a possible listing for Christian's grandparents as "Michael Schultz and Anna Czolbin." I couldn't find any verification of that, though, until I was surfing the web one day and googled their names just for the heck of it. I was delighted to find a posting asking for information about them, and contacted the poster, who turned out to be yet another third cousin, Diana Wenn. Diana is also a family historian, and kindly invited me to visit her in Indiana. I did so last year, and she introduced me to a dozen more Schultz cousins, most of whom live in the area where our German ancestors settled. They all had information on the Schultzes, and two of them provided old pictures of my grandmother as a girl--and, which seemed to me nearly miraculous, of Christian and Bertha taken in Germany before they emigrated to the United States. Diana also took me to two small country cemeteries where I found the graves of all four of my mother's grandparents, an experience that profoundly moved me.
Cousins Can Make All the Difference
I started my family research with a few names and little idea of finding anything else. The discovery of cousins on three different continents helped me fill in the gaps on all eight of my great-grandparents, even providing pictures so I could see these people whose lives led to my grandparents, my parents, and then to me. If you are considering starting your own family research, but have little to go on, don't let that stop you. Take it from me--you never know what you might find!