NOTE: This post is being republished on Elizabeth O’Neal’s My Descendant’s Ancestors blog as part of the August 2017 Genealogy Blog Party.
More than once I’ve been asked how I find distant cousins – those living today. Some I find because they also have an interest in the family history, while others are found through online databases, obituaries or social media sites. It is just another way of finding a missing piece in the family tree puzzle.
This is a topic for which there will be no examples since those found are living. Individual names aren’t important here anyway, because basically, I just enter names in different search engines and sites.
To make the jump from someone likely deceased before the internet age to a living descendant, I will use sites like Ancestry and FamilySearch, hoping that the 1940 census listing might give some clues as to a married name of someone still living.
I will check the Social Security Death Index, but even with less common names, unless I know more about the person besides their name (like an exact date of birth or at least the month/year), this isn’t one of the more helpful sites. This link is to the database offered for free through FamilySearch, but it is also available by subscription on Ancestry.
Here are some of my sources, in no particular order. Where I look first depends on who I am looking for:
I always use free, public databases. The two that I use most often are pipl.com and switchboard.com. If I am lucky, I can find not only a current address, but a working phone number. Often, the phone numbers have been disconnected.
I also use FamilyTreeNow, another free search database. There are numerous complaints on this site with people claiming they never gave permission for private details to be posted online, but I think this company just collected multiple databases of public information and combined them all.
This is NOT a typical “genealogy” site in my mind and, although there is a button in the top right to create a family tree, I would not choose to do that.
Although it is said that “everyone” uses social media, that isn’t true, especially if the person is over 50. Of course, “the” social media site is Facebook. If the person’s name is very common and I have no idea where they are living, FB isn’t a good option. If I think I know where they live or the name is a bit more rare, I often have success. However, I’d say my success rate with Facebook is maybe 50-50. Sometimes I find people, but when I do, they tend to be younger, still working types, not old retired people like me!
I always use the two big search engines, Google & Bing. When I search for names here, I often add “obituary” after the name. That has brought up many clues that turned out to be the bread crumb trail that I needed to find someone.
Dogpile is another search engine that has been around for years. Different results come up with different search engines, but I’ve actually found leads here that didn’t come up with the “big 2” above. I was trying to locate a girl who was a couple of years ahead of me in elementary school. I found an obituary for her father, who died a couple of years ago. It mentioned that she predeceased him and gave her married name. I couldn’t find anything else about her life or death, but Dogpile turned up an obscure site that listed donations made in the names of domestic violence victims. Her name was on the list and it was rare enough that I am sure it’s her. It also had a link showing she died back in 1975, in her 20’s.
FindAGrave is actually a lot more helpful than you would expect. The gravestone itself isn’t much help, but more and more of the memorials have transcriptions of obituaries included. They are a huge help in finding living family especially if you don’t subscribe to any digitized newspaper sites, which I don’t.
Most of my searches are fairly successful. Sometimes, I can’t find a current phone number (yes, I often pick up the phone and call), so I’ve been known to actually mail off a letter via snail mail.
If you are trying to find living cousins, try various combinations of these sites. You just might find who you are looking for.