Category Archives: Finding Living Cousins

Finding Living People: Here’s How I Do It

Most of the time genealogists are busy hunting for dead people and there are many avenues open for research.

However, finding living people can be way more difficult as those who have taken DNA tests are finding out. Part of the issue is modern perceptions of privacy, but a much bigger issue can be too many people with the same name without a known location or FAN  (Friends, Associates, Neighbors) club.

Recently, I’ve spent some time helping the committee working on  my 50th high school class reunion. I volunteered to try to locate some of the 400+ classmates with whom people have lost contact through the years. Knowing that I’ve done genealogy research for 40+ of the 50 years that have passed, I was asked to try to locate about a dozen classmates that the committee was ready to write off as permanently lost.

I found every single one of them – either the people themselves and actually spoke to them or found addresses but no working phone number for them or found siblings/children who passed on my messages. Unfortunately, there were three classmates who have passed away just among those dozen students.

How did I manage to find people that others were unable to locate? Well, I used the same format that I use to find ancestors.

1. Being our 50th reunion, most of us were born in 1952, give or take a few months either way so I had a birth year as a starting point.

2. I obviously knew where they went to school and they all graduated in 1970.

3. I did NOT know any of their parents’ names nor for these particular classmates did I know the names of any siblings.

For the most part, I used five different resources:

  1. Ancestry dot com has many school yearbooks digitally available on line, including mine, so I first did a search for each person living in my town in the correct time period. (I have a yearbook, so I already knew what they looked like, but I was hoping to pick up some of Ancestry’s helpful hints.) For the most part, no hints came up, probably because they could be assumed to be living. As much as I love FamilySearch, for the purpose of locating living people, it wasn’t of much use.
  2. FamilyTreeNow purports to be a genealogy website, but it is really just a database of many public records. It is one of my favorite sites to find living people. After entering a name in the search box, hit enter and then an advanced search box opens to the left. Birth years can be added in there. I found about a half dozen of my missing classmates this way. Scroll down the entry once you’ve chosen a person’s name to look at more closely. First, there is a box with possible relatives. That is a huge help. Next, there is a list of possible associates. That is quite useless because I know in my own case, many of those names are people from whom my husband and I either bought or sold a house. Below that, though, there is a list of addresses at which the person has lived, followed by a list of possible phone numbers. The telephone numbers are even identified as being a landline or mobile number.
  3. Often, the list of relatives included people who were in their 90s or even over 100 years old. For the most part, those are parents of the person or their spouse and almost certainly have passed away before they reached the century mark. That led me to search for online obituaries. The Social Security Death Index (on Ancestry) helped to determine a death date. With their age given on FamilyTreeNow, I could figure out the year of birth and see if there was an entry in the SSDI. If the parent died from c2009 onward, obituaries were found. From those, I gleaned married names for daughters and sometimes current places of residence.
  4. Finding the other half of my missing friends took more energy. Again, I used the same research technique I use when I can’t find an ancestor – I built out the collateral lines. In this case, it was looking for siblings. If I couldn’t find an obituary, I went back to Ancestry and searched for just the surname of the missing person. I entered 1952 as the birth year, but then I expanded the search to my home town +/- 10 years (1942-1962). I looked for other students with the same surname who went to my high school in that 20 year time frame. Not only did I find siblings, I found several other families with the same surname who were not related, but had children at my high school during those years.
  5. Newspapers dot com (subscription website) was the next resource to which I turned. I know that it has my beloved Herald News in its holdings. I was able to search for the surnames in my town and narrow the scope of years. In this way, I found several engagement and wedding announcements that again added to the FAN club.
  6. The last person had a common name and I could find nothing about him/her except the yearbook pictures. I picked up the telephone, called the public library and spoke to a reference librarian. After I explained what I was doing, I asked if the library still had any old telephone books from c1966-1970. They had one from February 1968 and one from 1971.  She read me the name and address for each entry of a family with that surname living in Wayne.
  7. I went back to Newspapers dot com and began entering the ADDRESS, not the surname to see if I got any hits. I did – and found a marriage record for a sibling, which led me to the out-of-state birth records for both the student and the sibling. Their father’s given name was very unusual and I was able to piece together the family. Back on Ancestry, I entered a search in all collections with the father’s name. The first entry was a family tree with just three people in it and the father’s name was in it. It was a private tree and I’m guessing that the second person was the mother and I think the third person was my missing classmate who had a username created from his/her given name plus the mother’s maiden name. I then messaged the person using Ancestry.
  8. Besides FamilyTreeNow, I also used FastPeopleSearch, also free. Sometimes the information matched, but in two cases, there were different telephone numbers that were more updated. However, FastPeopleSearch assumes the searcher knows where the person they are trying to find lives and only a name and location can be entered in the search box. That is why is it always my second choice.

To summarize, I look for any details about the person and then try to build out a FAN club with collateral names of parents, in-laws and siblings. Next, I seek out vital records – birth, marriage and death – helped along by online obituaries. Ancestry, the SSDI, Newspapers dot com, FamilyTreeNow and FastPeopleSearch are my favored databases.

Where were my classmates living? Everywhere from the next town over from where we graduated – to – and I almost fell off my chair when I discovered this – Tucson! One of my deceased classmates lived just a couple of doors down the same street from where we bought our first house here in 2010. She passed away in December 2009, five months before we moved to Arizona. What are the odds of that???

I hope by sharing my method for finding living people, whether they be reunion classmates or distant cousins, you’ll find it easier to find living people, too.



Finding Living Cousins

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 and 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.