Monday, January 14, 2008

Connecting With Kin

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is: Living-relative connections made during your research processes and/or blog.

To say that I have made connections with a "few" living relatives would be an understatement. It was in the early-1980s when I was bitten by the genealogy bug and in the intervening 25+ years there have been so many wonderful people that I've met as a result of researching my family history.

One of the first distant-cousins I met was Lowell Yarian. It was on my first research trip to Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania when I was looking for information on my 5th great grandfather, John George Yerion, and his children. At the Westmoreland County Historical Society Library in Greensburg, I found a lot of information, but perhaps most important was when I signed the guest book. I looked to see who had been there earlier that year. I was amazed that I had traveled all the way to Pennsylvania to find someone doing research on "my family" and he lived in Warsaw, Indiana just a few miles from where I was living!

Needless to say, I contacted Lowell upon my return home and we met several times. He had a tremendous amount of information since he was essentially researching everyone with the Yarian surname as well as its variations. The thing with Lowell that kind of irritated me at the time was that he didn't actually give me the information I was looking for, rather he provided me with the sources where he'd found the information which "forced" me to search for the information myself. If he had original documents that provided the information, he'd give me copies, but if it was from a book or newspaper or other source he'd only give me the name of the source, which meant that if I really wanted the information I had to get it myself. He also didn't overwhelm me with too much information. In both cases, I'm now glad that he did it that way. Things don't always mean as much if they are handed to you on a platter. The sad thing is, Lowell passed away a few years ago and I have no idea what happened to all the information he had gathered. In recent years, Carl Bennett has been another important contact, providing information on our immigrant ancestor Mathias Irion (which became Yarian, among other variations).

It was in 1986 that I began the research for "The Phend Family" book. I don't know how many letters I wrote during that process, but it was in the hundreds over the course of five years. Contact with one family member led to contact with many others. The letters I wrote explained who I was, what I was attempting to do, and how I thought the correspondent was related to me. I also included a family group sheet with all the information I had on their family. Sometimes that was little more than the persons name. It was truly an amazing experience. And quite gratifying. Virtually everyone who responded (and most of them did respond) included information on their family along with addresses. As it got closer to publication, they also sent family stories and photographs. The book was self-published in 1991 and of the 300 copies printed, 250 were ordered prepaid. Of the remaining 50 copies ten were donated to libraries and 25 were sold later. If anyone would like a copy, I still have a few left to sell ;-)

While gathering information for that book I went to Holmes County, Ohio where one branch of the family had lived. After a few days researching I had found the name of a living descendant. I looked her up in the phone directory, gathered up the nerve, and made the call. It was a bit awkward at first, since the relationship was so far back (she was a descendant of the half sister of my 2nd great grandfather) but thankfully, after a bit of talking, the Phend surname surfaced as a distant memory. She invited me to her house and we spent a delightful afternoon talking. She was able to fill in some of the blanks with her siblings and parents. I'm still a bit nervous when I make a call like that but in almost every case, it has turned out quite well.

In addition to the trip to Ohio, I also went to Iowa and Colorado to meet with several of the cousins in those states that I had been corresponding with. They opened their homes to me, allowed me to copy photographs and documents (copied with a camera since I didn't have a scanner at the time), told me stories and provided invaluable information. The ladies I met in Iowa have been deceased for a number of years, but I'm still in contact with some of the folks in Colorado.

There have been numerous contacts made on several different families through posts on GenForum and other message boards as well as from my Kinexxions website and this blog. I've also gotten a lot of inquiries from my Bray and Wiseman database on WorldConnect. It was through WorldConnect that I made contact with the brother-in-law of my 3rd cousin, Kent Scott. His great-grandmother was Susanna Wiseman, a sister of my great-grandfather, Samuel Bray Wiseman. Kent had the Charles Wiseman Family Bible and after some phone calls and correspondence, I became the proud owner of that bible and the Mystery Photos stored within it!

In November, I attended the fourth reunion of the descendants of Lysander & Lydia Joslin in Springfield, Missouri. How we made contact with each other probably deserves a post of its own, it is a long and convoluted story. Suffice to say, we have shared far more than information, documents and photographs with each other. We have built a relationship that I cherish.

I've been very fortunate with most of the contacts that have been made. Usually the sharing goes both ways, giving and receiving, with 'thank you' being said on both sides. However, not every contact has been beneficial. Occasionally I'll send information to someone and not get anything in return. But for the most part, I've enjoyed meeting new relatives, even if only via email. There are many more relatives in some of my other lines that I've made contact with, and the examples recounted here are just a few.


Janice said...


I notice you mention the few contacts that were not beneficial. I've had a few of those myself. Good thing those incidents do not "sour us" and cause us to be less sharing. The cousins we do connect with certainly make up for the ones who don't appear to be grateful.


Lidian said...

I corresponded for many years as a teen (in the seventies) with my grandfather's first cousin bak in germany - he was so kind and helpful, and actually wrote his wn book because he got interested in genealogy himself!

having said that I have not gone out and made contact with relatives i don;t know, in a long time. Maybe I will now! Great post - you have done an incredible amount of work!