Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dear Cousin - I think we're related!

One of the most satisfying, and often challenging, connections we genealogy researchers experience is contacting living people, or being contacted by them. I cannot count the number of email contacts I've had with distant cousins who have found my blog, my web page, my online databases, my message board or mailing list droppings, (um, notes, posts?). I get several emails each week (especially since I put my databases on the Ancestry Member Trees) and I try to respond to them.

The very best genealogy sharing experience I've had was in the early 1990's on the Prodigy bulletin board system. Using my 0.3kbs modem I could log onto Prodigy and share information with people on hundreds of surname threads and quite a few locality threads. Most of them were in Massachusetts, and I soon found a thriving community that welcomed me (because I shared as well as requested) and made me feel welcome. I obtained so much information in the two years the community thrived - and then Prodigy raised their rates and cut the access time, and everybody left for cheaper pastures. Our little group of 20 or so researchers circulated a "round robin" collection of paper for about two years before that died out. I met several of these people on trips to Massachusetts in 1994 and 1995. My funniest genealogy experience came from this group - the Cemetery video that I described in "A Cure for Insomnia".

The most helpful, rewarding and enduring connection so far has been a 10 year conversation and association with Sara (an American) and Hanna (a Brit) with whom I share a fine Vaux ancestry ("Ma" in Della's Journal is Abigail Vaux (1844-1931), the wife of Devier Smith, and Dell (Smith) Carringer's mother). Sara and Hanna found me in 1997 after I had dropped a note on the ROOTS-L mailing list (which I cannot find in the Archives now) asking for more information about Samuel Vaux and his wife Mary Ann Underhill of Aurora NY, Burnett WI and Platte MO.

After some time, I heard from both Sara and Hanna and quickly found out that they had a book in the works on the Vaux family - Sara had worked on the American families and Hanna on the English families in Somerset. I quickly jumped in finding American Vaux families in the census records for 1850 to 1920 using the AIS indexes and Soundexes for those census years (this was 1999-2002, before all of the census Indexes were online). My data was quickly incorporated into the manuscript and helped extend many American families into the 20th century. Sara and Hanna have not published their book yet, but they have put some of it online at (it requires a password). Hanna had a Vaux database and shared it with me, and I added my census data to it. She has posted the updated database on the Rootsweb WorldConnect databases.

Sara's son lived in San Diego for several years, and Sara and her husband came to town in 1990 to visit, and we got together. Her son lived just up the hill from my mother's house on Point Loma. We took some pictures and still exchange emails and Christmas letters/cards. Hanna and I exchange emails and Christmas letters - she lives in London and works for the UK government and travels a lot. I almost met her in 2002 when I had a business trip to England scheduled, but my trip was canceled. I hope to get together with her the next time we visit London.

Sharing information with other researchers is the quickest way to finding "new" ancestors and cousins. Every researcher should be posting messages on message boards, mailing lists, web pages, etc. in order to find distant cousins who may have much more information that they do.


Thomas MacEntee said...

Wow. Yeah the finding of cousins is great but my wow is for Prodigy. Did that ever bring back memories.

Remember when we practically wet ourselves over 512k diskettes? And then the ones that were "pre formatted"?

I no longer have my Commodore 64 nor the 12" floppy disks for the Tandy TRS-80.

Ah, those were the days.

Randy Seaver said...


You had 512K diskettes? I started with two 64K 5.25 inch drives with 64K memory and 4.77 khz speed, and had that from 1983 to 1992. Then I got the souped up 33 khz computer with one disk drive and a hard drive from 1992 to 1998. That's what I used on Prodigy.

BTW, I corrected the 3 kbs modem down to 0.3 kbs - thanks to my reader who emailed me about this.

Cheers -- Randy


I love the message boards - I
recently got a reply from a post
I made 3 years ago - And it was
a definite connection and new

Janice said...

Wow you old guys! lol I love reading about the "old days of genealogical computing."

My computers were: Commodore 64, Commodore 128, Epson XT, Leading Edge (model D?), Compaq (several models), Acer, Gateway, Dell and finally today Alienware (hey I'm a gamer, I can't help myself!).

Back in the late 1970s (before the web was commonly used outside of colleges) being subscribed to a local bulletin board that had a sparsely used genealogy email list of sorts. I actually found a cousin that way.


Thomas MacEntee said...


It is amazing how technology has changed. I remember in my law firm days, working with "mag cards" and how we absolutely flipped when the IBM Selectric typewriter appeared and you could store entire phrases!

I wonder what our ancestors thought of the typewriter when it made its first commercially successful appearance on 01 March 1873 in Ilion, NY by the E. Remington and sons?