“Cousin Bait” is a phrase used by genealogists to denote methods for finding living cousins with whom they have not previously connected. Most of us, I think, know our first cousins, at least by name. These are the cousins with whom we share a grandparent or grandparent couple. The children of my mother’s two brothers and my dad’s five siblings are my first cousins.
In my case, I know – or at least know of – some of my second cousins. These are the cousins with whom we share great-grandparents, the children of my mom and dad’s first cousins. Two of my second cousins, who were young children in 1992, served as ringbearer and flower girl in my wedding. My mom has helped me to add her second cousins to my family tree on FamilySearch (as most of them are still living, their profiles are not accessible to the public).
Any cousins may have family photos or documents that would be nice to have or even crucial to family history research. More distant cousins, especially DNA matches, are helpful in making sure your research is on the right track.
Speaking of DNA, that’s great cousin bait. When you have your DNA on one of the major websites, there’s a good chance a cousin or two will have tested there as well. Active researchers may send a message as soon as they see your name pop up as a new match.
The big DNA testing companies are 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA. Living DNA is slowly growing. GEDmatch and Geneanet allow you to upload raw DNA files from one of those testing sites in order to seek additional matches with people who may have tested with different companies.
For me, this blog is cousin bait. I have had relatives leave comments on posts that mention common ancestors. If you’re looking for cousins, be sure to search the names of your ancestors on your favorite search engine. You may also want to include the word “blog” or a location, like “Marion County, Georgia” or “Pensacola, Florida” when you search.
An online family tree is cousin bait. I do most of my work on FamilySearch, which is not necessarily easy to share with others. Like, I can’t give you a link to “my” family tree, because I’m a living person and my profile is automatically private. If I think you’re related to my dad’s side, I can provide a link to his family tree. On my mom’s side, I can provide a link to her parents’ tree. The site does require signing up and logging in to see anything.
I recommend putting at least a basic family tree on every possible genealogy site.
Ancestry allows you to build trees for free, but you can’t attach any of their records. Ancestry paid members and DNA matches can see your tree as long as you make it public and, in the case of DNA, you attach your test to your profile. If you want a non-member to be able to see your tree, you have to log in and invite them, using their email address, to view your tree.
MyHeritage gives you a free small tree with, I think, about 120 people; if you just stick to your direct ancestors, you can get back to your 3rd-great-grandparents for sure. When you start adding siblings, it fills up very fast. You can use a free trial or a six-months subscription to max out your tree, and it won’t go away when your membership ends. The site will, however, put an annoying message at the top of your screen saying you’ve exceeded your limit.
I’ve mentioned FamilySearch, which is 100% free and has millions of pages of records that will help you research your family history. The main difference is your tree is not just your tree. It also belongs to your siblings, your cousins, and anyone else researching the same people. Adding information to a deceased person’s profile is cousin bait. If you want to make contact, you should go into your settings and be sure you have a contact name and that it’s public. You can also choose to make your email public. When you see that someone you don’t know has made changes to the profile of a person you’re interested in, click on their name. Depending on their settings, you may be able to send them a message through FamilySearch or get an address to email them.
Another public family tree website that’s free is WikiTree. Like FamilySearch, it’s a shared family tree, with the goal of having one profile page for every person who ever lived. If my grandfather is your great-uncle and someone else’s cousin, we would all go to the same page to read about him and share information. I don’t find WikiTree as user-friendly as FamilySearch, but it worked great as cousin bait. I got an email from a cousin on my dad’s side of the family after she looked up our common ancestors Ary Loper and William F. Hahn online. She shared pictures and information I hadn’t found anywhere else. What a joy!
The most important aspect of cousin bait is to have a way for cousins to get in touch with you. If you have a DNA test, but you don’t list any family names on your profile, don’t provide a link to your family tree (or a location where you were adopted), don’t include an email address, don’t check or respond to messages, then that’s like baiting your hook and tossing it into the water without any fishing line.