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How to Carry Out a Living Descendant and Lost Relatives Search

January 24, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 162

As a professional genealogist, most of my work involves tracing ancestors back into history. However, recently I have noticed a growing interest to find living relatives descended from ancestors. I have discovered a few cousins myself, and it is certainly a delightful experience to communicate with someone who shares a common ancestor with you. However, carrying out a lost relatives search is a very different exercise to tracing historical ancestors.

The first thing to realise is that tracing generations forward is actually more difficult than tracing them backwards. There are two main reasons for this:

1. In any moment in time, most people know where and who they came from, but not where they will be, or who they will be with, in future. Consequently, there are more clues about someone's past than there are about their future.

2. Recent documentation is more difficult to access due to privacy laws. It is far easier to find out a lot of information about someone who was living in the 19th century than it is to find out about someone in the late 20th century.

Having said that, it is quite possible to find several living cousins, though it may not be possible to find every single living relative without a lot of trial and error - and money!

Most of us - but certainly not everyone - will know the names of first cousins. These are the children of our aunts and uncles and share a common set of grandparents. The children of our first cousins are first cousins once removed, and their children are first cousins twice removed and so on.

Second cousins share a set of great-grandparents, and third cousins share great-great-grandparents.

To find second or third cousins, you need to start with your common ancestors - your great or great-great grandparents. If they were married before 1911, then you need to search all available census records up to 1911 from whichever date they were married.

The census records should show you the names, birth places and approximate birth dates of any children. You should also look for baptism records at FamilySearch. Using General Register Office indexes can help, if you know exactly where the children would have been born, but until 1912 the indexes did not give the mother's maiden name, so if it's a common name it is very difficult to find children in these records.

Once you have the names of all the children you can find, you will want to take each one and find their descendants in turn.

While male relatives don't tend to change their name with marriage, you will still probably need to find a marriage record in order to find the spouse's maiden name. This will make it much easier to find the names of any children.

For male relatives who were born between 1870 and 1900, it is a good idea to check the WW1 military records and see if they died in this war. If they died without being married, then no further searches will be necessary.

Once your searches have reached the period after 1911, you will mostly be relying on the GRO birth, marriage and death indexes, and electoral registers. These indexes are available at sites such as Ancestry and FindMyPast.

Luckily, after 1915, you can search the GRO birth indexes using the mother's maiden name (if you don't have this, you will need the marriage record first).

At Ancestry, the search engines allow you to just put in a surname and the mother's maiden name. I would suggest using a date range of up to 20 years for a birth, and the probable place of birth. Mark the names and 20 year date range as exact, but leave the place name in the default setting as you may find that the family have moved around.

Once you have the next generation of children, you can then start searching for their marriages and children in turn. Anyone born after 1910 could still be living, but I would not suggest immediately contacting anyone elderly as they might be confused or alarmed by someone ringing out of the blue. Try finding their offspring first.

Before searching for living relatives, you should check the death registers to see if the person has died. The search engine at Ancestry allows you to put in a year of birth, and if you have the middle initials of the person, then you can usually get a fairly accurate answer.

Finding living relatives can be done by using recent electoral registers and online phone books. I use a website called Peopletracer to search for names, and then find addresses for anyone on recent electoral registers, but there are other websites available. You do have to pay a subscription fee. If you want to find a phone number as well, you can use the British Telecom online phone book. Don't forget that some people opt out of these public register and phone book lists, so if you can't find the person you are looking for, it does not mean they have left the country!

Another useful tool for finding living relatives is Genes Reunited. Again, you will need to subscribe, but I have found several cousins on this site, and the fact that they are on the site too means they are usually very interested in making contact.

Carrying out a lost relatives search can be extremely rewarding and fun - but do be warned. Some people may not be interested in the fact that you are their third cousin twice removed! Don't be too upset if the person does not want to be in contact, and do respect their wishes.

Ros is a professional genealogist and runs a UK ancestry tracing service for UK and international researchers who need help with their UK ancestry. Ros offers a one-stop-shop tracing service for all UK ancestors, or can carry out local searches in Warwickshire and Birmingham. Find out more at Tracing Your Ancestors

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