This time I have a good excuse for being an inconsistent blogger….I’ve been much too busy cousin fishin’ to write about it, I had “real” work to do.
So, moving on…..”cousin fishin'” sounds almost vulgar, at least illegal, or like a trip to the local pond with rod, reel, bait and pole to catch cousin fish.
In actuality, many genealogists use this term, especially among themselves, and even those who don’t and/or wouldn’t say the words aloud or put them into print or writing do it either consciously or unconsciously, usually the former.
To be completely honest, with myself and with my readers, when I started doing family history not only had I never heard this term, I had no idea I was doing it every time I added a person to my public online tree at Ancestry.com, every time I Googled a relative or ancestors name or a surname, every time I posted or answered an inquiry at boards like Rootsweb, Genforum, or Ancestry, even on the Ancestry Facebook page or just on Facebook.. Some people would call cousin fishin’ “networking”, but, hey, a lot of fishing is done with nets, right?
Cousin fishin’ differs from fishing fish in two important ways: you can’t eat what you catch, and if you did it would be counter productive since your fish’s inherent value is not calories, protein, minerals, or vitamins…..it’s information. If you are really lucky it’s pictures, documents, stories, collaboration and new friends with common relatives and ancestors who share your interest in those relatives and ancestors.The other big difference is that, in cousin fishin’, analogous to the country song in which “sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug,sometimes you’re the fisherman, sometimes you’re the bait and in the best case scenario, sometimes you can be both, unlike either the windshield or the bug.
I didn’t know it at the time, but some of my first successful forays into online genealogy were, in fact cousin fishin’. I knew almost nothing about my mother’s family but I did know some things about my father’s: I knew the given and surnames of both his parents, I knew my father’s siblings names and those of their spouses and children, and I knew my great grandfather, my grandmother’s father’s, name, and I also knew her mother’s given and maiden names. I knew the names of first and second cousins and aunties and a few family stories. The most often voiced family story was that my grandfather had been adopted, which never seemed to make sense given that his middle name, Searing, was said to be his mother’s maiden name, and it had been passed on down to my father and one of my brothers as a middle name to keep it in the family. So I thought my grandfather was adopted but I did have some clue that he might not be in that I knew his mother’s maiden name, which was Searing.
With my father’s and mother’s names and those of my paternal grandparents I started a public tree on Ancestry.com. This act, in itself, is cousin fishin’, one of the reasons for starting a public family tree in a public place where builders of family trees tend to hang out is to attract others with family members in common. Very simple cousin fishin’, and, it worked. Soon I had a cousin related to me through my grandmother’s father who sent me an Ancestry message, we began to email. Richard Ike is an accomplished genealogist and has since been an invaluable resource to me. I think he was my first cousin fish, I doubt I was his.
By this time also I knew my grandfather, Howard Searing Davenport Sr., had not been adopted, but his mother had been widowed with young children and Howard and his older sisters had been raised by his mother, Mary C Searing Davenport Dugan and stepfather, James Dugan. Since I had, by this time, continuous census records, court records up to and including th probate of Mary Dugan’s will in 1930, marriage, and birth records for this family, I knew my grandfather had not been adopted, that his natural mother had been Mary C Searing and his biological father Stiles Davenport. I knew Mary’s parents names and those of her siblings, but I did not have her father’s father’s name and every avenue seemed to be a dead end. In the process of trying to find Mary’s grandfather I had built a tree of only Searings that included somewhat over 2500 people and I had begun taking on Searing family inquiries, fixing other Searing dead ends and generation errors, etc…. but still no father for my great grandmother Mary C. Searing.
Mary’s missing grandfather was my dead end for a long time, several years in fact. When I had nothing better to do, I’d look for him. One day I casually Googled “Searing Family” and found Dan Searing Sr’s “Searing Family Blog” which is not strictly genealogical, but deals with all things Searing. Posted on this blog, was a Bible page that had been sent to Dan from Eric Searing in Atlanta. It didn’t have my Mary’s parents or father, but it had all her siblings and their marriages, including Eric’s second great grandfather, brother to my great grandmother, Mary C Searing. I had a new cousin, two actually, one distant and as of yet undefined, one third cousin once removed, but it still took me years to find Mary’s grandfather and link my Searing family to the larger Searing family in general. When I did the connection was simple but the difficulty lay in the fact that Mary’s grandfather had only lived until his thirties and had left only one child, Mary’s father, unusual for the time, unusual for the Searing family. The search for Lewis Searing, and later, the search for Mary’s mother, whom I knew for years only as “Phoebe” will hopefully become subjects for future posts.