7 Reasons Cousin Bait Doesn’t Work


OK – before you bite my head off – the title is not implying that “Cousin Bait” CAN’T work – it is just posing that there are many reasons why it “DOESN’T work. I have had great success finding “cousins” of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th variety as well as those removed once or twice.

BUT that was after I started thinking about what I was doing and made a few mistakes along the way. So here’s seven of the reasons that it doesn’t work – it is not an exhaustive list by any means but it is indeed some of the primary ones.

Overcome the deficiencies and mistakes on this list and you will have a much better chance to find those elusive cousins, ancestors, photos, stories, documents, etc.

It certainly is well worth the effort – family history research is certainly more rewarding and fun when you have multiple genealogy “buddies” in your family.

  • You don’t get alerted to blog comments by email – OK, I may be the only one in history who screwed up big time by not setting up new blog comments to be emailed to me. My most important cousin (actually 3rd cousin) tried to find me for 6 months after placing a comment on my Marksology blog in 2009. I never saw the comment because I had not set up the blog to alert me when I received a comment. I wasn’t even hip to “cousin bait” at that time – I was just trying to document my ancestors stories online. Without her, a whole critical branch of my tree would not have been found and immense joy would have been missed. So make sure that your comment alerts are set up properly so that most critical new cousin can connect with you.


  • You do not have any way to contact you on your site – I have visited many many family history websites where there is no About page, no Contact page, and in some cases no name or photo of the author or an email address to contact them. So, if a prospective cousin lands on your site and is all excited about finding a possible connection – how are they going to reach out to you?


  • Your site is so boring that no one wants to contact you – So pretend you are a new researcher and you think via a search engine of some kind that you have found a new cousin connection. You click on the link and with great anticipation you bring up their site or blog in your browser. You can’t wait to see what is written. You begin to read the site and this is what you find – A dissertation listing only names and BMD dates. Throughout the site are a bunch of spelling errors and typos. There are no stories at all about the individuals mentioned. The grammar is terrible and the entire piece is poorly written. The layout of the site is awful and you have a hard time finding the “meat” of each article. Are you inspired to contact this person?  


  • You don’t include locations AND names AND dates especially if your ancestor has a common name. Locations can refine the search performed by the prospective cousin. A very fine post about the details that are essential can be found in Amy Coffin’s post about Cousin Bait. I personally do not write SPECIFIC cousin bait posts, since my family history sites are intended as an homage to my ancestors and a way to document their lives. Hence EVERY post can be construed as “cousin bait” and Google’s search algorithms help me achieve that automatically.


  • Your forum entries may be stale and lonely  – I have used Rootsweb and Ancestry.com forums and have had success once – but it was a HUGE connection – and she was my very first cousin connection – actually a second cousin who i had met over 50 years prior. The problem that I find with some forum use is that we post and forget. That is not a bad thing because sometimes you may get a response several years later – if the forum automatically emails you; and if your email address hasn’t changed. I have some forum entries that are over 10 years old and my email address HAS changed. Furthermore, in reviewing some of the questions that I posted way back then – I have garnered new information that I should add to the forum, or possibly augment the entry itself.


  • Your One World Tree entries aren’t paying off – Full disclosure, I  am not a big fan of the OWT concept, yet I have posted the details of my deceased relatives/ancestors on Ancestry Family Tree, My Heritage, and WikiTree. There are others, like Geni and FamilySearch for example. The only one that has “paid off” for me is Ancestry’s, several times. The others – zero. And yes – I do have sources included and my trees are not copies of anyone else’s. The bottom line with these is that you must have sources included because any researcher with some experience will likely skip over non-sourced trees. Just like forums, OWTs are a crap shoot.


  • Your “cousins” just do not care – News Flash – not everyone has the passion to find out about their ancestors and family history; in fact many just do not care at all – period. And there is nothing that you can do to “convert” them to the Church of Genealogy. Here’s another News Flash – once you make the initial connection with a new cousin they may be interested for one day and then never or very rarely again. And all the begging and pleading to get them to share their “goodies” won’t help. 

So there you have it – please re-visit your cousin hunting strategies and maybe you can get your cousin bait to work better. Because it CAN and will work with the proper attention, motivation, and tactics.

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!


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Join the Conversation


  1. The people who do not have how to contact also have not enable their comments option. But I have met cousins, most of them will share but there are some who just won’t.

    1. Thanks Claudia. It is amazing to me that some newly found cousins are very interested initially but as soon as you ask them to contribute they disappear.

  2. Great post. I had great success with ancestry.com when four of my husband’s missing siblings found us from my posting. It wasn’t setup as bait but it worked that way. I write interesting things and follow most of the steps above but now will have to give it more thought. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks Ann! If we write good content with an eye to appealing to unknown relatives I think it will eventually pay off. Thanks for the compliment.

  3. Ken, I subscribe to many genealogy blogs and discussion lists, and your posts are often the ones I choose to read first each day. Today is one such instance. I really relate to the issues you describe and find your suggestions very practical.
    This happens to be meet-our-newly-found-cousins week in our household. Two days ago, my husband and I met one of my cousins, visiting from another state, who brought along a CD of photos and documents from her branch of my paternal grandfather’s family, including several documents I hadn’t already found. Two days from now, one of my husband’s cousins that I found, in town for a conference, is coming to visit. My most exciting cousin find happened 13 years ago, when I discovered members of my paternal grandmother’s family who had survived the Holocaust and had emigrated from Ukraine just as the Soviet Union was falling apart. When we went to meet them in Israel, I had a very emotional meeting with my grandmother’s youngest brother, 92 at the time. He had last seen her when he was six and watched her ride away alone on a horse-drawn cart to begin her journey to America. Even though other cousin-connection efforts haven’t paid off as well, the information and stories we’ve gained are reward enough.

    1. Wow Lesley, thank you so much for the compliment! Also glad you have found and are meeting new cousins. That’s terrific.

  4. I’ve had several contacts so far via my blog and via ancestry. And I was always so exited. But the minute I either shared what I had or asked for any (really ANY not matter how small) contribution, woops.. they were gone and emails weren’t answered anymore.
    Sad, but something we have to live with, I guess..
    But thanks for some great tips, I will definetly re-work my blog a bit.

  5. I love this! Great suggestions. I haven’t put my email address directly on the blog because I don’t want a lot of spam. How do you handle that?

  6. I’ve had 2 cousins (3rd or 4th cousins) find me through Ancestry.com and ask me for information to help fill in some gaps on their tree. I gladly helped and asked for help in return and got nothing. Some people just don’t want to play fair.

  7. I enjoyed your post! I just wrote a post about “cousin bait” that DID work. But, you have some wonderful points!
    I recently had contact with a distant cousin for several days & she even shared a story about my grandmother from when she was a little girl. But, now, I’m practically begging her to write me again! And, I haven’t heard back from her. 🙁 I think I’ll read your post about not begging & see what you have to say.

  8. I have two public trees on Ancestry.com (and DNA), and mostly research through that site. I have found some cousins this way, and a few have been keepers! However, I have also experienced the ones who cease communicating, even when I could help them! An interesting phenomenon! I enjoyed your blog!

  9. Hi from your “most important 3rd cousin.” This article is super great. It’s chocked full of useful information that no one should miss.

  10. Well, I’m part of the reason cousin bait doesn’t work, one you didn’t mention (maybe you don’t know). I research entire towns, as well as civil war units, and often connect census records on familysearch. I invariably get mails immediately asking me how i’m related, which i respond to nicely and say i’m not. But I am trying to keep records correct and attached so someday down the line they can be found.

  11. As a brand new “Cousin Bait” blogger… I very very much appreciate this post!! And I’m glad I found it “early” in my blogging days 😉

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