Cousin Collaboration – 16 Secret Commandments


When we are doing our family history research, we sometimes get lucky. Sure, sometimes luck is involved when finding a document or some facts that further our research.

But the luck that I am talking about is finding a family member who you can collaborate with. I have had such luck. About 3 1/2 years ago because of another family history website that I created, I was contacted by a third cousin, once removed. It was a challenge for us to connect but it happened. And it changed my genealogy “life.”

The first year of our collaboration was “hot and heavy” – not THAT kind of hot and heavy. 30 to 50 emails a day hot and heavy – sharing information, emailing newly scanned old photos, discussing who was who and who might be related to who, etc. It was a blast.

During the course of that first year, we found living relatives – “cousins” who we had never met (and previously did not know the name of) – and started asking them for their help. As one might expect, there were different levels of response and cooperation. Some were “pretty cooperative,” some thought they were being quite cooperative but weren’t, and others – well their cooperation sucked.

So in a fit of frustration with our newly found relatives (and those not so new) – I created the following list of Commandments for Cousin Collaboration. This list was written in 2010 and I just found it again and thought I would share it with you. Names have been deleted to protect the guilty.

(Apologies in advance to those who don’t like coarse language – it serves to demonstrate the extreme frustration at the time)

The 16 Secret Commandments for Big Bad Cousin Collaborators (or Not)
  1. Details matter.
  2. Reading and responding appropriately to emails matters.
  3. Scanning photos instead of making shitty Xerox copies and mailing them matters.
  4. ACTUALLY participating when you say that you are instead of saying that you will and basically doing squat matters.
  5. Making a friggin decision about sending some photos to some dude that you have never met rather than asking a couple of other relatives if he’s a thief matters.
  6. Answering an email with some semblance of knowledge of the English language rather than writing like you are stoned matters.
  7. Cutting the bullshit and getting to the facts matters.
  8. Handling a lot of info at once matters.
  9. GUESSING at who’s in the photo does not constitute a move out of the Unknown Photo Album matters.
  10. Opening up and scanning and sharing what’s in the Hefty trash bag in the attic or the magic box in the garage matters.
  11. Giving all your stuff to the relatives that are actually doing something matters.
  12. Allowing your grown adult son to talk to big bad genealogy searching relatives matters.
  13. Realizing that when you die all your thoughts regarding family stories about your ancestors dies with you unless your big bad genealogy searching relatives can see dead people so you better get off your ass and do something to help them now matters.
  14. Sending a family DVD that you promised probably 5 or 10 years ago to your cousin matters.
  15. Realizing that you will not have your identity stolen if you tell your genealogy interested relatives where your parents were married matters.
  16. And lastly – for me and my collaborator – Making jokes while researching this INCREDIBLY SERIOUS ENDEAVOR matters.
How many of these have you dealt with?

Join the Conversation


  1. 16 and counting! I have been incredibly lucky, too. Lately connected with an actual genealogy hound very willing to share and collaborate. Out of my whole family tree, one person who works at it. ONE. And she’s an X family member! Go figure. And my blood relatives? Not interested. “They” aren’t going to have a reunion this year so there’s no point in getting all that stuff organized. Yup. That’s what they said. I had high hopes “all that stuff” would pique someone’s interest and they would participate. Guess not.

    1. Thanks Toni. We can always hope that others can get interested half as much as we are.

  2. I’ve dealt with most of them. In fact, it is extremely frustrating to give and get nothing in return. I’ve dealt with a distant cousin who has even said she usually doesn’t give out her information but that I “qualify”, and so what they sent me was just a half-ass layout of my own immediate family that was far from incomplete….as if I didn’t already have that information. That told me right there they weren’t ‘really’ going to share squat. But, I thought I’d give it a chance. I emailed her back a little bit of my immediate family’s info, filling her in, and sent her a few photos of her mother from way back that my dad had snapped while at a funeral and a portrait of a common ancestor, and she still didn’t give anything.
    After a while of emailing back and forth, and me not receiving squat, I decided to dump her. Little did she know that I have in my possession ALL of our side of our ancestor’s photos and have researched extensively on that particular branch. If only she was willing to share.
    I want to share, I love to share. But, I’m serious when I say I want to share with people who also want to share with me. My stuff is up on for others who are like minded (and not so like minded). Other’s family trees have been very useful as guides and I appreciate their “public” trees so much that I feel I can share with others in the same way. It’s still frustrating to see “private” trees take and take and take from your tree, but, I just remember how helpful the “public” family trees have been and let it go.

    1. Missy, I certainly agree with all of these frustrations. Amazing when you are just trying to share that others aren’t as helpful.

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