Jill Ball’s great GeneaDictionary has a definition for Cousin Bait – “you’re fishing for cousins so you can compare information for your respective family trees” – which she attributes to her friend Amy Coffin.
I have heard fellow researchers mention that they often write or post pictures in the hope that their “bait” might flush out an unknown someone who was related to them. These same researchers have often said they are careful about where they dangle their bait and just what it is they have on their hook.
It’s a shame that there are those out there in internet geni land who think that once something appears on the internet, that firstly it’s free to take and secondly, that it’s true! How many of us have seen publicly posted trees and family heirloom images snaffled up and suddenly appearing in all sorts of places? No ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘may I?’, ‘are we related?’
This wholesale harvesting of often unsubstantiated information makes for the perpetuation of misinformation, rumour and sometimes downright lies. Its hardly good research practice no matter which way you twist it!
Good genealogy (and good family history writing) depends on the quality of the research – always check the sources of the information you are gathering and then check again! Assuming that family oral history is absolutely true is also risky – stories can be coloured and embellished to make things seem better than they really are; they can be deliberate deceptions to cover up something that was shameful or socially unacceptable at the time. Check, check and double check.
I have always been somewhat cautious about the level of information that I place in the public arena having fallen foul of the infosnitchers in the past. However, within this blogging environment, I find a more conducive atmosphere where a small part of the family story, as I understand it, can be shared. I write and post these stories and images for my own benefit as well as the small number of people who happen to show interest. I don’t put it out there into the ether as cousin bait as I haven’t really expected I would find any!
The past week or two have seen me spend quite a bit of time corresponding with a second cousin who discovered my images and posts – a second cousin whom I had never met. It seems she had no idea I existed either! We have swapped pictures (other than those already in the public arena) and compared notes about various family stories. We have managed to more correctly identify the people in some of the images we both share and we have the beginnings of a meaningful collaboration as well as face to face family connections to build.
So, deliberate cousin bait or not, my stories have given me the ‘catch’ of a lifetime – a whole hitherto unknown (in a personal sense) family branch to meet explore and get to know. How lucky are we both?