On Cousins, Connections, and the “Social” in Social Media

First picture of the four cousins

First picture of the four cousins

I envied my children as they were growing up—they were close with two of their cousins. They were close in age, and for their first few years of life they lived within a reasonable driving distance of their mutual grandparents. The four kids played together regularly, stair steps spanning six and a half years.

My nephew and niece were older than my son and daughter. Nephew (the oldest) was charged with keeping order. As an oldest child myself, I know how unfair that was to the poor kid, but he bore it bravely. I’ve learned in recent years (now that all the culprits are beyond the age of grounding) that Niece and Son ganged up on Daughter, the baby. Daughter still has a soft place in her heart for Nephew who saved her.

A litter of cousins

A litter of cousins

The reason I envied my children is that I only had brothers and a sister. One brother was near me in age, but the others were much younger and not playmates in the way closer siblings are. I always thought it would be fun to be part of a litter.

I had six first cousins (all children of the same aunt), but I rarely saw them growing up.

I had a gob of second cousins, but saw them even less frequently. Some of my second cousins live in the Kansas City area, and I finally met them after I moved here as an adult. Three of them are women about my sister’s age, and I was struck by how much their mannerisms resembled my sister’s. The hand gestures, the speech tones—it was like watching my sister in triplicate.

A few years ago, there was a family reunion in Nebraska where I met other second cousins for the first time. I couldn’t see any family resemblances in that part of the clan. There are still some second cousins on that side of the family whom I’ve never met, and I can only wonder how genetics played out there.

Even though our family is far-flung and not close, through the power of social media I’ve reconnected with a few cousins.

Two first cousins found me on Facebook. It’s been interesting to see the pictures they’ve posted of themselves. One cousin looks like our mutual grandmother, another reminds me of my brother.

A second cousin recently found me through this blog. She was researching our common ancestors in Sacramento (though she knew them better than I did). She found my post on the Strachan-Ryan (our shared great-grandparents) wedding. Since then, we have traded emails about our memories, and I sent her a picture I had of our great-grandmother, Cecelia Ryan.

This second cousin and I met once as children, and we both recalled the meeting, but we knew little about each other’s lives since our grade school days. When we friended each other on Facebook, I saw some pictures this cousin has posted of herself. She looks more like my grandmother (her great-aunt) than I do!

And so families continue, generation after generation. Sometimes close. Sometimes not. But always with connections that transcend time and distance.

Social media now brings us together in ways that were impossible in decades past, forging closer connections, or at least letting us see the connections that exist.

When have you been surprised by a connection with a relative you don’t know well?

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  1. Ah…the power of the internet. I’m glad you connected with your second cousin, Theresa. Growing up, I rarely saw my cousins. We were spread out all over the country. As adults, I communicate via email with a couple. I love the litter of cousins photo!

  2. When was I surprised? The first time I went to dinner with my cousin Howard shortly after I moved to KC. I knew him but barely. At dinner, I said, “Howard, we all know you look like Grandpa Sunderland. You’re one of the oldest. Who do I look like?” He reared back in his chair in a classic double take and said, “Why Grandma Sunderland, of course!” I laughed and laughed. Up until then, I didn’t know that. I only knew I had her name. “So Grandma and Grandpa Sunderland are having dinner?” That’s when he laughed. I’ll miss him. He died about a month ago.

  3. Theresa I was lucky enough to be very close to my first cousins on both my father and mothers side, we recently caught up at my sisters wedding and it was grand to see all those faces I love. We are all aging now and hope the younger generation keep in contact with each other like we have.

    • It does get harder with each generation, doesn’t it? Of my children and their cousins, only one has kids at this point. By the time the others catch up, there’ll be a big age gap, and I doubt they will be close.
      It’s nice that you remember your cousins so fondly and stay in touch. Thanks for writing.

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