Cousin Bait

“Cousin bait” is how genealogists define the practice of luring (distant/unknown) cousins who can share and collaborate about their family trees.

I didn’t know the term until recently. It sounds quite disreputable, doesn’t it? But there’s almost nothing as exciting as connecting with a relative who has an old photo, or can name who’s pictured there, or has facts or stories you’ve never heard.

The Stahl sisters: Retta and Mayme

The Stahl sisters: Retta and Mayme

In January I saw a family tree posted on which seemed to parallel mine. I sent a message to the tree’s owner, and when I heard from ‘Ruth’ a few weeks later, we discovered we were second cousins! Our grandmothers were sisters who were born and grew to adulthood in Cherokee, Iowa. 

They’re pictured here: my grandmother (Retta) on the left and Ruth’s grandmother (Mayme) on the right. Retta and Mayme spent their last years as roommates at a nursing home in South Dakota during the late 1950s. 

(The story of Ruth’s immediate family is fascinating in itself and part of the reason I never knew much about them. A story for another time…) 

Ruth and I were surprised to learn we now live only about 40 miles apart, both of us in suburbs southwest of Minneapolis. In fact, as another example of “it’s a small world”: Ruth’s daughter lives less than a mile from me! Ruth and I met at a coffee shop early this month and had a delightful time sharing photos and family stories.

I’ve never consciously posted a cousin bait blog. However, in a posting last March I mentioned my husband’s Rowan ancestors, prompting a response from ‘Jim’ who also has a Rowan branch in his family tree. We haven’t confirmed the common ancestor yet, but I’m confident we’ll figure it out eventually.


Good cousin bait includes just enough information to identify your ancestor with certainty – and capture your potential cousin’s interest:

  1. The name of your subject person/ancestor, including nickname(s).
  2. Birth and death dates if you know them, especially if you have common surnames.
  3. Location(s) where they lived.

Save the photos until you’ve snagged the cousin. If they know you have pictures, they won’t be able to resist contacting you.

If you’d like to post some cousin bait on this blog, let me know. I’d be happy to serve as match-maker. Send me a message at

We can throw out a line and then wait patiently for a bite.


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