17 July 2011

To Contact or Not to Contact - Discovering Cousins in a Dysfunctional Family

If you have a "normal" family without major skeletons in the closet, then it's probably not a difficult decision to make. If, on the other hand, you've got some fairly sordid family history (particularly if that history is relatively recent), it's a bit more complicated to decide whether you should reach out to any cousins you've found while conducting research.

The situation in which I currently find myself is kind of a difficult one, at least from my point of view. I've discovered that I have two cousins that I never knew about while growing up. They are my maternal first cousins.

They live in a different state (Ohio) and are about my age. The problem is that I don't know whether they have any idea about our family history on our maternal side. Their mother (my aunt Juanita Kendall) wasn't raised with my mother. In fact, I don't even know if my mother and aunt ever communicated with one another while growing up. If they didn't, then it's possible that my cousins were never aware of my mother's existence.

Since I generally know where they live, it probably wouldn't be too difficult to find a way to contact them. But if I do, I'll likely have to explain all of the ugly family history in order to tell them how we're related.

Should I make the effort and possibly disrupt their lives by telling them a lot of details they have no interest in? Or, should I take the chance that they might just be interested in learning more about their family and meeting a new cousin?

I'm conflicted.


  1. Assuming your grandparents, mother and aunt are no longer living or that you have spoken with them and have their agreement to proceed, I would write a letter - the old fashioned kind is best, but email works - and mail it to each of them briefly explaining the situation and your reasons for wanting contact. The brief explanation, without all the difficult details, allows them some time and space to think, to decide what they want to know. Phone calls are too intrusive for this type of meeting and don't give one time to really consider.

  2. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for your advice! I had already shelved the idea of calling them. I know that I wouldn't appreciate having family drama dumped on me suddenly, and phone calls definitely put people on the spot. I certainly wouldn't want to do that.

    I like your idea of writing an old-fashioned letter. I have to say that I'm more comfortable sending emails, as I do that all the time for professional and personal business, but I see your point about sending a traditional letter. That might be the best way to go in this instance.

    Thanks for your comment!