19 March 2019

Use Cousin Baiting to Expand Your Family Tree

A new cousin took the bait and contacted me with details about his branch.

Filling out the branches of your family tree will help attract more cousins.
Filling out the branches of your family tree
will help attract more cousins.

You know those long ancestral scrolls you see on the ancestry TV shows we all love? The straight-up family trees that always end with the king of England? That may look great on a wall. But you'll never connect to your DNA matches if you don't look beyond your direct-line ancestors.

What can you do to help unknown cousins find you?

Add Their Branches

"Cousin baiting" is a term used by genealogy bloggers. It's a way to attract distant relatives to yourself. When bloggers write about their ancestors, they drop plenty of names, dates, and places. They're putting out bait to attract new cousins. New cousins may have old photos, a family bible, or papers a genealogy fan would treasure.

But cousin baiting isn't only for bloggers. You can attract DNA matches and other cousins by filling your family tree with bait. Go way out onto the branches of your tree. Add as many facts as you can find. Your 3rd great grandparents' 4th child may be exactly the right person to attract an important cousin to you.

Recently I chose 3 of my DNA matches to work on. I used a bit of the information from their family trees, but not much. They each had very few facts to offer.

With your own research library, you can choose almost anyone and fit them into your tree.
With your own research library, you can choose almost anyone and fit them into your tree.

I, on the other hand, have an insane amount of data to work with. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I've put together an enormous genealogy research library on my computer.

I know which Italian towns my ancestors lived in as far back as the late 1600s. (Knowing the exact town is critical!) I've downloaded and organized all the vital records currently available from those towns.

With my collection of documents, and my knowledge of the last names found in each of my towns, I can quickly find the facts my DNA match doesn't know.

Make the Connection Clear

I'm baiting my DNA matches by offering them:
  • exact birth, marriage and death dates for their ancestors
  • images of their ancestors' documents with a link to the original file online
  • details of their ancestors' siblings, other marriages, and other children.
I'm building out my tree one DNA match at a time. And while I'm doing that, I'm no doubt adding bait for my other DNA matches to find.

How are you handling your DNA matches?
  • Are you waiting for them to contact you?
  • Are you looking only at the closest relatives?
  • Are you giving up on a match with a small family tree?
Make your family tree thicker and richer by adding more and more relatives. While you're working on one DNA match, several others may see the connection and contact you.

I photographed this man's grave many years ago, not yet knowing who he was.
I photographed this man's grave many years ago, not yet knowing who he was.

Reap the Benefits

Each new cousin I figure out adds a couple of dozen people to my tree. Each time I do this, I make more connections. For instance, the Teresa Ciotti belonging to one DNA match turned out to be the Maria Teresa Concetta Ciotti already in my tree. I added 4 more generations to that DNA match instantly.

Because of my very bushy family tree, I heard from the great great great grandson of my great great grandfather in Italy. He gave me lots of details about his branch of the family. I never knew they had lived in America.

I hope this inspires you to creep further out onto the limbs of your family tree. The answers you need may be in the hands of a cousin you've never met. Lay the bait and help them find you.


  1. Great post, DiAnn! I think we use the term 'cousin baiting' in a negative way too often; what we're really doing is growing our own trees, and that allows others to find our research more easily. Expanding our search both up and sideways is vital to getting the whole story of our ancestors. Looking forward to reading more of your blog!

  2. It does sound like a negative phrase, but I'm exploring its positive side. Think of it as "catch and release" fishing. I want to see you, but I'll let you go about your life in just a moment. :-)

  3. I think cousin bait is needed as I find often with the 'new' DNA cousins, they are not doing genealogy. (They've likely been attracted by the compelling commercials advertising DNA genealogy tests.) I do routinely contact matches, doing as much research as I can beforehand, and sometimes I scramble! and add info to their branches. I really like your idea of adding modern photos of places. I have lots I've taken that I can use. Thanks for that idea!

    1. That's so true...people are getting tested with no intention of building a strong family tree. They probably want the pie chart more than anything else! But when we add their details to our tree, we can reach across to our distant cousins' present-day families. That wouldn't happen if they hadn't tested.

  4. DiAnn,
    This is a great article on attracting cousins to our website! I have been on the receiving end of finding more information about my ancestors, but I am not sure if they feel as blessed as I do. I hope so! I like helping them as much as they help me. And it is wonderful if you also get the chance to meet them!

  5. And since most all my aunts-by-marriage, my great aunnts and uncles, and several of my cousins-in-law are all from the same population .....

    Why yes, I am binge-reading your blog. Why do you ask?