As I write, we’re experiencing our first snowfall of the season. Grab a cup of cocoa and enjoy reading blogs this weekend.
In late September my husband was contacted via Facebook by his first cousin who he had not seen in 50 years. We were not Facebook friends with this line so the message wasn’t expected. In August, after relocating, I wrote on Facebook explaining why we had suddenly pulled up roots in Florida and relocated to Indiana. Another cousin who is a Facebook friend told the cousin which is how my husband got the message. You know family, always playing telephone!
The cousin asked us to let her know when we had settled in our new home so we could come for a visit; the family lives about an hour and a half from us. We made that visit the first weekend in October which was timely, as the family was relocating to Florida for the winter the following week. We had lived in Florida for almost 50 years and never knew that they were coming down for 6 months each year for the past 13 years.
It certainly could be awkward to reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in years, even if there had been no falling out. In our case, we simply moved away from where the majority of the family lived and raised a family, working, and maintaining a home, life just got in the way of keeping up a long-distance relationship. When my husband’s parents were alive they would keep us updated on family events but since they passed we just lost the connections. By the time Facebook came to be, it had been over 10 years since we had any information on the extended lines.
Yes, Facebook and other social media are very good tools to keep in touch with relatives but I’m just not into it. I don’t enjoy learning vicariously about friends and family. I go on it maybe twice a year to catch up. I much prefer text, phone, and face-to-face contact, even if that means Zoom or another service. If you want to reconnect, a message on a social media site is a great way to do that, however. After the initial few messages going back and forth and the exchange of emails and/or phone numbers, someone needs to be brave and make the phone call.
The call doesn’t need to be long, in fact, it’s better if it’s not. After exchanging pleasantries, get down to basic updates, such as we are fine and love (fill in the blank). Being positive is a good way to begin. I’m not saying don’t share bad news. If you’ve just been given a terminal diagnosis and want to reconnect quickly, by all means, share that.
In my case, I asked what a good time for our visit would be and was told any time after 10 AM. I said 11:30 AM would work for us and so the meeting was set. We arrive a few minutes early. I knew that lunch would be prepared for us but I wanted to bring a little something. If you don’t know the family well enough bringing a gift could have been problematic. I decided on a box of chocolates made by a local company. Alcohol, flowers, a desert, or memorabilia that belonged to that line could all work.
Let the person you’re visiting take the lead in the initial hellos. Some families are huggers and others aren’t. Some may still need you to mask up. Whatever the host family requires makes you a good guest.
We started with a handshake and smile that evolved quickly into hugs. Then we got a tour of their beautiful home on a lake. My husband has spoken of this lake for our entire relationship but I’ve never been there. He spent his preschool summers there. It was where he first fell in love with a nameless older girl who was about age 6; he tried to catch a perch with his bare hands for her birthday present. He loved climbing up on a chair to play on an old pinball machine in the family-owned store. The beach house had an upstairs with mattresses strewn on the floor for the children and he loved hopping from one to the other. There was an older man who made funny faces when he thought; my husband imitates him to this day.
Like most visits as an adult, hubby was surprised the lake was as small as it was. It seemed like an ocean to him at age 3.
After the outside/inside house tour, we grabbed a plate and sat at the table for some eating and reminiscing. You can ask if anyone objects to the conversation being recorded or not. I did not record. I also did not take photos. You could also take notes. Since we are living nearby we agreed we’d meet in the spring when I returned to their area to research. Perhaps then I may record and photograph.
The family knows I’m a genealogist so it wasn’t surprising that the talk turned to ancestors early on. I had to laugh when a second cousin remarked that one of his cousins who were not present had done a fantastic amount of research. Yep, I agreed, I sent it to him.
I should have brought my laptop to have my tree readily available but I didn’t. I promised to send two of the second cousins’ info about the Civil War and various other lines we discussed. Keep your promise!
We also caught up on what everyone had done in the time since we last met. Photo albums were passed around.
We were in for a surprise as one of the second cousins was going to take us out on his pontoon for a ride around the lake. We learned that there had been three stores during my husband’s time there; his aunt owned the one he recalled. I asked how the family came to the lake and was informed that the first cousin’s uncle on an unrelated line to us had discovered a cottage there and decided it was a wonderful place in the 1950s to spend the summer, away from the heat and congestion of the Chicago area. Other families came to visit and as property became available, more families made purchases. I learned my father-in-law encouraged his sister, a widower with two young children, to purchase a cottage and then one of the stores. Both sides agreed to help her out which is how my husband came to spend his summers there.
My husband and his older male first cousin laughed at how my husband loved Alley Oops and being held high by the cousin so my husband could dive off him into the lake. Good times! By the time my husband was 6 the cottage and store had been sold. So, how did these first cousins have property there now?
We were told that for 15 years after the sale the family frequently recalled the wonderful times they had there and wanted the same experience for their young children. It took them a year but finally, a cabin came up for sale. They’ve owned a place on the lake since 1976; as other lots/cabins became available they made additional purchases so now they and two of their children have a summer place. The daughter of the aunt who originally bought there also owns a place, along with one of her children. But there was more. . .
As we toured the lake I learned that they hadn’t been aware that there was even more distant kin that was neighbors. Right before the pandemic, a neighbor was having a garage sale. The female first cousin went to check it out and somehow, the conversation turned to funny family names. She remarked that she didn’t think they could top her husband’s cousins’ names – Milnut and Elzine. The garage sale folks were stunned and replied that they, too, had cousins with those names. They also had a number of other cousins who owned cabins around the lake. I’d say, a quarter of the lake cabins are owned by two lines who had become united through a marriage in 1941. And none of them knew they were related until one cousin met another at a garage sale. Weird!
When we returned home I immediately checked to make sure I had the garage sale man’s name in my tree and I did so I was able to let all of them know how they are related. I also was able to explain how Milnut (really Milnett Rosinda Emelia) and Elzine (really Edna Gladie Elzene) were related to all of them.
By reconnecting with a known line, we were able to connect with three other lines that had been disconnected probably prior to the 1960s. It is indeed a small world and finding all of this family in one location was a pleasant surprise.
Now comes the hard part, staying in touch! Make it a point to reconnect every so often. You’ll be glad you did.