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What is 'cousin bait' ?

'Cousin bait' is a term coined by bloggers to describe genealogy blog posts whose sole purpose is to make contact with cousins researching the same family line. At WikiTree Thomas MacEntee defines it as:

the term commonly used to describe any effort made to attract attention to the research you’ve already done and hopefully connect with other “cousins."

and describes how queries can be used as online cousin-bait in newsletters and message boards/mailing lists before moving on to mention the use of blog posts, facebook and twitter to create cousin-bait. WikiTrees even has a cousin bait toolkit.

for genealogists who want to lure distant cousins to help grow their family history and share photos and memories.

So there are plenty of effective options available for attracting cousins to make contact by publishing your genealogy.

Blogger Amy Coffin has a post describing how to write a good cousin-bait blog post which highlights the need to:

Put some thought into selecting people for your cousin bait post. Pick one or more people, but not too many

Explain [your] connection to the subject or subjects.

Write a search-friendly cousin bait post...

which she expands to recommend:

Include the full names of your subjects, including married and maiden names if you know them

If you know birth and death dates for the subjects, include them in your post

Include places in your cousin bait post

All of which could form the basis for guidance on how to write a good query here about named ancestors as per the guidance at About.com on How To Write a Successful Genealogy Query.

So, how does 'cousin-bait' differ from a well-crafted question on this site?

Surprisingly perhaps, it needn't, but with the important caveat that a question on this site won't work reliably as cousin-bait.

If somebody writes a question:

  • about a specific set of ancestors (e.g. great-grandfather Fred Cribbins)
  • seeking a specific fact or guidance on how to discover that fact (how can I find a record of his birth?)
  • with enough supporting information (he was living in London, England in the 1851 census; his age was given as 24 and his place of birth as Shepton Mallet) to enable other members of the community to respond

that's great — we want questions like that. Good answers might provide guidance on how to progress the search, or even point to the specific information being sought (with details of how it was found), and they'll be useful both to the questioner and to somebody facing a similar challenge.

As a by-product of a question like that, it might turn up in a cousin's search results, if they were googling for "Fred Cribbins 1827 Shepton Mallet". And they might be able to provide you with the information you're missing, fully sourced, with a solid 'proof statement'. Wonderful. The OP gets the answer they're seeking but...

Here come's the first gotcha

There's no fool-proof way to make contact off-site with the cousin that's been 'lured'. As per How does one contact a user if they have/want additional information?

Solicitations for personal contact should not be permitted in answers or comments. The public nature of these sites specifically dissuades that type of private, off-line contact. That is by design. We do not provide social networking functions that would allow you to contact a user privately, so if a user wants to be contacted in this manner, they can leave that information in their profile.

If a moderator or other member of the community with sufficient reputation finds a question, answer or comment soliciting off-site contact, that solicitation will most likely be deleted, which will be frustrating for both the OP and the cousin.

So if you're relying on a question here to bring you in off-site contact with cousins, you're not going to be very successful, unless they're savvy enough to look in your profile for publicly-available contact info without being invited to do so, or to provide their own contact info in their own profile.

And the second gotcha

If your question doesn't entice one of the regular visitors here to answer it, and it doesn't get more up-votes than down-votes, it will get automatically deleted somewhere between 30 and 365 days after it's posted (see the policies we have in place to remove old abandoned / dead questions ) So, if you're posting solely in the hope that a cousin will respond at some point in the future, you may also be disappointed.

I'm willing to take my chances

You might be lucky. However, your question is likely to be received more positively by the community (and get the response it needs to survive) if:

  • you make the effort to increase its relevance beyond your putative cousins (ditto for any answer you post yourself)
  • you respond to comments and answers that don't come from cousins
  • you demonstrate that you've attempted to research the problem yourself

In short: your best strategy is to write a good question that is answerable by and useful to people other than your cousins. It might also serve as cousin-bait but that shouldn't be its primary purpose.

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  • There's an illustration of the drawback of this site for contacting cousins here: genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/3571/104. One cousin has a website visible in their profile, the other does not so will have to take the intitiative to track the first one down. – user104 Jul 12 '13 at 11:01
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I had no idea that prominent genealogists 'coach' ways to do this. Hilarious! A well thought out Meta post and thank you for bringing this issue into the light. Questions can most definitely plant names and Google 'findable' dates and places, but it's so important to remember that the community here exists for a purpose too. That is sharing. This is not a bulletin board to post any and all want ads.

If a person is serious about making their genealogy work public knowledge and to use SE as a promotional tool (as many programmers do), then they should definitely fill out contact details in their profile.

Cousin-bait sounds like a dirty term, but as you say, it needn't be. Questions and answers can be awesome Q&As that fit within the scope of SE while still containing those terms that a lost cousin can surreptitiously chance upon.

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  • I don't think cousin-bait was ever intended to be a dirty term, just word-play around 'fishing for contacts.' And it now seems to be the most widely-used phrase for just that. – user104 Jul 10 '13 at 10:49

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