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Friday, May 31, 2013

Cousins Lost and Found: How Do You Stay Connected?

My cousin Tommy Robinson, at the cottage of my ancestors. 

Chris Brady

I spent a workweek in Ireland recently. I called my cousin Tommy and his wife Eileen, who live in County Mayo, to let them know I was in the country (about three counties West of their home.)   We agreed to meet near Galway for dinner (a two-hour drive for them). It had been almost two years since our last chat, but we picked up the conversation like it was yesterday.

I found Tommy through a U.S. cousin as I planned my first trip to Ireland in 1998. Like many Irish Americans, I wanted to learn about my family tree. (It's an industry there.) I reconnect when I return to Ireland for business, and we meet for lunch or dinner and sometimes an overnight stay.  It’s been fun for me to get to know them.

My dad's great-grandfather, the first John Robinson.
Our great grandfathers were brothers.  Our families separated when mine immigrated to America, and his stayed in Ireland. Tommy has given me a rich story of my father’s family; he still lives on the land where our great-grandfathers were raised. I have visited the cemetery and the church and the castle of the English lord who owned the land my ancestors farmed.

The two times that I was able to visit his home, he sent out word to the family and six people came to meet me at the local pub. Our families seem really similar in terms of values, marriage, children, education and socio-economic status. It makes me wonder what my life would have been like had I been raised in Ireland.

Tommy is surprised that I don’t see my cousins who live within a few miles of my house as often as I see him. He chided me for not keeping in touch with a distant NJ cousin who visits him in Ireland. She’s a lovely person, but he is the only reason we know each other.  I think about all the other people I've lost touch with.

Feeling Guilty about Loosing Touch
I have so many family members I don’t see anymore. We’re not estranged because of a family feud; our lives just don’t intersect. I have four aunts and two uncles, and 28 first cousins (not counting spouses). They are all good people, and we have fun when we see each other, but three generations have been born since my childhood. We spend our time and attention on siblings, nieces and nephews now, and there’s not a lot of time left over after that.
Welsh cousins reunion -2010

We have occasional family reunions, but too often, our meeting place is at funerals, We trade snippets of our lives, a hug and a kiss, and it’s farewell until next time.

I will be spending time with a favorite cousin in a few weeks. I’ll be in California on vacation, where she lives. She stays with me when she visits Philadelphia. She and her sister are the cousins who have become friends, and interestingly, they live the farthest away. The difference is that we have made an effort to visit each other, and the visits have strengthened the bonds.  

Writing this passage has me thinking about my aunts and uncles; it’s been far too long that I've made a visit, and at their ages (mid-80's) it's up to me to reach out. It will be good to see them again, almost as a way to connect to my late father, who was their oldest brother. I'll give credit to their Irish cousin Tommy Robinson, whose interest in me made me think about the treasure of family members I am missing right at home.  (It’s in writing now; I have to follow through.)

As you have grown older, how have you kept ties with aunts and uncles, cousins and other extended family members? Share your stories.  


  1. AnonymousMay 31, 2013

    Sadly, I have very few extended family. My father only has 2 nephews left. I talk to them every few months. I have one uncle on my mother's side and his wife (my aunt) and I talk to them at least once a week. 3 cousins on that side of the family but a long ago rift has left us "polite" with 2 of them. As with you, we have so much going on with siblings, nieces and nephews that our lives are very full!

    Julie V

    1. Julie, That's pretty regular -- once a week chats. I can see why you would stay close to your mom's peeps. Too bad about the cousins, but you seem pretty busy with sibs and their kids (and now a new generation).

  2. The Internet has brought me into touch with one of my cousins. We live only a few hours apart, but I'd seen her maybe four times before her father died and her mother slipped into dementia. She was in her early 40s when I came for her dad's funeral ... I'm 17 years older. My cousin is active on Facebook, so now I can keep up with her daily, even if we simply "Like" each other's posts. We love to look for family similarities ... we're both good with words, neither enjoys gardening, etc.

    1. Linda, Nice that you found each other. I have few family members on Facebook, or else they just don't post anything. Interesting how you find the similarities, even though you didn't grow up together.