My cousins notebook

One of my organizational tips is for everything to have a place… no more sticky notes and scraps of paper. For genealogy, I have something that I affectionately call my “cousins notebook.” 02_malibu journal refill pages

It looks like this… it is a portable notebook from Daytimer called the Malibu refillable journal. There is a lined page version and a plain page version. But any notebook will do!

01_malibu planner







There are many types of lists and contacts housed in this notebook. When I see a website, hear a speaker, or receive an email about something new, I track helpful websites, particularly if I have to wait to look at it and find it later.



09_helpful tips

I keep track of newly found cousins. I note which line of the family, Ancestry user name, family tree name, and I also track here whether I have shared my private family tree with them. I keep track of DNA matches as well.

12_dna matches_redacted 11_cousins correspond and invite to tree_redacted

Sometimes I find family trees that I want to look at later, so I note that.

10_helpful family trees_redacted


In addition to the hand-written notes to myself, I also have some lists that I use and update. I have a list for each person who has been DNA-tested. I have a ready-made copy and paste list of surnames for when I correspond with DNA matches.





07_list of surnames to paste into DNA messages

Something that I track in this notebook are the names that have “google alerts” set for surnames and the surname message boards that I have added to my aggregator, Feedly. If you need more information about Feedly, I have other posts about how to use it and set it up to streamline your genealogy sources, blogs, and surname message boards.

06_google alert list and family surname message boards in feedly

I have a list of the maps that I have collected for my research trips (and the ones I want to collect next).

05_list of maps

If you belong to RootsWeb groups, this notebook is a great place to track which groups are feeding into your email. I also update this list occasionally, removing groups that aren’t active anymore and adding new groups as my search expands.

04_rootsweb yahoo groups

The final list that I track and update in my cousins notebook is my society memberships, the cost, and the renewal dates.

03_genealogical society memberships


One of the best ways to clear your desk is to have a “go to” place for those notes and scraps of paper! Get a notebook and get organized!!

Ancestry DNA Test, Now What?

Recently I DNA tested my father, my mother, and a first cousin with Ancestry’s autosomal DNA testing. The results have been both fun and overwhelming. The results that arrive each week in my email are quite amazing! To determine what to do next, I started with The Barefoot Genealogist video blogs on Ancestry. Crista Cowen does a great job of explaining results, different types of DNA tests, and how to use what you have found.



One of my distant relatives, Byron Brown, wrote a 12-volume set called, “Cousins by the Dozens.” After DNA testing, I feel like I am trapped in some sort of electronic version of cousin compiling. How do I contact all of these people? I was emailing each cousin with common names, possible connections, and “I think we are related”, but I didn’t feel very efficient in my quest.

I decided to take what I learned about cousin relationships and develop something I could use over-and-over to contact cousins. In writing, this type of language that can be used efficiently and repetitively  is called “boilerplate language.” It’s a huge time-saver.

Because 1st cousin matches are most likely linked through common grandparents, here is what I wrote and then copied with each cousin email:

You and my father are 1st cousins according to our DNA testing. That means that most likely we have common grandparents. Here are my father’s grandparents’ surnames:

Reed & Hiltbruner

Calderwood & Gilbert

Do you have any of these names in your family?

Then with second cousins, I wrote another boilerplate using what I know about my father’s great grandparents’ surnames.

You and my father are 2nd cousins according to our DNA testing. That means that most likely we have common great grandparents. Here are my father’s great grandparents’ surnames:

Reed & Brelsford

Hiltbruner & Riffle

Calderwood & Throp

Gilbert & VanTilburg

Do you have any of these names in your family?

And usually by the great great grandparent list, unknowns begin to appear. I included them in the list of grandparents. It’s already helped me find the surnames of two of my great great grandmothers.

You and my father are 3rd cousins according to our DNA testing. That means that most likely we have common great great grandparents. Here are my father’s great great grandparents’ surnames:

Reed & Unknown

Brelsford & Lawrence

Hiltbruner & Hagerty

Riffle & Unknown

Calderwood & Robeson

Throp & Wikoff

Gilbert & Unknown

VanTilburg & Clark

Do you have any of these names in your family?

I would encourage you to copy this boilerplate or write one of your own. Keep it simple. Save the more complicated emails for when someone responds. Reach out… at least to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins. And happy hunting!!

ancestry dna logo

Next post… how to organize the responses you receive from your cousins!