Basically what they mean, as one is searching for ancestors, is that you are attempting to find living relatives that can provide additional information regarding their ancestry. In my experience, I have been successful in finding many new "cousins" who have provided tons of new information about my ancestors and ancestors’ families. More on that later.
So what techniques can be used to find new "cousins?"
The three most prevalent methods are as follows:
1) By uploading a family tree to a variety of family tree sharing websites - for example - Ancestry Family Tree, provided by ancestry.com; and wikitree.com. There are a number of similar sites where one can upload their family tree and provide a means for like-minded individuals to search and possibly notice a connection. Then you can contact them or them - you if a connection seems possible.
2) By joining a forum where surnames or locations are grouped and one can post a message, such as "Searching for Smith family in Racine, Wisconsin". Again this is a place where you or like-minded individuals can search and possibly notice a possible connection.
3) By creating a blog where you post stories and or facts about your ancestors and through the magic of search engines, provide means for others to find the names in your blog and contact you.
There are newer methods which I have found beneficial - such as Facebook and other Social Media sites where names can be searched.
BUT - the question that I posed in the Title - is why do you search for cousins? These are my observations. In the ancestor hunting world - there are three types of people (and obviously gradations).
1) The first is the researcher who wants to fill in all the dates and find a new person so they can have another set of dates to fill in and often they are most interested in how far back they can go and how many people are in their database.
2) The second is the person who is more interested in the "soft" side - i.e., the person who is more interested in the color - that is the stories of their ancestors’ lives.
3) The third is the person who wants to CONNECT with new relatives as a primary benefit of doing the research because they like people.
Of all that is written about genealogy, most of the focus is on the first one which is all about the data. Even less so is the focus on the “color of ancestors’ lives - and the stories of our ancestors.
But the REAL benefit for me at least - is the third and that is CONNECTING with known and newly found relatives. Let me share a few stories of mine:
By creating a blog, www.marksology.com, I have had 2 profound interactions with new relatives. One is a 3rd cousin who is equally as obsessed with finding out about her ancestors. And lo and behold we have several who are the same. Because she looked for me because of my blog, she later found me via Facebook and we have 2 1/2 solid years of sharing - almost every day, including the identification of over 400 ancestor photos, some from the 19th century. She has become what I call my "genealogy buddy."
The second interaction is equally as profound. This time, another 3rd cousin found me via my blog. As it turns out the sharing of the information that I had found over the years, actually stopped some nightmares that were recurring for her. As the youngest grandchild of her grandfather, who had died in a concentration camp during World War II, she was always curious as to her ancestry. But no one in her family wanted to talk about hers or their ancestry because of the painful memories. You see her grandfather had to divorce his wife in order to save his three children, one of whom was the father of my third cousin. As a result she knew nothing about her ancestors and often got into a lot of trouble when she brought it up with any of her relatives, especially with her father. I will always cherish the many heartfelt letters that I received from her as I explained what I knew about her ancestors.
So the things that I treasure about my ancestor hunting - are the connections that I have made with my newly found cousins.
Isn't that a lot better than focusing solely on dates and locations of births, marriages and deaths?