Genealogy in the age of the Internet and social networking sites

When I hit brick walls tracing my family back, I amuse myself by tracing my family to the sides. Finding cousins on parallel branches opens up new research avenues - connecting with them allows you to pool your collective information. If your great-grandmother had a family Bible with a listing of birthdates that she didn't hand down to your grandfather, the children of your grandfather's sister might have it in their possession. A cousin several times removed who tracked me down had in his possession the only known photo of my 4th great-grandmother, Barbara Reinhardt Haase, which he shared with me. I never would have known what she looked like (a good, strong German woman who could have easily been a linebacker in the NFL, by the way) if there had been no sideways family tree research done.

When you trace your family to the side, you end up finding your contemporaries - not just your cousins, but your second cousins, and third cousins and fourth cousins as well.
Alumni updates, obits, social networking sites, blogs - these are all online sources of finding cousins and "getting to know them" even though they might not know you exist and you might not ever meet them. Some people might call this "internet stalking." I call it finding out the things we have in common with each other and discovering some amazing people you can call "family." On the blog front, I've found a few - one cousin writes a wonderful blog about her and her husband's journey adopting children from abroad, many with special needs, another wrote well written articles about her decisions to court rather than date, and yet another, who is Mormon, writes about the adventures she has as a missionary in Asia.

So another thing I've learned is that writers also run in my family, apparently.

I've found distant cousins who I know only by name and family line on sites such as MySpace and Facebook - one of them posted "movies" he and his brothers had made, which is interesting because directing and editing short films is something my own brother has been known to dabble in.

And of course, people have family websites, where you can find family tree information not only going backward, but going forward, too, as people announce their weddings and the births of children or grandchildren, helping you fill out the ever expanding sideways branches as well.