Read this first!

LostCousins is quite unique - out of more than 250,000 genealogy websites it's the only one that offers 100% accurate automatic matching between family historians who are researching the same ancestors - and it does this without anyone else seeing your data, which is important now that privacy and security are a concern for so many.

Of course, a unique system requires a different way of doing things, and that's why - no matter how experienced you might be as a family historian - you should read this page before going any further.

Whereas most genealogy websites use family trees, at LostCousins we use census entries. The advantage of using censuses is that they're publicy-available, and everyone can see the same information - something that's absolutely essential if matching is to be both automatic and accurate.

When you click the Search button on your My Ancestors page the LostCousins computer looks for other members who have entered the same people from the census - if you and another member are related to the same individual on the census, then the two of you must also be related to each other!

It's a simple system at heart but it's important to make clear from the beginning that despite the name My Ancestors you're not restricted to entering people in your direct line. Indeed that wouldn't be a good strategy, because ALL of your living cousins are descended from the branches of your tree. So entering relatives from the branches is key to finding your 'lost cousins'.

Once you've entered your relatives from the census the rest is automatic - simply click the Search button whenever you want to search for new cousins!

You don't need any subscriptions to search four cousins because most of the censuses we use are free online - see the Census Links page for links to the best source for each census.

The Help & Advice page has a Getting Started guide that shows you how to enter your first household from the England & Wales 1881 Census - there are three versions - choose the one for your preferred census site. If you have ancestors from England or Wales you don't need to read the rest of this page, at least not right now - the Getting Started guide will tell you all you nees to know.

But if you don't have ancestors from England or Wales follow the simple steps below:

Step One: Find your relatives on the census

Whichever census site you use, it's absolutely crucial that you note the references that identify the precise page of the census where you've found your relatives. These references are almost always part of the transcription - but if you use Ancestry they may not be all in the same place (start with the Source Citation then look at the main transcription for any missing fields.

Here's what you should be looking for in each census - the Add Ancestor form includes helpful advice and examples, so always read it carefully when using a particular census for the first time:

England & Wales 1841: Piece, Book, Folio, Page
England & Wales 1881: Piece, Folio, Page
England & Wales 1911: RG14 Piece number, Schedule number
Scotland 1881: Volume (or Registration number), Enumeration District, Page
United States 1880: NA Film number (or Roll), Page
United States 1940: Roll number, Enumeration District, Sheet
Canada 1881: District, Page, Household number
Ireland 1911: National Archives of Ireland film number (prefixed by 'nai')

Important: if you are entering relatives from the 1841 England & Wales census please read this FAQ about the census references before you start; if you are entering relatives from the 1911 Ireland census please read this FAQ

Step Two: Enter your relatives

The My Ancestors page is where you record the information for the relatives you have found on the census. When you click the Search button all the relatives you've entered will be compared against all of the relatives entered by other LostCousins members - that's potentially billions of comparisons, yet thanks to the wonders of modern technology it takes only a few seconds.

To enter a relative click 'Add new entry' at the top of the page, then select the appropriate census from the drop-down list - the form will change according to your selection.

Entering relatives is particularly easy if you have a printed copy of the relevant Household Record page from the FamilySearch site, but you'll probably find an equivalent page at your chosen site. Note: the most accurate transcriptions of the 1841 and 1881 Censuses of England & Wales can be found at findmypast.com (and there you can search the 1881 Census free).

Whichever source you use, it's crucial that for the 1880 and 1881 censuses you enter your relatives' information precisely as it has been transcribed, and not as it appears on the handwritten census page. This ensures that two members entering the same person enter the same information. It may seem strange to enter the data that is wrong or incomplete, but ironically it's the only way to ensure 100% accurate matching!

How to save time
Once you've entered the first person in a household it's quick and easy to enter other members of the household - just click the + symbol at the end of the line, and most of the information will be filled in automatically.

Step Three: Search for your cousins

Click the Search button. The matching process is entirely automatic - you don't have to do anything except wait a few seconds. We'll tell you how many matches we've found, and highlight each of the relatives involved with a red tick. Check your My Cousins page and make contact with your new-found cousin!

Note: the member who makes the first contact must be a subscriber.

Initial contact is made through the site, and only when both members have agreed to make contact will you each find out the other person's name; similarly we don't give out your email address unless both of you agree. You can continue to communicate with your new-found relatives through the LostCousins site if that's what you prefer.

What Next?

You'll probably want to share with your new cousin some of the information you've collected about your family's history. No doubt you'll each want to know how the other person is descended from your common ancestors.

With luck you'll find that your cousin can solve some of the mysteries you've encountered when researching your family. And as you get to know each other better you might decide to exchange old family photos and other items that have been passed down the generations (but don't send the originals - make copies or, ideally, scan them in and send them by email).

Now that you've found someone who shares your research interest you might even decide to collaborate on future research.

How can I improve my chances?

Remember to give priority to 1880 and 1881 where there is a choice of census years,. It's far better to enter distant relatives from those years than to enter close relatives from other years - it's usually the members of your ancestors' extended families who will provide the vital link to your lost cousins.

The My Summary page shows your Match Potential - the higher it is, the more cousins you're likely to find over time.

What else can I do?

Encourage other researchers to join - after all, it's free to register and search for living relatives. The more people who enter details of their ancestors, the more matches will be made. Let's face it, your personal recommendation will mean far more than any advertising we could possibly do!

Remember that although some other family history sites attempt to bring together people who are researching the same surnames, only LostCousins offers such a high probability that they will actually be related, and only LostCousins tells you how you're related to the other person, enabling you to distinguish between those who share your ancestors (your cousins) and people whose trees connect with yours only because of a marriage.

Should you recommend the LostCousins site on family history forums and mailing lists? Yes, provided you make it clear that you're not involved in running the site (otherwise it might be classed as advertising).

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