---- — 'My cousins."
I bask in that phrase — a new one that came later in life, thanks to genealogy, a Civil War letter and the fact that Tom and Susan and I finally are old enough to meet and become good friends and family.
Age has separated us for years. Tom went off to college about the time I started kindergarten. Susan was only a year old.
Our life stories are different, but we share a deep interest in and curiosity about the history of our families and hometown.
Our senses of humor and love for genealogical adventure mesh.
We laugh a lot.
We share coincidences that make us wonder if our ancestors want their stories told.
We grew up in the same town and spent our early childhoods — at different times — living in the same house.
Tom's family rented it in the 1930s, mine after World War II in the late 1940s and Susan's family in the 1950s.
We graduated from the same high school — Tom in 1955, me in 1967 and Susan in 1972.
Susan and I are double cousins descended from the same great-great grandparents who moved from New York to Michigan's Thumb in the mid-1850s.
They were among our hometown's first settlers and had nine children.
Several of them had large families, too.
Tom, Susan and I share Scottish great-great grandparents who moved first to Ontario and then to Michigan.
Our paths converged in 2006 because of a Civil War letter written by my great-great grandfather.
It had come into Tom's possession decades before.
He gave it to me six years ago to include in a family history album I was making for my nephew's college graduation celebration.
I made extra copies for him and Harold, an 80-year-old cousin, because both had provided genealogical information and photos.
Harold happened to be Susan's uncle.
Long story short, she saw the letter and called me to ask for a copy for her son, a Civil War reenactor.
A lot has happened since 2006.
We've found more cousins, more pictures, more Civil War letters and portraits of the original great-great grandparents.
In 2010, I tromped through the cemeteries and genealogical records of Niagara County, N.Y.
This year, Tom, Susan and I revived the long-gone family reunion.
More than 30 people showed up with notebooks, scrapbooks, pictures and stories.
The number of cousins living and dead exploded.
My once slim family album is now a bulging 4-inch notebook, and several portable filing cases.
The family tree is fuller.
And so is life.
Associate editor Loraine Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 231-933-1468.