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Surnames passing on a bus

The question practically jumped off the screen.

The Legal Genealogist was perusing the latest posts on Facebook and this question appeared, posted by my friend Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy: “Did you ever see a surname somewhere and wonder ‘Are you my cousin’?”1

Oh yeah.

Oh absolutely yeah.

Sometimes it’s just ships passing in the night.

And sometimes, just sometimes, when you ask the follow-up question, you get the answer you really want.

Case in point: On Wednesday, August 27, my cousin Paula and I were attending the 2014 Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in San Antonio. Our mothers — mine the older sister, hers the baby of the family — were both born in Texas so it was a special trip for us.

L-R: Paula, Judy, Ruth

L-R: Paula, Judy, Ruth

We decided to go to the special event that evening, at the Institute of Texas Culture, and decided to take the bus provided by FGS from the hotel to the institute.2

I sat by the window, Paula by the aisle, and as other passengers boarded I went into my usual stare out the window totally oblivious to everything mode until I heard Paula’s whisper.

“Her name tag says Cottrell.”

“Say what?”

“Her name tag,” she repeated, with a nod of the head towards a woman boarding the bus, “says Cottrell.”

That’s our mothers’ maiden name.

Being the shy, retiring type that I am,3 I turned around to the woman, now taking a seat in the row behind us on the far side of the bus.

“Excuse me,” I asked, “but does your name tag say Cottrell?”

It did. And Ruth Cottrell was from Texas.

My radar started pinging. “We could be kin,” I said.

She wasn’t convinced. Her branch of the family, she said, was a pretty localized branch there in a corner of Texas.


Comanche County.

Now the radar is pinging big time. I thought that sounded familiar, so I grabbed my smart phone and did a quick online search.

Sure enough, there was a John Cottrell who’d served in the Civil War and who’d later moved to Comanche County4 who, we were pretty sure, was related somehow.

I mentioned that. She still wasn’t convinced. She’d had her son do YDNA testing, you see, and he only matched a few people.

I pulled up my uncle David’s results in the Cottrell surname project at Family Tree DNA, and asked her for her son’s name.

Sure enough, he only matched a few people in the Cottrell surname project.

And one of those he matches, at the 66-for-67 marker level, is my uncle David.

We spent the rest of the evening, sitting together, trying to figure out who the common ancestor will turn out to be. The big issue for our group of Cottrell men is that there’s virtually no change in the YDNA in any of the lines that descend from Richard Cottrell who died in Henrico County, Virginia, in 1715.

My line ended up in Texas by the mid-1840s. Cousin Ruth’s line ended up there around 1870. A third line was in Alabama by the 1830s. Others never left Virginia. And all the YDNA is ridiculously close — a tight group of 66-for-67 and 67-for-67 marker matches.

We’ll probably have to do more testing to see if we can nail down exactly how far back we have to go before all of our lines converge — it it with Richard? with his son Thomas or son Richard? with a grandson?

But think about the odds.

One person from New Jersey, one from Virginia, one from Texas. All attending not just one conference, but one particular event at the conference, and ending up on the same bus.

Surnames passing on a bus.

How cool is that?


  1. Heather Wilkinson Rojo, status update, 4 Sep 2014, Facebook ( : accessed 4 Sep 2014).
  2. It wasn’t that far… but oh… the heat and humidity… wow.
  3. You can quit laughing now.
  4. See “The Life and Timeline of J W Cottrell,” Random Thoughts & Leaps of Faith from the Back Porch ( : accessed 5 Sep 2014).
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