There seems to be much debate over the impact of the Internet and the web on society. Some say we're absorbed in our cellphones and shrinking from face to face interactions. Some disagree.
My extended family was small; I had six living first cousins, all of whom were several years older than me. They lived in distant places, and we didn't have family reunions. The closest we came in recent years was when two cousins came to my mother's funeral.
Then came the internet and PC's. A cousin, Marjorie Harshaw Robie, got a hand-me-down PC from her son, and started to get into genealogy, becoming very interested in and familiar with the Harshaw and the Robies. Through connections she made there, a remote cousin got in touch with her, offering a set of original diaries written by James Harshaw in County Down in the middle of the 19th century. My cousin got them microfilmed and took them back to Ireland to the Public Records (archives) Office. Her work with the diaries attracted enough attention that PBS, which was doing a TV series on the Irish in America, did an interview, excerpts of which actually got aired. My sister, who had been into genealogy before the advent of PC's, noticed and mentioned to me.
Another few years passed and I looked my cousin up on the Internet and got her email address (this was before Facebook). We made connections, first through email, then through AOL instant messaging (and now Facebook). She's now putting the finishing touches on her second book, Dueling Dragons (expect to see more on it here).
Meanwhile, as a retiree I got involved in blogging and in following bloggers. One of the bloggers I began to follow, probably about 2008, was TaNehisi Coates. At that time he had one of the best sets of people commenting on his posts, including a number of regulars. One of the regulars was Andy Hall, who had his own blog: Dead Confederates, a blog which I added to my RSS feed.
On the occasion of Memorial Day, Andy posted about three Civil War veterans, one of whom was George Frank Robie, a Union Medal of Honor winner who's buried in Galveston, Andy's hometown.
Naturally, when I saw the post, I passed the url to my cousin in case he was new to her. This is real life, not fiction, so George Frank did not turn out to be an ancestor of her husband, but only a relative.
What lessons do I take from this? I think the Internet does enable, though not force, new connections following existing paths of relationship and interests.