Don’t Scare Distant Family Away

As I mentioned on my post yesterday, one little-used resource for Genealogy research are distant relatives. These are often times the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of great aunts and uncles who, most likely, you don’t personally know. However, these people can often be privy to family stories, pictures, paperwork, and heirlooms important to researching your own direct tree branches. Reaching out to what are mostly complete strangers can be tricky business so it’s important to get it right the first time. After all, first impressions are everything.

Here’s a quick breakdown on reaching out to those distant relatives on your family tree who might have that awesome treasure trove you’ve been looking for

  1. Draw out your family tree (neatly sketching one by hand is a nice touch but if you have horrid handwriting, a printed version might be better) and be sure to draw it complete enough to show where you are and where they are on the tree in relation to the individuals you’re researching. This will both prove how you’re related to each other and also give you the proper title of your relation (i.e. first cousin 3x removed, etc.) The latter bit can be very tricky and I’ve never quite memorized it myself (if you have a tree on Ancestry.com, you can click on your family members name and copy the title from there) so this chart can help you sort that mess out.

    Untitled
    You can identify the relationship title easily on Ancestry.com 
  2. Make copies of any photographs you may have of the relation you’re connected to. For example if you’re writing to a cousin, look to see if you have any photos of the aunt or uncle that is their parent, grandparent, great-grandparent etc., or any other mutual family member you might have pictures of. This will both solidify proof that you’re related and also give a nice surprise.
  3. Write a letter (yes, an actually physical letter–it makes a better impact) clearly identifying what sort of information you’re looking for. This is the most crucial part. You want to get them excited about the research you’re conducting. Most people are interested in their family tree, but others are not for many reasons–family drama, financial issues, secrets, etc. Here are some phrases you might want to consider using:
    1. I hope this letter finds you well
    2. I’ve been researching my [surname] family tree for XX years and thought I would research out to you in hopes of getting some more information about our family.
    3. It would be extremely useful to see any family pictures, documents, or heirlooms you or anyone you know might have from our family.
    4. I’m more than happy to pre-pay or reimburse you for any expenses for copying these pictures, documents, etc
    5. I’d love to chat with you over the phone or meet at a coffee shop to share my research with you!
    6. You can reach me at 123-456-7890 or email me at coolchap@coolchaps.com
    7. I hope I have caused you any inconvenience or duress by sending this letter–if you have nothing to share, just let me know and I’ll be on my way!
  4. Share any interesting or juicy information you’ve come across in your research
  5. Here comes the awkward part: find their mailing address. Your best chance is to use the White Pages to find them online. Try to verify it’s the right person by looking at their estimated age and any other individuals associated with the address (like spouses or children).
  6. Remember if the individual you’re reaching out to is a female, they may be married and may have changed their last name. You can often find a record of their marriage on Ancestry.com to verify their new last name.
  7. Be patient and take “no thanks” means no–some people want to leave the past in the past so respect anyone demands to be left alone. Who knows–they may come around some day and now they have your contact information.

Good luck!

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