View Full Version : Contacting possible relatives
21-01-2006, 8:09 PM
What are your views on contacting a possible relative, by phone or letter, to determine if they are a relative and then see if they are willing to assist with further information? I have a number of good leads but would not want to risk annoying lost relatives using the wrong approach.
21-01-2006, 8:32 PM
I have, in all cases, begun by e-mail. I give my genealogical line from our common ancestor (first names, no dates) and what I know of theirs, and a few other details of the common ancestor, if known, and my city and phone, and request that they contact me, if willing. I almost always get an e-mail back. Sometimes, they put me in touch with the 'historian' in their line who keeps track, and we go from there.
21-01-2006, 9:26 PM
Email or snail mail. Never by phone - you don't want to be regarded as a crank.
21-01-2006, 9:27 PM
Much depends, I think, on how you have acquired these 'good leads.' If they are through a genealogical website, a Family History Society or other similar source, I would say go ahead. Such people are almost certainly fellow genealogists and will welcome your enquiry and the opportunity to share information.
You stipulate by letter or telephone. If you are excluding e-mail, a letter is probably a better idea, but don't forget the obligatory SAE ! I say this because any information written down can be referred to over and over again, dates and names checked and so on. It is difficult to remember everything just said in a 'phone call, which in any case may have come at an awkward time and not be welcome because of that. If you include your own 'phone number and e-mail address this gives the person concerned three opportunities to contact you if they wish.
The above may seem obvious, and I used to love getting 'phone calls which began .......'You don't know me but I got your name from the Members' Interests of ??? FHS, think we have the same gr grandfather or whatever'; however, not if I was just getting out of the shower or upto my wrists in pastry.
The situation is slightly different if the leads are not obtained through a genealogical source. Some people would resent what they may regard as an intrusion into their privacy by a complete stranger and I personally would be wary of such an enquiry, especially by 'phone since I now have an unlisted number.
On the other hand, Nothing ventured, nothing gained !!
21-01-2006, 10:32 PM
I would always hand-write a letter and the envelope so that it doesn't get mistaken for the general load of adverts from companies I've never heard of, selling rubbish I don't want.
If someone has written a letter by hand, it shows me they've made an effort and is likely to put me in the frame of mind to reply. Soul-less printed letters churned out for mass mailing (taking names from electoral roles or telephone directories) put me off and end up in the recycling bin.
I would always enclose a stamped addressed envleope for them to reply, but would include my telephone number and e-mail address.
I wouldn't use e-mail in case it goes into a spam trap and anyway e-mail always seems a less personal form of communication to me.
21-01-2006, 10:38 PM
Thanks to everyone. I think letters appear to be my best bet. When I said good leads I meant I had checked through the phone book and looked for all entries in the area that this branch settled around 1900. I then cross referenced this with details I had from BMD records that appeared to match. Not all did but then it seems a good bet that the people found (only 4) are possibly related.
Would this make peoples views change?
I will write to one where the name is not particularly common and is in my tree. If the rest are related then they probably all know each other.
21-01-2006, 10:39 PM
Thanks Geoffers. I was tempted to print a letter. My handwritting is not one of my prouder achievments but I agree that the personal touch is more likely to get a positive response.
21-01-2006, 11:02 PM
You canít go wrong with a letter. My mum received a letter from a very distant cousin a few years ago, enclosing a large family tree. She definitely thought the man was a total crank, Pam Ė a warning to us all!
She never got in touch with him, but did keep the letter. I finally took up family history about five years later. I contacted him (and he seemed perfectly normal to me :) ) We were able to share lots of info. So if you donít get any response immediately, donít get too downhearted.
If I were you, Iíd write giving enough information to confirm youíre related, but leaving the recipient feeling that you have more interesting information to impart. I'm sure my mum would have been in touch with him if she'd thought he had some juicy gossip... Good luck!
22-01-2006, 1:55 AM
It is suprising how such letters are kept - when we started researching the family history in 2001, my mother-in-law said, hang-on I got a letter from a lady years ago. It turned out to be 1994, and contained a basic outline of the family tree showing how her husband was related, without giving away too much information. Mum sent her the information she had asked for about the family, this lady had found them in the phone book.
When I wrote to the address, she had moved, and I have never been able to find her, and wonder if she ever did find out who Mary Ann McMillan was. I have :D
I would go with the handwritten letter as first contact.
22-01-2006, 3:33 PM
Here is another thing you might consider.
Some years ago I wrote to the editor of the local weekly newspaper of an area in which I was interested asking if an appeal for information could be included on the 'Letters' page. It was a newspaper which covered a wide local area and I received four replies. I subsequently visited three of the people and corresponded with the fourth. It was an unusual name and well worth the exercise but perhaps wouldn't work quite so well with a common name.
22-01-2006, 5:19 PM
A few years ago, I left a message on a surname forum and a lady answered, telling me that someone whose maiden name was the same, was still in the area and owned a Guest House. They became best friends at School, so she had a word with her and told her about my enquiry on the forum.
She was willing for me to phone her, so I did. Although she wasn't connected to my family at all ...... she knew someone else in the area with the same maiden name.
I was overwhelmed with her kindness (Jean), as she insisted on personally contacting this lady, armed with a few names of people in the family. As these names were familiar to her, she gave Jean permission for me to phone her, which I did.
Not only are we related (half second cousins), she didn't know about her Gt. Grandfather's first marriage and I had just found out about his second one ........ we both were called Diane Forrest, though I'm six years older! :D
22-01-2006, 7:31 PM
A little detective work suggests that all four people are likely to be related so I think a nice letter to just one might do the trick rather than a scatter-gun approach. Thanks for all the suggestions.
26-01-2006, 9:23 PM
I recently tried to find a relative using Google, amazing I found 2 people both with website emails, I contacted one through email, telling them it wasn't a scam along with a brief history of my family background that was relevant to them. I also asked them please would they let me know if they were or were not related by writing "If there is any relationship or not, I would be grateful if you would reply and let me know. This is not a spam, or a hoax"
I could not believe it when withing 2 days, I had received an email from the first person and his father, and through them I was able to identify the 2nd person on the internet, sent a similar email and heard within 24 hours. I was so fortunate to discover 3 1st cousins, and 6 second cousins and offspring. Wow what a fantastic day
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