Cold-Calling Your Kin: How to Contact Distant Relatives

Need to contact distant relatives? Got cold feet? Follow these steps and you’ll warm right up–and hopefully, so will those you contact!

Cold Calling

Today, online trees, social media, and email make it easier than ever to find relatives you don’t know well (or at all). And there are SO many reasons to contact them: to collaborate on research, swap photos or stories, or even request a DNA sample.

In these cases, you may need to make what salespeople refer to as a “cold call,” or an unexpected contact to someone you don’t know. I’ve done it successfully many times myself, so I can tell you this: it does get easier. Follow these steps to make it a smoother experience.

1. Identify the person you want to call.
Common ways to identify a new relative include:

  • Another relative tells you about them
  • Family artifact, such as an old greeting card, address book, captioned photograph, letter, etc.
  • On a genealogy message board
  • In an online family tree (with enough information showing to identify them)
  • As the author of a book, article, or blog post with information about your family

2. Locate the person’s phone number, address, and/or email address. 

cold calling step 2 Google SearchHere are some great websites for locating people you don’t know, or at least learning more about them (as you can on LinkedIn):

TIP: When looking through a geographically-based directory, don’t forget to search the entire metro area, not just one city. Try just searching their first name, particularly if it’s not a really common first name. Try and track down their number through other relatives or researchers.

3. Prepare ahead for making the call.
Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first!

  • Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
  • Choose a time when you are not too rushed
  • Set yourself up in a quiet place, where there will be minimal background noise or disruptions
  • Do a brief review of the family you are researching so it’s fresh in your mind
  • Make note of specific questions you would like to ask.
  • Have your genealogy software program open or your written notes at your fingertips

4. Adopt a positive mindset.
It’s natural to feel some apprehension when calling someone you don’t know. Before you pick up the phone, give yourself a little pep talk. Remind yourself how valuable this person’s information could be to your research. If he or she is quite elderly, remember that none of us will be around here forever so you need to make the call today! Say to yourself, “I can do this. This is important!” Be positive and remember, all they can do is say, “No thank you.”

5. Introduce yourself.
Give your first and last name and tell them the town and state where you live. Then tell them the family connection that you share. Tell them who referred them to you or how you located them. Cover these basics before launching into why you’re calling or what you want.

6. Overcome reluctant relatives.
Be ready to share what you’ve learned, and to share your own memories of a relative that you have in common. Mention something of particular interest in the family tree that might pique their interest. If they are very hesitant or caught off-guard, offer to mail them information and call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can get their bearings, too.

do this during the call - Note taking7. Do these things during the call:

  • Take notes: try a headset or use speakerphone, which will help to free up your hands for writing.
  • Ask for new information and confirm what you already have.

If you have a way to record the call, then you won’t have to take notes and you can focus all your attention on the conversation. You can then transcribe the recording later. However, in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without telling them first and/or getting a person’s permission (not to mention discourteous). It can be very off-putting to start the first call by asking if you can record them. So, establish a connection first, make your request to record, and then press the record button.

Read more: How to Record a Conversation on your Smartphone or Skype

8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer.
State your name clearly, and that you would like to talk with them about the family history. Leave your phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Consider leaving your email address and suggesting they email you with a convenient time to call back. These days many people are more comfortable with email for the first contact.

9. Ask questions like these:

  • “Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs or a family Bible that I could arrange to get copies of? (Reassure them that you are happy to pay for copies and shipping.)
  • “Do you know anyone else in the family who has been doing family research?”
  • “May I have your permission to cite you as a source in print in the future?”
  • “Is it OK with you if I keep in touch from time to time? What is your preferred method of contact?”

10. Wrap up the call.
Offer to give them your address, phone number, and email address. Ask for their mailing address and email address. Repeat or state your desire to share information you have, and tell them how you’ll send it. Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.

 11. Document the call.
Keep track in your genealogy database of each time you call someone and the outcome (“left a message” or summary of conversation). Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you know when it’s time to follow-up with whom—and who wasn’t so interested in chatting again.

After a conversation, sit down at the computer or your notepad right away and make detailed notes about the phone conversation while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the person’s name, address, phone number, and date of the conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. Enter their contact information into your genealogy database as well as your email contact list.

12. Enter new information into your genealogy database. 

This is a must. Do it right away while it’s on your mind. Cite the conversation as the source of the information.

Remember to respect the privacy of those who prefer to remain “off-the-record” by not naming them in sources you post on public online trees.

 

13. Create an action item list.
Create action items based on what you learned.  Ask yourself “What are the logical next steps to take considering what you’ve learned through this interview?” The call is not the end goal. It’s a step in the research process, and it can really help to make this list now, and while it’s fresh in your mind.

Cold Calling:
“The call is not the end goal.”

Lisa Louise Cooke

14. Follow up.
Send the person a written thank-you note or email. Remind them of your willingness to share your information, and acknowledge any willingness they expressed to share theirs (restate your willingness to help with copying expenses, postage etc. and consider including a few dollars). You never know: they might catch the genealogy bug and become your new research partner!

Next, put their birthday on your calendar and send them a card on their next birthday. Try this service: Birthday Alarm. If you don’t know their birthday but do have an address or email, send a greeting card for the next major holiday or on your shared ancestor’s anniversary or birth date. It’s another way of keeping the connection alive and expressing that you really do appreciate their help.

Occasionally make a follow-up call. See how they are doing, share any new family items you’ve come across recently, and ask whether they have they heard or found anything else.

Resource: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn strategies for finding living relatives with their exclusive access to my video class, “Unleash your Inner Private Eye to Find Living Relatives.” Class includes:

  • a handout summarizing 9 strategies and resources
  • a resource guide for online public records (U.S.)
  • a downloadable Living Relatives worksheet you can print (or open in Word) that will help you capture and organize what you learn about them

Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.

New and Updated Genealogical Records for Scottish Genealogy

Scottish genealogy records are as popular as plaid this fall. Deeds, paternity records, and censuses are just a sampling. Also this week, records for Ontario, New York State, Philadelphia, and the women’s suffrage movement!

New records for Scottish Genealogy

Scotland – Deeds

Findmypast offers Scotland Deeds Index 1769 with over 1,000 transcripts. This collection contains the details found in minute books kept by the Court of Session and includes a variety of different types of deeds including: assignations, discharges, bonds, obligations, protests, and leases. Each deed transcript will record the type of deed, the date it was recorded, and the two parties named in the original court document, their addresses, and occupations.

By understanding what each type of deed is, you may be able to glean additional clues to your research. For example, a discharge is granted once evidence is shown to a granter that a debt or payment has been paid in full. Discharges were also given to release an individual from specific tasks or duties. A heritable bond, however,  is in regard to land, property, or houses that pass to an heir or next of kin. In some of these cases, the records could be proof of parentage. For more details about the types of deeds in this collection, read here.

Scotland – Paternity Decrees

Containing over 25,000 records, Scotland, Paternity Decrees 1750-1922 will help you find out if your ancestor was involved in a paternity dispute that appeared before Scotland’s Sheriff Court. These records could identify illegitimate ancestors and break down brick walls in your research. You will find cases from jurisdictions across Scotland including: Kirkcudbrightshire, Lanarkshire, Midlothian, and Roxburghshire.

Each record offers a date of birth and sex of the child whose paternity is in question as well as the name, occupation, and residence of both the pursuer and defender.

Scotland – Census and Population List

Also at Findmypast, Scotland Pre-1841 Censuses and Population Lists now contains over 3,500 early census fragments and parish lists from Jedburgh, Greenlaw, Ladykirk, Melrose, Applegarth, and Sibbaldbie. Until 1845, these courts were for governing the local parish and overseeing parish relief. Many kept up-to-date lists of the parish residents, their occupations, and their birth places.

The details recorded in each transcript will vary, but most will include a birth place, occupation, and address.

Scotland – Registers & Records

Over 1,700 new records have been added to the collection titled Scotland Registers & Records at Findmypast. These additions include Written Histories of the Highland Clans & Highland Regiments.

Clans in Scottish genealogy

By Gsl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scotland Registers & Records contain images taken from 21 different publications related to Scottish parishes and families. The records vary and include parish records, topographical accounts, and memorial inscriptions.

Some of these records reach back as far as the year 1100! To see a list of each of the publications within this collection, click here, then scroll down to the subheading, “What can these records tell me?”

Canada – Ontario – Birth Index

Findmypast offers a collection titled Ontario Birth Index 1860-1920. It is comprised of 1.7 million civil registration records. Civil registration in Canada is the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories and it was not standard practice until the late 1800s.

Each record contains both a transcript and an image of the original document. Information should include:

  • Ancestor’s name and date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Parents’ names

In some cases, the record may also provide:

  • Parents’ occupations
  • Where the parents were married
  • Name of the attending physician
  • Address of residence

Special Savings for You

findmypast

If you are interested in subscribing to Findmypast, we want to let you  know about a special savings. Findmypast is now offering a year subscription for $34.95, a savings of $79.95. Click here for more details!

United States – New York – City Directories

New York Public Library is digitiznewyork_directory_pageing its collection of New York City Directories, 1786 through 1922/3, and sharing them for free through the NYPL Digital Collections portal.

The first batch—1849/50 through 1923—have already been scanned and the 1786–1849 directories are in the process of being scanned. The whole collection will be going online over the coming months.

See the digitized directories here.

City directories contain more than just names and addresses. You may be surprised to learn that they record the price of travel and postage, the kinds of occupations around the city, the layout of streets, and at what time the sun was predicted to rise and set!

City directories might also contain images, maps, illustrations of buildings, and advertisements.

United States – Massachusetts – Women’s Suffrage

The Massachusetts Historical Society has announced that seven collections relating to women in the public sphere have been digitized. A grant made it possible to create high resolution images that are accessible at the MHS website, as well as preservation microfilm created from the digital files. The seven collection titles and links are listed below.

Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society records, 1837-1838
http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0427

Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, 1895-1920
http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0121

New England Freedmen’s Aid Society records, 1862-1878
http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0423

Rose Dabney Forbes papers, 1902-1932
http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0212

Society for the Employment of the Female Poor trustees’ reports, 1827-1834
http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0428

Twentieth Century Medical Club records, 1897-1911
http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0411

Woman’s Education Association (Boston, Mass.) records, 1871-1935
http://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0393

United States – Pennsylvania – Newspapers

Check out the Philadelphia Inquirer on Newspapers.com. The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of the oldest surviving papers in the United States. The Philadelphia Inquirer was established in 1829 and originally titled the Pennsylvania Inquirer. It was originally a Democratic paper that supported President Jackson.

This collection covers the years of 1860-2016.

If you’re looking for specific mentions of an ancestor, you might find them in lists of death noticesmarriage licenses, local social news, the day’s fire record, or building permits issued. This newspaper is searchable by keyword or date.

United States – Nebraska – Marriages

New this week at FamilySearch are the Nebraska, Box Butte County Marriages, 1887-2015. Information found in these marriage records does vary, but you may find any of the following:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Estimated birth year
  • Birth city/town, county, state, and country
  • Marital status
  • Marriage date
  • Marriage city/town, county, and state
  • Parents’ names
  • Previous spouse

More Helpful Tips for Scottish Genealogy

Lisa’s Premium Member episode 116 is Genealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and Websitejust what you need. Marie Dougan, a professional genealogist specializing in Scottish research, joins Lisa in this episode to talk about how to research Scottish ancestors. If you haven’t taken that plunge and become a Premium Member, why not do so today! There are over 100 Premium Member podcast episodes and over 30 video classes on a wide variety of genealogy topics waiting to inspire and educate. Join today!

 

Why I’m Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

I’m on my computer a lot for genealogy, communication, shopping, entertainment and pretty much everything else!

Get the Genealogy Gems deal with ExpressVPN here.

 
I’m also concerned about my privacy and security online. Chances are you are too. VPNs add an important layer or online protection and are one of the hottest tech trends right now. I receive a lot of questions about what tech tools I use, so in this episode I’ll explain:
  • why I’m using a VPN (don’t worry, you don’t need to be techy at all to use a VPN!)
  • what I looked for in a VPN
  • how I set it up (oh my gosh, it was so easy!)
  • how it protects my online activity
  • the surprising BONUS benefits that I love and you will too.
My goal is to help you find your family history safely and privately. I took a deep dive into VPNs and I can’t wait to share with you what I’ve learned so you can do it yourself.
 
Click the play button below to watch or click “Watch on YouTube” to watch at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.
 

Episode 56 Show Notes

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a top tech trend right now, although their origins can be traced back to the 1990s.

According to the top tech blogs VPNs usage in the U.S. jumped by 41% between March 13 and March 23, 2021 and is expected to continue to surge. Today I’m going to explain what that is, and the top reasons why I use a VPN and why you might want to start using one too.

What Does a VPN Do?

Sending data over an unencrypted internet connection is like mailing a postcard. Your message is wide open for the mailman and any other nosy people to see.

Whenever you’re connected to an unencrypted internet network on your phone, computer, tablet, TV, etc., you’re sending countless pieces of information out into the digital world that can be seen and intercepted by many different parties before they get to their intended destinations.

While not every message and piece of data I send out over the internet is sensitive (such as banking information) I like knowing that my activity is private. It’s a lot like why we always protect the identity of living people in our family tree. It’s always best to err on the side of privacy and security when working online.

A VPN creates a secure encrypted tunnel between your device and the internet. In other words, it puts an envelope around your postcard so that no one can sneak a peek at your private correspondence. That way none of your data going in and out of your devices can be seen – not the government, hackers, your internet service provider, or even by the VPN.

The best VPNS also don’t create or keep activity logs or connection logs. This means if they are asked by government or law enforcement to hand them over, there’s nothing to hand over.

Since every device has a unique IP address, your device can be traced back to you. However, when you use a VPN, your connection gets routed through one of thousands of servers, hiding your real IP address and replacing it with one of their own. This allows you to browse the web anonymously.

Top Reasons I Decided to Use a VPN

There’s no one way to make everything you do completely private. But a VPN does add a nice layer plus some great added benefits. I’ve been thinking about doing something more for a long time, and then my brother-in-law who worked for years for one of the largest tech companies in the world told me he set up a VPN and that I should too. I did my own homework, and here are the top reasons why I use a VPN:

1. I want to be able to use public Wi-Fi safely

Libraries, archives, traveling to speaking engagements, visiting ancestral locations, vacation. Public Wi-Fi is often provided and it’s really convenient, plus I don’t have to use my phone as a hot spot which uses up cellular data not to mention battery. Your favorite coffee shop could be a favorite spot for hackers who steal personal information. And you can even get hacked on your own home Wi-Fi. With only basic computer knowledge, the hacker could gain access to your passwords, financial details, or even your emails!

Any time you’re on public Wi-Fi a VPN hides your IP address encrypts your internet connection using encryption.

2. I want my privacy and don’t want to be tracked by my ISP

Your internet service provider (known as an ISP) can see everything you do.

In the US, ISPs can legally sell your data to ad companies.

In the UK and Australian ISPs are required to keep logs of the websites you visit, the apps you use for around a year.

Governments, large corporations, and websites potentially surveil your activity regularly to harvest your data for their own agendas.

A VPN makes your online activity private and secure with tunneling and encryption. Your messages go through a tunnel of sorts so others, including your ISP, can’t see where you’re located, or that the data is from you. It also applied encryption (AEs-256 is what you’re looking for in encryption) so that your message is essentially locked by you and the service delivering the data for you doesn’t have the key. Only the recipient does (such as the website you’re trying to communicate with.)

But you may be wondering, isn’t your activity safe because you only visit secure “HTTPS” websites?

In an interview with TechRadar.com Dan Pomerantz, Co-Founder of ExpressVPN explains it this way: “Many of those companies know your identity, and they might store and resell those data about you without your knowledge or approval. Why is that the case even when you use https? Because technologies called DNS and SNI transmit those data in plain text, and because the pipe operators can still see the destination of your traffic.”

3. I want the best deals when online shopping

Many websites offer deals based on your location. Countless times I’ve been shopping for airlines tickets and watched the price go up each time I checked the price. It’s an effort to get me to buy before the price goes up more. The website can do this because it knows who I am and my location.

Have you noticed more and more websites asking you to allow them to know your location? You can click “Don’t allow” but if you’re not using a VPN you can’t be sure they don’t know who and where you are. Using a VPN means you’re accessing their website through that tunnel which hides your location, opening up opportunities for deals you might not have gotten otherwise.

A VPN allows you to select from servers in different location to be your “location”. So, I may live in Texas but my internet traffic might be by way of London. And by going through the “tunnel” the website doesn’t know it’s me. This gives me more flexibility to shop for the best deals.

Will a VPN slow my connection speed?

I was a little worried about a VPN slowing down my connection speed. But I’ve not found that at all, and in fact if your ISP is throttling your speed, which many do, it can actually speed up your connection because again your ISP can’t tell where you’re located. Connecting to a server closer to your location increases the speed, and switching servers is super easy in the app. Smart location will automatically pick the best server to you too.

What to Look for in a VPN

  • Lots of global servers – The VPN I chose has 3,000+ servers in 160 VPN server locations in 94 countries.
  • High speed
  • Best encryption – Look for AES-256 encryption
  • Usable on all your devices – If you’re like me, you have multiple devices and a variety of platforms. I have Windows computer, iOS mobile devices and a smart TV. ExpressVPN has super easy-to-use apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as platforms that other VPN companies don’t support, like Linux, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and routers.
  • 24/7 customer support – Look for live chat with a real person.
  • Ease of use – You should be able to fire up the app and connect with just one click. And it should be super easy to change servers.
  • Privacy / No activity logs – They should have a transparent privacy policy and state out right they don’t create or store logs.
  • Trusted as Secure – Look for high start ratings from a large number of users. It should also be highly-ranked by trusted tech review sites.
  • Affordable – It’s normally $12.95 a month, but I’ve arranged with ExpressVPN to get my viewers and listeners 3 extra free months with the 12 month plan. Comes out to just over $8.00 a month plus the first 3 months free.
  • Money-back guarantee – ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so there was no risk in trying it.

The VPN I Chose

There are tons of VPNs out there but it’s important to know they don’t all offer the same features, especially the free ones. (My theory is that nothings ever really free particularly when it comes to security.) After doing my homework I decided to use ExpressVPN. It’s top-rated and has all the features I was looking for. I’ve been using it for a while now and I’m really happy with it. It’s super easy to use. So I reached out to ExpressVPN and they’ve agreed to extend a special offer to us. This is an affiliate link so I’ll receive compensation when you use my link. That helps make this free show possible, so thank you! Plus you’re going to save money.

Special Deal for Genealogy Gems Viewers:
Get 3 extra free months with the discounted 12-month plan.
Comes out to just over $8.00 a month (+ 3 months free) Gosh, I feel like I would have spent more than that just to gain access to the additional shows it gives me access to with ExpressVPN. Keep reading below to learn more about that. ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee so there’s no risk to try it.

Get the Genealogy Gems deal with ExpressVPN here.

https://www.expressvpn.com/genealogygems

Rated #1 by CNET, The Verge, Wired, TechRadar, & many more! Learn more about their approach to security at the ExpressVPN Trust Center. (Includes Network Lock which protects you if there’s an interruption in your internet connection.)

BONUS Reason #4: Access to regionally specific online content.

And speaking of being able to access the internet through any global server, this allows you to access regionally specific content. Did you know that many websites or apps are blocked or restricted depending on where you are located?

I discovered this while on the road for some genealogy speaking engagements. I was keynoting in London several years ago, and at the end of the day in my hotel room I sat down to watch my favorite show on Netflix. But when I logged in it said that I was not allowed to watch the show in England. My iPad was telling the internet provider that I was in London, and the ISP told Netflix. Had I had a VPN at that time, I could have rerouted my server connection through England and binged watched as many episodes as I pleased.

So is this helpful even if you aren’t traveling right now? You bet it is!

Remember when the UK version of Who Do You Think You Are? came out. We were going crazy over here in the U.S. because we would go to the website to watch it only to get an access denied message. It said you had to be in the UK to use the BBC iPlayer. A VPN allows you to switch locations and enjoy the show.

This is true of subscriptions like Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, ITV, Sky Go, and more.

You’ll also find that various subscription services offer different content based on your ISP location. By switching locations you can get access to shows not available in your home country with the same subscription.

My experience specifically with Amazon:

  • It may tell you to turn off your VPN. Try a different server. Thanks to the ExpressVPN live chat I found a server that allowed me to stream on Amazon.
  • Amazon restricts your access by your billing address.
  • Servers that let me access Amazon videos were San Francisco, Jersey 1, and Jersey 2. 

How I Set Up ExpressVPN

Start on your computer by getting your subscription at https://www.expressvpn.com/genealogygems 

  • Can be used on 5 devices.
  • Download the app from the website to your computer.
  • Install the ExpressVPN extension on your web browser (Chrome, Firefox)

More about Web Browser Settings:

Spoof Your Location
When you visit a website and it wants to know your location, it asks because it’s not getting that information based on your IP address. It’s based on nearby Wi-Fi networks, your systems location settings, or your device’s GPS. This means in that situation your location can still be potentially revealed via your web browser. If you decline the request for your location, you might find that some websites or content will be blocked for you. The Spoof Your Location feature helps solve the problem. When you’re connected and it’s turned on, the extension hides your location by automatically sharing the ExpressVPN server location instead.

Block WebRTC
WebRTC is an HTML5 specification designed to enable voices and video communication to work inside web pages without needing to install any special plugins in your web browser. (Examples include Google Meet, Facebook Messenger and GotoMeeting.) In some situations, Web RTC could potentially leak your IP address even while connected to a VPN. Block WebRTC allows you to block it entirely.

HTTPS Everywhere
Automatically makes websites switch from HTTP to a secure encrypted HTTPS connection where available.

How to Set Up ExpressVPN on your smartphone and tablet:

  1. Go to the app store and search for ExpressVPN
  2. Download app
  3. Open the app
  4. Sign in with your ExpressVPN account
  5. Tap button to connect. You will be connected to the “smart location” ExpressVPN has selected for you – typically considered the fastest connection.
  6. Tap the three dots ( … ) to change servers. Be aware that when you change to a European server you may see different types of GDPR “cookie” pop-ups that you aren’t used to seeing. These have to be accepted / managed before visiting the website. 

Resources

Questions and Comments

One of advantages of watching the show live is the chance to ask you questions. I answered many at the end of the show, but here are the remainder with my answers. 

flounder1st​: Does VPN only work for Wi-Fi data or Cellular Date also?
Lisa: Yes. 

Mary S: ​I may get a new computer soon, should I wait and install it on the new one?
Lisa: You don’t have to. When you get the new one simply uninstall the VPN from the old computer and install and sign in on the new one. 

Linda G: So I can use a VPN but my husband can continue doing his own thing through his regular ISP?
Lisa: Yes. 

Please share your questions and comments below.

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