Family History Episode 15 – More Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Originally published 2009
Republished January 21, 2014

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh15.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 15: Genealogy Cold Calling II: 14 Tips for Contacting Distant Relatives

Connecting with someone who knows about our ancestors can really boost our research results—and even create new relationships among living kin. But it’s not always easy to send that first email or make that call.

In today’s episode we talk about the skill of “genealogical cold calling.” Relationships are key to genealogical success and by following 14 genealogical cold calling strategies you will find your research relationships multiplying. We’ll chat with my cousin, Carolyn Ender, who has conducted hundreds of telephone interviews. She has a knack for quickly connecting with folks she doesn’t know over the telephone in ways that put them at ease and bring to light the information that she’s looking for.

But first, we do some follow up with an email from a listener about family trees. Then, I share a little story that puts into practice what we’ve learned so far in this podcast series.

 14  Steps to Genealogical Cold Calling Success 

#1. Identify the person you want to call.

#2. Locate the person’s phone number. Below are some great websites for locating people you don’t know. The list is updated from the one given in the show. And Whowhere.com now has an app for Android, iPhone and other mobile devices. Check it out

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. If all else fails consider posting on a message board for the surname

#3. Prepare ahead for making the call.

Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first. Follow these tips:

  • Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
  • Choose a time when you are not too rushed
  • 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. Get up the “nerve” to call.
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!”   And be positive and remember, all they can do is say “no thank you.”

#5. Introduce yourself.
Give your first & last name & tell them the town and state where you live.  Then tell them the family connection that you share, and tell them who referred them to you or how you located them 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 you could offer to mail them some information and offer to call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can sort of get their bearings too.

#7. What to do during the call
You’ll want to take notes during the phone call.  Try a headset which will help to free up your hands for writing. Handwriting is preferably over typing.

Take the opportunity to not just get new information but also to confirm information that you already have–just to make sure it’s correct.

If you have a way to record the call, you don’t have to take notes and focus all of your attention on the conversation, and then transcribe the recording later. If you want to record, ask permission: in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without permission and it’s common courtesy to say you’re taping them. But it might put off a stranger; perhaps taping could wait until a second call.

#8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer.
State your name 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.

Be sure and keep track in your genealogy database each time you call and what messages you leave. Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you keep track.

#9. “Must-ask” questions.

  • “Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs, or a family Bible?
  • (Reassure the person that you would only be interested in obtaining copies of any pictures or mementos they might have.)
  • “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?”

#10.  Wrap up the call.

  • Ask for their mailing address and email address.
  • Offer to give them your address and phone number.
  • Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.

#11. Document the call. 

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 conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. At the bottom of the page list the ACTION items that come to mind that you want to follow up on based on the conversation. 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.

#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 result, 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.

#14.  Follow up. 

Send the person a written note or email thanking them for taking the time to talk with you. If the person mentioned that they would look for pictures or would look up something in a family Bible etc., mention in your note that you would still be interested in anything they can help you with and that you would be glad to pay any copying expenses, postage etc. Offer to provide copies of your information or copies of pictures you have etc. 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.  It’s another way of keeping the connection going and expressing that you really do appreciate all their help. Try this service: Birthday Alarm.

Occasionally make a follow up call to check in and see how they are doing, share any new family items she’s come across recently, and ask if they have they heard or found anything else.

Plotting Land with Google Earth Pro

The places where your ancestors lived can tell you a lot about their lives. I’m going to show you a free and easy technique for plotting land in Google Earth. 

plotting land in google earth

episode 67

Would you like to be able to find your ancestor’s property on a map today? Keep reading and watch the video to learn how. We’re going to take U.S. government survey legal land descriptions found in sources such as Federal Land Patents and quickly and easily plot the boundaries in Google Earth Pro. I’ll also show you an easy way to do it for property in Canada too. 

 

Episode 67 Show Notes 

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In the video I show you how to plot the boundaries of a piece of land in Google Earth. We’re going to take U.S. government survey legal land descriptions found in sources such as Federal Land Patents and quickly and easily plot the boundaries in Google Earth Pro. I’ll also show you an easy way to do it for property in Canada too. These strategies come from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox,

Download or Update the Free Google Earth Pro Software

These days there are actually three versions of Google Earth:

  • Google Earth downloadable software
  • Google Earth for Chrome Web browser
  • Google Earth app

All are free, but they are not the same. The app and web browser versions are sort of “Google Earth lite.” The software is what you want because it has all the bells and whistles that will allow you to do all the things I’m going to show you today.

Plotting legal land descriptions in Google Earth has its advantages. If you’re plotting the land of your ancestors, you’ll be able to see what the area looks like today and what the current street names are. In Google Earth you’ll also have access to additional tools that you can use in conjunction with the boundaries you’re going to create, such as historic maps, area photos, and a wide range of data sets that provide more information about the area.

The first thing to do is check to make sure you have the most current version of Google Earth on your computer. Again, we’re using the software so you need to do this on your desktop or laptop computer. You want to make sure you have Google Earth Pro – LINK – A tell tale sign that you don’t is if the Google Earth globe icon on your desktop is grey and not blue. Open it and in the menu go to Help > About Google Earth. Here it should say Google Earth Pro and you can see the version number.

Check the current version number here, and if you don’t already have the program, go ahead and download it.

Now that you have it on your computer, open it up and leave it running in the background. You’ll need a decent internet connection for it to run.

Next pull up the legal land description that you want to plot. Here’s one that I have for some property owned by George Burket. I found this at the Bureau of Land Management Government Land Office Records website. This free website is where you can search for land patent that your ancestors once held.

legal land description - plot in Google Earth

Legal land description at GLO

Even though the Bureau of Land Management places it on the map on their website, you can’t download this or add to it. The advantage of plotting this in Google Earth is that you will have access to much more geographic data, you can add many more details to the map, you can use it in conjunction with other related mapping work that you’re doing, and you can save and share it.  

This description gives us the exact coordinates of the property. Jot down the land description or keep it open in your browser tab so you can refer to it.

In a new browser tab, we’re going to type in http://www.earthpoint.us. This will take us to the Earth Point website.

Search by legal land description

Search by legal land description at Earth Point

This website is free, although some of the features are available only with a paid subscription. Thankfully, the tool for plotting your ancestor’s land patent is free. Some of the free features do require that you sign up for a free account. The feature we are going to use currently does not.

On the Township and Range – Search by Description  page you will see a field for each piece of information found in the land description. It’s important to enter this information in the order presented starting with the State. Select the state from the drop-down menu. Pause a moment to allow the fields to recalculate. This allows the appropriate data to be loaded into the next field based on your selection.

searching land description to plot in Google Earth

Entering data at Earth Point

After you have made each selection, click the Fly to on Google Earth button. This will generate a KML file which can be saved to your computer. KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language, which is the file type that Google Earth uses and understands. KMZ are zipped KML files which also are used by Google Earth.

Save the file to the desired location on your hard drive. Then click the file to open it. It will automatically open in Google Earth (which you already have open). The KML file is now located in your Temporary Places folder in the Places panel. The land is has now been automatically plotted on the map.

The orange outline is the township. In this example it is township T20N R14E. Click the orange ball in the center of the township for details. In the details you’ll find the total number of acres in the township, the latitude and longitude coordinates for the center of the township and corners.

Township in Google Earth

Township in Google Earth

The pink / magenta outline is the Section where the property is. Click the pink center dot for the details:

Land section in Google Earth

Land section in Google Earth

In this example Section 9 consists of 648 acres.

Notice that Earth Point was able to plot the land down to the Section level. However George Burket did not own the entire section. We must return to the land description for the Aliquots.

Aliquots in Legal Land Description

Aliquots in Legal Land Description

In this example, the land was the southeast quarter (SE1/4) of section 9. The land was a total of 160 acres.

We can use the Polygon tool in Google Earth to plot the 160 acres. In the toolbar, click the Polygon tool. This will open the New Polygon dialog box. Type a title, description and source citation.

As you hover your mouse over the map you will notice that the cursor is now a square shape. Click the screen on each of the four corners one at a time in order to set the four corners of the property – in this case the southeast quarter of the section. Once you have drawn the shape you can click on the handle on any corner to adjust precisely.

Click the Style / Color tab in the New Polygon dialog box to adjust the color and opacity of the acreage polygon. You can add color and thickness to the outline, and color and opacity to the fill of the shape. When you have it set the way you want it, click OK to close the New Polygon box. The Polygon is now set.

Moving Plotted Land in the Places Panel

On the left side of the Google Earth screen you will see a series of panels: Search, Places and Layers. At the bottom of the Places panel is the Temporary folder. This is where the KML file was placed when it was opened. However, like its name implies, this is a temporary location. If you want to keep it, you’ll need to move it to a filed location within the Places panel. This will not change the position of the polygon on the map, only where it is filed and saved in the Places panel.

To file a polygon, click on the file in the Places panel, drag it to the desired location, and drop it.  Next, go the main menu and click File > Save My Places. This will save your work so that when you close the program it will not be lost. Google Earth doesn’t auto-save.

Turning Google Earth Polygons On and Off

The polygon plotting the acreage will be visible on the map when the box is checked in the Places panel. If you uncheck the box for the polygon it will still be there, but it will not be visible on the map. This allows you to create and save many items of interest without always having to have them displayed and cluttering up the map in Google Earth.

How to Edit a Polygon in Google Earth

After your land polygon has been set, you may want to rename it. There are two ways to do this:

  1. On a PC right-click on the polygon, either on the map or in the Places panel, and select Rename from the pop-up menu. Type the new name and then press Enter on your keyboard.
  2. Click to select the polygon in the Places panel (highlighting it in blue) and then go to the main menu to Edit > Rename. Type the new name and then press Enter on your keyboard.

You can also restyle the polygon and edit the text. Start by going to the Places panel and click the arrow pointing at the Polygon’s globe icon. This will open it and show the nested content. Click to select the Polygon. Now you can right-click it (PC) and select Properties – OR – go to the menu under Edit > Properties. Either way it will reopen the Polygon dialog box so that you can make the desired changes. When you’re done, click the OK button to close the Polygon.

Saving and Sharing Plotted Land

Snagit is the tool I used to capture the various views of the land I plotted in Google Earth. Learn more about Snag it by watching my videos and reading the show notes for episode 61 (for beginners) and episode 66 (advanced). 

Plotting Canadian Land

Although the Earth Point website doesn’t plot Canadian land, the Legal Land Description Converter website does. It can help you find land in Western Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan & Manitoba) subdivided by the Dominion Land Survey (DLS) and the Alberta Township System (ATS).

How to Plot Canadian Land

  1. Go to Legal Land Description Converter at https://www.legallandconverter.com.
  2. Enter the Section, Township, Range and Meridian information from the land description.
  3. Click the Calc button.
  4. Click the generated KML file and save it to your computer.
  5. Click the file to open it in Google Earth. It will open in the Temporary folder.
  6. It will fly you the location on the map and outline it for you.
  7. Rename the file if desired, and add source information.
  8. Add source citation.
  9. Drag and drop it to the desired location in your Places panel.
  10. Save your work: File > Save My Places.

Resources

These show notes feature everything we cover in this episode. Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF.  Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here

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Watch more videos about using Google Earth for genealogy in the “Geographic” section of the on-demand Premium Video classes. (membership required)

Answers to Live Chat Questions

Gwynn: ​I would like to know how to match plat with GPS coordinate/ current street address.
Answer: I cover how to overlay a plat map in Google Earth and discover the current street address in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. 

Roger D​: How exact do you need to be in picking points? Does Google snap to mid-points of lines? 
Answer: Try to be as exact as you can, however as I showed in the video you can reposition them as needed. Google Earth doesn’t snap. 

Lyn: ​Can I do this with English tithe maps?
Answer: There isn’t a website converter that I know of. However I do cover how to overlay digitized maps in Google Earth in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. 

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