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.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 238

The Genealogy Gems Podcast is the leading genealogy and family history show. Launched in 2007, the show is hosted by genealogy author, keynote presenter, and video producer Lisa Louise Cooke. The podcast features genealogy news, interviews, stories and how-to instruction. It can be found in all major podcasting directories, or download the exclusive Genealogy Gems Podcast app to listen to all the episodes and receive bonus content.

Click below to listen to this episode:

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
February 2020
Download the episode mp3

Do you love genealogy, mysteries and puzzle solving? Well in this episode we have not one but two tales of mystery.

The first has a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman will be here to share how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises.

Our second story is a mystery full of twists,  turns and murder that will ultimately resurrect your faith that what you think is lost, may still be found.

Genealogy News

Ancestry Lays off 6 Percent of Employees due to Consumer Slump

23andMe laid off 100 employees due to slowing DNA kit sales

Genealogy Gems Mailbox

The Genealogy Gems Mailbox

Emails from Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners.

Frank recently wrote in saying that he listened to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 227 and my conversation with Ran Snir, MyHeritage DNA Product Manager about their genetic genealogy tools The Theory of Family Relativity™  and AutoClusters. This got him thinking about his own test results and a frustration he has had trying to find matches and records in pursuit of this Galician roots. 

Frank writes:

“Ancestry’s records are almost non-existent, except for some parish records, but this is the region from which Cuba and Argentina were populated, and the ultimate ancestry of Cubans in the US. I have done the AncestryDNA test but my matches are few and far between.

On the other hand, I have worked with a Spanish genealogist and have some records that go back to the 17th century. Is there any program like Ancestry,  23andme, or My Heritage, that can do Galician (Spanish) genealogy well.”

Regarding DNA matches and testing pools:

DNA companies test all types of people and because testers can download their results and upload them to other companies, their pools of people are becoming more similar. Generally, they don’t focus on particular groups. They just report the results based on the pool they currently have. 

Regarding genealogy records:

Start with the FamilySearch Wiki page on Galicia includes links to records within each province.

Conduct a Google Search: Galician (Spanish) genealogy “Galicia”. Click here to see the Google search results.

Additional Resources:

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Third Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke available in the Genealogy Gems Store.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store.

Lisa’s video classes and handouts on Google search are included in Genealogy Gems Premium Membership. Learn more here.

Genealogy Gems premium elearning

Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

From Linda:

“I am a regular listener to your podcasts.  And I am the family historian.  I recently received a trove of documents from my Uncle who had been working to chart the family for 25 years.  He passed away last year.  His most recent quest was to find as many old family pictures as possible and I have continued to reach out to distant relatives.  I enjoyed the recent podcast about the New York photographer website and hope it will help me identify people in some of these very old pictures. 

(Episode 236Interview with David Lowe, Specialist for the Photography Collection at the New York Public Library on a free tool they provide that can help you identify your old photos. Also a discussion of how to find unindexed records at Ancestry.com.)

My question:  a friend of mine has inherited all of her family’s old family pictures.  The pictures are from the late 1800’s.  She doesn’t know who most of the people are.  She is not interested in learning and apparently there aren’t any members of the family who have taken the role of family historian.  Is there anything to do with these pictures other than to dispose of them?  It makes me sad to know that no one is interested.  When I learned a branch of my family tree had tossed all of their old family pictures, I felt awful and it has taken me some time to accept that I might not ever find replacements for this branch.”

There are ways to make real progress identifying photos. I’m going to be covering more of this on upcoming episodes. I would start by asking your friend to write down states / counties / towns where she thinks her family lived, as well as her direct ancestors as far as she knows (even if it’s just grandparents or great grandparents.) With some basic genealogical info on the most recent members of the family and some possible locations, you could then post at least some of the photos on Deadfred.com.

This is a site where people search on families and locations and other identifying information to find unidentified photos of their family members. Many, many photos have made their way to family historians through DeadFred. 

If you don’t have time to post them on DeadFred, and you do know the county where some of the photos came from, you could offer to donate them to the local genealogical society. They might be willing to take them, and their volunteers might be willing to do it. 

I agree with you, it would be such a shame to toss them because you can be sure there is someone out there who would treasure them and may even hold answers. 

MyHeritageThe free podcast is sponsored by MyHeritage

GEM: The Scrapbook Mystery

 

Bill and his dad in 1973

1973: Bill with his dad about six months before he died. (Courtesy of Bill Compton)

 

The Compton Scrapbook

The Compton Scrapbook (courtesy of Bill Compton.)

 

Article featuring William R. Compton in the Scrapbook

Article featuring William R. Compton in the Scrapbook (Courtesy of Bill Compton)

 

William R. Compton, US Marshall

William R. Compton, US Marshall (Courtesy of Bill Compton)

 

Donald Clark featured in the news

Donald Clark featured in the news

Read the news about the murder that occurred on the property where the scrapbook was found:Centerville Fire contained on property where triple murder suspect Donald Clark lived

Resources Discussed:

Learn more about how to blog about your family history. It may just lead to a treasure like it did for Bill. Here is a collection of articles at Genealogy Gems on family history blogging.

Learn more about how to set up your own blog by watching the videos on how to blog at my Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.

Visit Bill Compton’s blog.

The free podcast is sponsored by RootsMagic

Rootsmagic

GEM: The Love Letter

Kathleen Ackerman graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of General Studies: Family History degree in April 2012. She now has her own research company, Finding Ties that Bind. She is also working on a Master’s Degree in Genealogy, Paleography and Heraldry from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

Kathleen Ackerman

Kathleen Ackerman

Kathleen is the director for the Cave Creek Arizona Family History Center.  She loves to help others as they learn about their family history. For seven years, she served as the Treasurer and British Institute Director for the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History.  Besides her volunteer and school work, she spends most of her free time either working on her husband’s English and Scottish lines or playing with her granddaughter.

“In 2010, my mother found three pages of a letter addressed to “Mamie” among my grandparent’s things. My grandmother has passed away and my grandfather did not remember who Mamie was or why they had the letter. My mom sent me the letter in hopes that I could figure it out.”

Mamie - a genealogy mystery

Miriam (Mamie) Smith Patelzick 1891-1911 (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)

 The last page which may have contained the writer’s signature was missing. This is where Kathleen’s search began.

The first three pages of the love letter

The first three pages of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)

Kathleen turned to census records from the time period, and Google Maps to verify where Medicine Lodge was in comparison to Small, Idaho, the place from which the letter was sent. No such town could be found.

She then turned to old maps to see if the town had once existed. She used maps on the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection website. She found a map of Idaho from 1909, that showed Small, Medicine Lodge river and Reno (all mentioned in letter). They were all in Fremont County, Idaho. Her confidence that she had the right person grew.

Historic Map of Idaho

1909 Idaho map published by Geo. F. Cram, Chicago (DavidRumsey.com)

The search moved on into vital records. A marriage certificate for Mamie and William Patelzick in Dec 1910 was located.Perhaps they had eloped?

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t listened to the episode yet. The next image reveals the writer of the letter.

Later, Kathleen’s mother surprisingly found the final page of the letter:

Found! The last page of the love letter.

Found! The last page of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)

A surprise indeed, and a mystery solved!

Thank you to Kathleen Ackerman for sharing her story! You can visit her at her website, Finding Ties that Bind.

Don’t wait another day. Get the computer backup that I use: www.backblaze.com/Lisa

Backblaze lisa louise cooke

Announcing the Next Generation of Google for Genealogy

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox By Lisa Louise Cooke

Discover the answers to your family history mysteries using cutting-edge Google search strategies. A comprehensive resource for all of Google’s free tools, this easy-to-follow book provides the how-to information you need in plain English. You will first gain a strong foundation in how to search quickly and effectively. Then you’ll dig deeper into solving real-life challenges that genealogists regularly face. This book will show you how to flex your new Google muscles by mining each of the free tools to deliver satisfying and enlightening results. You will develop a mastery of Google that will serve you now and for years to come.

This book features:

  • Step-by-step clear instructions and loads of images that help you easily follow along.
  • Tips for searching faster and achieving better results to solve the real challenges that genealogists face.
  • How to go beyond Google search by using the wide range of powerful free tools that Google offers.
  • Cutting-edge technology like Google Earth to tell your family’s stories in new and exciting ways!
The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Click this image to order your copy of the book.

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app

 

How to Set Up Google Alerts for Genealogy

How can you keep up with new online information on your family history that may appear at any moment? You can’t, unless you run constant searches on your web browser, and who’s got time for that? Google does! And it accomplish that incredible search feat for you through Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is like having your own virtual research assistant! When you key in your favorite searches, Google Alerts will automatically email you when there are new Google results for your search terms.

How to Create a Google Alert for Genealogy

1. Go to www.google.com/alerts.

2. Sign in to your Google account (or create one).

3. The first time you create an alert, click where it says, “You don’t have any Google Alerts. Try creating one.” Fill in the screen that pops up:

4. Type in your search query. In the example above, I’ve entered my specific search: Larson” “Winthrop” Minnesota.

5. Make selections to further refine your search alert:

  • The type of content you’re looking for: news, blogs, videos, discussions, books or everything.
  • How often you want to receive the alerts by email.
  • The type of results you want to get. You may want to receive all results, not just the best results which will give you an opportunity to see how your search does. You can always change settings later.

6. Enter the email address where you want the alert emails to be delivered. Google will alert you to new content when it is posted on the Web.

Resources for Getting the Most Out of Using Google Alerts
google toolbox book

Learn more about how to conduct effective Google searches for genealogy research, Google Alerts for genealogy, and more in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition. This fully-revised 2015 edition is packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online!

Genealogy VideoGenealogy Gems Premium Members can also watch my full length Google search video classes:

  • Common Surname Search Secrets
  • Ultimate Google Search Strategies
  • Digging Deeper into Web Sites with Google Site Search

See the complete list of Premium video classes here.

Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership here!

 

 

5 Things You Should Be Doing at WorldCat

Show Notes: WorldCat.org just got a facelift. That means it’s time to revisit this library catalog website and do these 5 important things so you can effectively use it for your genealogy research.

Video Premiere with Live Chat

Show Notes: WorldCat

If you are interested in finding out more about your family history and you want to build out your family tree, you are going to need records and resources. That’s exactly what the WorldCat website provides.

WorldCat.org is a free website that provides access through its card catalog to millions of materials from libraries around the world. You’ll find items such as:

  • United States Civil War and other military records
  • Family Bibles, church histories, and records
  • Publications such as directories, handbooks, and magazines
  • Birth, marriage, death, wills, and obituary indexes
  • Microfilmed genealogy and local history collections
  • Newspapers from around the world
  • Photographs
  • Town histories
  • probate records

It’s important to keep in mind that not all libraries participate in WorldCat, and they can participate at different levels. Therefore, you’ll find different amounts of information about these different repositories.

The WorldCat website has received a facelift and now sports a new user interface, making it a great time to get reacquainted with this rich resource. Here are five things you should do right now to take advantage of WorldCat:

#1 Sign up for a free account or transfer your existing account.

To use all the features at WorldCat that we will be discussing you’ll need to have a free user account.

To create your WorldCat account, click the Create an Account link and follow the prompts.

If you already have a WorldCat account you will need to transfer it. Click the Sign In link and follow the prompts for transferring. You can transfer your favorited libraries and lists. However, because of the new website, the following data will not be transferred: profile picture, reviews, saved searches, watched lists, interests, and tags.

Transferring can take quite a while. Leave your browser open until it completes. In fact, when I transferred it never showed complete, so after about an hour I refreshed the page and attempted to sign in again. I was prompted to create a new password, which I did, and was then able to access my account and my transferred data did appear.

Sign into your account whenever you visit the site so that you can take advantages of the many features offered, including our next item, Lists.

#2 Create and Search Lists

Lists are a great way to organize the wide range of resources you can find through WorldCat. I like to create lists for surname and subject research.

How to Create a WorldCat List:

  1. After you run a search you will receive a list of results. Click the List (bookmark) icon on any item
    WorldCat Create a List

    Click the List icon

  2. The add Item to List box will appear. In this box you can add the item to an existing list or click the Create List button to create a new list.
  3. Name the list, enter a description and indicate whether it is public or private.
  4. Click the Create button to save the list.

You can find all your lists by clicking on your account icon (upper right corner on desktop) and select My Lists

In addition to creating your own lists, you can search the public lists of other WorldCat users. Click Lists in the menu to browser popular lists. To search for a list by keyword, go to the search bar and select Lists from the drop-down menu, and search by keyword. When you find a helpful list, click the Follow button.

You can have up to 50 lists with up to 500 items.

#3 Discover Libraries

The best way to discover libraries near you is to add your location. Click the Update Location icon just under your account profile icon. Enter your town or zip code and libraries will be prioritized based on their proximity to you. If you’re going on a research trip, try changing the location to the zip code of the place you are traveling to, and then search for libraries and materials.

To browse libraries near you click Libraries in the menu. Add libraries to your list of favorite libraries by clicking the star icon on the library entry.

You can find your list of favorite libraries by going to the account icon and selecting Favorite Libraries.

#4 Use the Advanced Search Feature

The best way to search for items is to use the Advanced Search feature from the beginning. Click the Advanced Search icon to the right of the search box. (See image below)

WorldCat advanced search

Click the Advanced Search icon next to the search box

Start your search by selecting the type of thing you want to search from the first drop-down menu. For example, select Keyword and then type a word (such as a surname) in the field next to it. To the right of the field, select what you want done with that keyword, AND, OR, or NOT. This will include, exclude or make the keyword options. Then go to the next line and do the same thing. You can set up to three parameters.

Next add a year range if desired. For example, 1900 to 1950. Then select the type of materials you want in the results by clicking Format. For example, you could leave it on All Formats to receive all types of materials or select just Newspapers.

You can also narrow your search by language. Once you’ve made all your selections, click the Search button.

On the results page you have the option to adjust the filters in the left-hand column.

#5 Search Name Variations

As you search for family surnames, it’s important to understand that it will not automatically search for name variations. Either search for variations in separate searches or use the Advanced Search using the OR or the AND feature. (See example below)

Searching for name variations at WorldCat

How to search for name variations at WorldCat

More strategies for getting great search results at WorldCat

Search for family names by entering the family name followed by the word “family” (e.g., “Mansfield family”)

Search for specific people by entering the person’s full name (e.g., “Emily Mansfield”)

Search for organizations by entering terms to describe the organization (e.g., “Lutheran”)

Search for geographic locations by placing name in combination with the abbreviated and full state name (e.g., “Union City IN” and “Union City Indiana”)

You can then narrow your search by returning to the main search page and entering more specific search terms such as “Mansfield family bible”.

Include multiple search terms in one search (e.g., “Lutheran” and “Union City IN”)

Final Thoughts on the New WorldCat

Like with any change to a website, the new WorldCat takes a little getting used to, and there are a few bugs that still need to be worked out. However, by doing these 5 things you’ll have access to millions of rich resources that can help you climb your family tree.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

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