Need to contact distant relatives? Got cold feet? Follow these steps and you’ll warm right up–and hopefully, so will those you contact!
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.
Here 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.
7. 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.
“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.
In December the genealogy records website Findmypast.com released new and exclusive historical records that highlight significant life events of the past. According to the the company, more than 40 million new records are included. Here are all the details from their press release:
LOS ANGELES (Dec. 17, 2012) – …“The number of records released offers findmypast.com’s users a staggering amount of new data, ranging from exclusive United Kingdom records from as early as 1790 to modern-day vital records from the United States that will add new layers of information for researchers,” said D. Joshua Taylor, lead genealogist for findmypast.com, “Findmypast.com is constantly expanding our collections with thousands of new records being added each month. Moving into 2013, we look forward to increasing our record offerings to include rarer, more exclusive materials, in our dedication to provide the most comprehensive family history resource available.”
Many of the new records that can only be accessed through findmypast.com offer a unique glimpse into history. The Harold Gillies Plastic Surgery set, dating back to World War I, contains fascinating records of some of the world’s first restorative plastic surgery, while the White Star Line Officers’ Books include officer records from the Titanic.
Newly added employment and institutional records including the records of the Merchant Navy Seaman (aka the Merchant Marines) provide unique color to family history that can’t be created from just names and dates. Other record sets include probates and wills, such as the Cheshire Wills and Probates, which often offer crucial clues to link North American family trees back to the United Kingdom.
The full set of exclusive records recently released by findmypast.com includes:
United Kingdom Court & Probate
- · Cheshire Wills and Probate
- · Suffolk Beneficiary Index
United Kingdom Education & Work
- · Cheshire Workhouse Records, Admissions and Discharges
- · Cheshire Workhouse Records, Religious Creeds
- · Derbyshire Workhouse Records
- · Match Workers Strike
- · White Star Line Officers’ Books
United Kingdom Military
- · Army List, 1787
- · Army List, 1798
- · British Officers taken Prisoners of War, 1914-1918
- · De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honor
- · Grenadier Guards, 1656
- · Harold Gillies Plastic Surgery – WWI
- · Harts Army List, 1840
- · Harts Army List, 1888
- · Manchester Employee’s Roll of Honor, 1914-1916
- · Merchant Navy Seamen (aka Merchant Marines)
- · Napoleonic War Records, 1775-1817
- · WWI Naval Casualties
- · Paddington Rifles
- · Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 British Navy & Air Force Officers
- · Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 Officers of Empire serving in British Army
- · Royal Hospital, Chelsea: documents of soldiers awarded deferred pensions, 1838-1896 (WO 131)
- · Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners’ discharge documents 1760-1887, (WO 121)
- · Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners’ discharge documents, foreign regiments, 1816-1817 (WO 122)
- · Royal Hospital, Kilmainham: pensioners’ discharge documents, 1773-1822 (known as WO 119 at the National Archives)
- · Royal Navy Officers Medal Roll, 1914-1920
- · War Office: Imperial Yeomanry, soldiers’ documents, South African War, 1899-1902 (WO 128)
- · WWII POWs – British held in German Territories
In addition to the exclusive records sets, this recent release includes additional records from the United States, Australia and Ireland. An update to the World War I Draft Cards collection provides registrations and actual signatures of more than 11 million young Americans from the beginning of the twentieth century.
Additional records released include:
United States Military
- · Japanese-Americans Relocated during WWII
- · Korean War Casualty File
- · Korean War Deaths
- · Korean War Prisoners of War
- · Korean War Prisoners of War (Repatriated)
- · U.S. Army Casualties, 1961-1981
- · Vietnam Casualties Returned Alive
- · Vietnam War Casualties
- · Vietnam War Deaths
- · WWI Draft Cards
- · WWII Prisoners of War
- · Kentucky Birth Records, 1911-2007
- · Kentucky Death Records Index, 1911-1999
- · Kentucky Marriage Records Index, 1973-1999
- · Texas Divorce Records Index, 1968-2010
- · Texas Marriage Records, 1968-2010
- · Northern Territory Anglican Baptisms and Confirmations, 1900-1947
- · Northern Territory Anglican Burials, 1900-1968
- · Northern Territory Anglican Marriages, 1902-1953
- · Irish Catholic Church Directories, 1836-37
Census Land and Surveys
- · Northern Territory Census, 1881-1921
- · Northern Territory Electoral Rolls, 1895-1940
Institutions & Organizations
- · Northern Territory Parliamentary Index, 1884-1890
Newspapers, Directories & Social History
- · Northern Territory Section of the Queensland Post Office Directory, 1920-1921
Here’s this week’s collection of new genealogy records online for New Spain, England, Ireland, the U.S. and the Kindgom of Hawaii.
FEATURED COLLECTION: NEW SPAIN/NEW MEXICO. Ancestry.com has posted a new collection of land records for what is now New Mexico when it was part of Spain. These records span 1692-1846, come from the Twitchell compilation of materials from New Mexico’s Spanish Archives, and are only searchable by keyword and date. See the collection description for more details.
ENGLAND – BURIALS. Over half a million records have been added to Findmypast’s collection of Westminster burials. These include names, birthdates, , death and burial dates and where they were buried.
ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND. About 13.5 million new newspaper articles have been added to Findmypast’s British Newspapers collection. New titles cover Cheshire, Essex, Kent, Lancashire, Wiltshire, Yorkshire and Scotland.
ENGLAND – LONDON – MISC. A new online collection at Findmypast.com “details the lives of ordinary and common Londoners” from 1680-1817. The 1.5 million records include criminal registers, apprentice records, coroner inquests, workhouse minutes, clerks’ papers and more.
ENGLAND – SURREY. A new Ancestry.com collection of water rate books for Surrey, England is now available online. According to the collection description, “Rates were collected in each parish for support of the sick and poor, maintenance of roads and church, and other parish expenses.” You can expect to find names along with street names and dates.
GERMANY. Ancestry.com has posted two new databases of Lutheran baptisms, marriages and burials for Hesse, Germany. Over 2.5 million records are in one database for 1661-1875 and another 100,000 or so appear in an overlapping database for 1730-1875.
IRELAND. A collection of Dublin Metropolitan Police prisoner’s books are now online at the University College Dublin website. According to the collection abstract, “The Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) Prisoners Books for 1905-1908 and 1911-1918 are amongst the most valuable new documents to come to light on the revolutionary decade. They include important information on social and political life in the capital during the last years of the Union, from the period of widespread anticipation of Home Rule, to the advent of the 1913 Lockout, the outbreak of the First World War, the Easter Rising and its aftermath, including the conscription crisis of 1918. They will also be invaluable to those interested in criminology, genealogy, and family history.”
U.S. – CENSUS. Ancestry.com has updated its 1920 U.S. Census collection. The nature of the updates aren’t described. (About a year ago we mentioned FamilySearch’s re-indexing of parts of the 1910 census in this blog post.)
U.S. – HAWAII. Ancestry.com has posted a new collection of Hawaiian passport records for 1849-1950 and 1874-1900. These records were under the jurisdiction of the former Kingdom of Hawaii.
Every week we post new genealogy records online! Are you getting our free weekly e-newsletter so you can stay up to date? When you subscribe you’ll receive a free e-book on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Google search strategies for genealogists. Enter your email address on this page.
In honor of Independence Day in the United States, AmericanAncestors.org is offering free access to databases on early New England ancestors starting TODAY through July 8.
If you have Mayflower, Pilgrim or Puritan ancestors (or want to confirm the rumor that you do!), you’ll want to take advantage of this offer from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. For many years the society has been researching “the 20,000 men, women, and children who crossed the Atlantic between 1620 and 1640, seeking opportunity and relief in New England.”
The Great Migration Study Project, as their work is known, has resulted in several databases, nine of which are open to the public for FREE during the first week of July 2015:
The Great Migration Begins. This database “attempts to identify and describe all those Europeans who settled in New England prior to the end of 1633,” states an NEHGS press release. “As a rough estimate, about 15 percent of the immigrants to New England arrived in the fourteen years from 1620 to 1633, with the remaining 85 percent coming over in half as many years, from 1634 to 1640.”
The Great Migration Newsletter. “This database comprises Volumes 1 through 20 of the Great Migration Newsletter, published between 1990 and 2011. Each 32-page issue contains one or two feature articles, a column with editor’s comments, and a review of recent literature on the Great Migration. Each issue also contains a section with detailed coverage of one of the towns settled during the Great Migration, or of a specific critical record, or group of records.”
The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, Volumes I—VII, A-Y. (7 separate databases) “As many as 2,500 people immigrated in 1634 and again in 1635….In May 1634, the population of Massachusetts doubled in just one month….Each alphabetical entry for a family or individual includes:
- Place of origin, if known
- Date and ship on which they arrived in New England, if known
- Earliest known record of the individual or family
- First residence and subsequent residences, when known
- Return trips to their country of origin, whether temporary or permanent
- Bibliographical information such as birth, death, marriage(s), children, and other important family relationships, church memberships, and civil and military offices held.”
Click here to access these databases for free between July 1-8, 2015. (Registration at AmericanAncestors.org is required as a FREE Guest Member.)
Looking for more FREE New England genealogy resources? Check out these blog posts!