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.

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AncestryDNA Works Toward Genetics + Genealogy Integration

 

AncestryDNA Review GEDCOM DNA integrationThe ideal genetic genealogy interface creates a seamless transition between genetics technology and genealogical research findings. Most currently available tools are either DNA technology without much genealogy, or genealogy without much DNA technology. AncestryDNA is really pioneering the genetic and genealogical integration with its newest AncestryDNA product update.

The goal of genetic genealogy is to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as yet unknown ancestors. DNA was never meant to replace traditional research methods, nor has it ever claimed that ability. Rather, it is meant to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as-yet unknown ancestors.

I admit, I dream of a future technology so precise that it pinpoints the locations of ancestors and defines our exact relationships to others. While we are not there yet, many have experienced a genetic test’s power to obliterate previously-held beliefs about relationship and heritage, and create new intricate and personal relationships where before there were only blank spaces. In this sense, genetic genealogy can be viewed as a kind of police force of the genealogy world, righting wrongs and taking names. But I digress.

For now, the ideal must remain a seamless transition between genetics technology and traditional research results, so that the two so completely complement each other that we can’t see where one stops and the other begins. Yet the two worlds are often separated by a chasm of misunderstanding and just plain ignorance. Of the three testing companies, two are making mediocre efforts at best to try to help you incorporate your genetics into your genealogy. They are basically dishing out a serving of genetics, offering a vending machine of genealogy snacks and calling it a full meal.

With one exception.

AncestryDNA has put genetic and genealogical integration at the forefront of its product.  They are the only company making a serious effort to integrate your genetics and your genealogy. To be successful, they need two things: tons of people and their genealogy. The more people test, the better the database becomes. Not just in terms of the matches you find, but also in terms of statistics and the power that numbers have to solve complex problems, like relatedness.

So, how do they get more people interested in genetic genealogy?

This reminds me of my early days at Relative Genetics, one of the first genetic genealogy companies.  I was fresh out of college and tasked with training our CEO, CFO, QA director, and marketing director about what exactly it was that we did as a genetic genealogy company. None of these men had any experience in genetics or genealogy. In those meetings as we were trying to figure out ways to grow our company in an unknown industry, I felt like I was the constant downer to the party.  As a scientist I had been trained that there are no absolutes. Whenever we talk about outcomes it is always in terms of “most likely” or “less likely” and to never, ever say “always.” So when they would get excited about an idea and propose wording for an ad campaign, I was always reining them in.

After reading a recent announcement by AncestryDNA, I feel like their marketing department had a meeting on the day their scientific advisor was out sick and without his or her corralling, they started a stampede.

Which, of course, was exactly what they wanted.

In their press release, Ancestry’s Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA said, “It is effectively a shortcut through time—you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree — AncestryDNA now transports you to the past.”

Which is exactly what people want to hear, especially non-genealogists who are curious about their past, but don’t have the tools or know-how or interest in doing the actual genealogy work.

But is it true? Is genetic genealogy a short cut through time?

“Absolutely,” says the marketing team.

“Sometimes, and that depends on factor A, and factor B and situation C and…” say the scientists.

And they are both right. The trick is to hear them both as you review these kinds of new advances in genetic genealogy.

What makes the “absolutely” true is that one of the dreams of genetic genealogy is to use the DNA of living people today to actually reconstruct the genetics of our ancestors. So that their actual DNA profile is known. Then it will be easy to identify their descendants as we will be able to see immediately what part of our DNA came from which of our ancestors. Ancestry has demonstrated their ability to do this in a large scale study of the descendants of a 19th-century American and his two successive wives.

Now, time for the “Sometimes.” This full genome reconstruction hasn’t been done yet for your grandparents, or great grandparents. Right now the best we can do is use your DNA to link you to living individuals, then rely on your traditional genealogy to help you find your common ancestor. Ancestry is trying to help you do that using their DNA circles, and now with their New Ancestor Discoveries.

Remember that to be included in a DNA circle you have to have a “ticket” to the party, meaning both your genetics and your genealogy match with at least two other people in the database and a circle is created around the host of the party, who is your common ancestor.

With New Ancestor Discoveries, we are letting those with just a genetic ticket into the party. Meaning that if you share DNA with two or more people in a DNA Circle, the host of that circle is named as an ancestor who might be on your pedigree chart.

Did you notice how I said “might?” That this newly discovered ancestor MIGHT be in your pedigree chart?

As an idea, New Ancestor Discoveries is VERY EXCITING, don’t you think? To be able to find out using both genetics and genealogy that a particular person living 100 years ago might just be the one who belongs in that blaring blank space on your pedigree chart? And it will be. But right now, Ancestry needs to work out some bugs, starting with a stronger acknowledgement that the ancestor listed in the Discoveries is by no means an absolute, but just a hint.

Genetic Genealogy and DNAIn coming posts I will share with you how I am using the New Ancestry Discoveries to discover more about my genealogy, even if it isn’t exactly in the way Ancestry intended. For now, learn more by reading my recent posts: from the left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, search on the category “DNA.”

And click here to visit my website and learn more about how I can help you navigate the exciting world of genetic genealogy.

Swedish Genealogy Records & Resources Online

This week’s Friday records post is all about Swedish genealogy! Findmypast has added 12 million Swedish records to their international collection, and we’ll show you other resources for accessing similar records. We’ll also highlight some past unique collections for Sweden, and you can explore expert research tips from a professional genealogist. 

Featured: Swedish Genealogy Records Online

June 6 is the National Day of Sweden, which honors two historical events: Gustav Vasa being elected king on June 6, 1523, and the adoption of a new constitution on June 6, 1809. After decades of discussion, the Swedish parliament finally voted to make June 6 a public holiday. And we can’t think of a better way to observe than to spend time researching your Swedish ancestors!

As Findmypast continues to grow their international records database, they’ve highlighted the recent addition of Swedish records to their collection. Over 12 million Swedish baptisms, marriages, and burials are now dating back to 1611 are now available to search on Findmypast. These records will also generate hints against your Findmypast family tree.

Their Swedish collection consist of the following indexes:

If you’re a Findmypast subscriber, head over there now to explore these indexed records. If you’re not a Findmypast subscriber, you can explore select Swedish baptisms, burials, and marriages at Ancestry.com. You can also find select Swedish baptisms, burials, and marriages at FamilySearch.org for free.

Unique Swedish Genealogy Resources

Swedish Newspapers. A couple of years back we highlighted the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection of Swedish-American newspapers. They are available through an online portal. Users can explore more than 300,000 pages from 28 different Swedish-American newspaper titles published across the U.S. between 1859 and 2007. The portal is available in Swedish and English and includes a keyword search.

Biographies of notable Swedish women. The Chicago Evening Post reported on a new online biographical dictionary of women in Swedish history. The site itself is Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexicon (it does have an English-language home page). The home page encourages visitors to “Read up on 1,000 Swedish women from the Middle Ages to the present day. Use the search function to reveal what these women got up to, how they were educated, which organisations they belonged to, where they travelled, what they achieved, and much more. All of them contributed in a significant way to the development of Swedish society.” According to the Chicago Evening Post, the current collection of 1,000 biographical sketches will soon double (at least)

Expert Swedish Genealogy Research Tips

Swedish genealogy can be daunting. Many people avoid Swedish research because they don’t speak the language and because the names change every generation–like from Ole Olsson to Ole Nilsson to Nils Pehrrson. Despite these barriers, Swedish research can be relatively simple, fun, and successful! In a special guest article, Paul Woodbury, a Senior Genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists, shares the following 5 things to keep in mind when researching your Swedish ancestors:

  1. You can “read” many records without reading Swedish.
  2. Family events are summarized in Swedish clerical examinations.
  3. Many Swedish records cross-reference each other.
  4. You can trouble-shoot record gaps.
  5. There are some excellent Swedish indexes and databases online.

Paul covers these 5 points in-depth in this special article. Click here to read it now!

Beginning-swedish-genealogy-family England Wales electoral registers

Lisa Louise Cooke Author

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the producer and host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series. She is an international keynote speaker and the Vice President of the Genealogical Speakers Guild.

 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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