I’m writing to you today to tell you how much you mean to me. You’re the reason why I can’t wait to grab my phone before I get out of bed, just to see what you’ve had to say. Your emails of shared success stories, challenges, questions, and feedback are each carefully read. Genealogy Gems is after all, created for you.
I so clearly remember the moment back in 2007 when it hit me how creating a podcast would provide me with a way to share what I had learned about researching family history. It would be a way to connect with all of you out there who are in pursuit of the same passion. Now, over 2 million downloads later, we have shared a lot and it’s been glorious.
Our 10th anniversary together isn’t quite here yet (February 2017), but I do want to dip back into 2007 and share with you one of the first videos I created for you. It was a Christmas story about the origins of Christmas seals, and my own personal story about when I first fell in love with them. I know, the images in the first part of the video are a bit grainy. Online video production was in its infancy way back then in 2007. But, it’s a lovely story just the same, and the Christmas wishes I sent then are still as strong today.
More than 80% of Americans over the age of three (!) have at least one computer in the house today. Most of us don’t have its predecessor: the typewriter. But the typewriter keyboard was the forerunner of the computer keyboards we all know now. I just wanted to take a moment to wish the keyboard a happy 145th birthday!
On this date in 1868, an American named Christopher Sholes patented the first usable typewriter with the same “QWERTY” key organization we all know today. The keys were not placed in alphabetical order, but with the most-frequently used keys under and near the fingers of the trained typist (who, if you learned like I did, lines up his her left hand with the pinkie finger on “A” and the right hand with the pinkie finger on the semicolon, and both thumbs on the space bar).
It’s not hard to see how the invention of the typewriter (and later the computer) keyboard has revolutionized our ability to communicate. But it has had interesting “side effects,” too–like giving women ground-floor entrance to the business world. On this the 145th anniversary of the keyboard, think about it for a second–how does this one invention affect your life?
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.
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.
You may be doing some “home archiving” without even realizing it, if you’re the keeper of any family photos, documents, heirlooms, or artifacts. Professional archivist and genealogist Melissa Barker offers these tips for the family historian and keeper of the family archive.
I have always said that “home archiving” is something genealogists do, perhaps without ever calling it that. So family historians can definitely benefit from learning how archivists work. Here are five ways to think like an archivist.
5 Home Archiving Tips for Family Historians
1. Learn to preserve family artifacts.
Archivists are always educating themselves on how to preserve certain items that have come to their archives. Genealogists inherit family heirlooms all the time. Learning how to preserve them is thinking like an archivist.
Tip: Preserving an item means keeping it from further deterioration. This may mean putting it in special storage materials, keeping it out of strong light, and storing it in a place that isn’t too hot, cold, or humid. Click here to read an article on humidity and your family archive.
2. Organize your “collection.”
A very important job for archivists is keeping their records collections organized so they know what they have and can pull them efficiently. Genealogists, as home archivists, would also benefit from keeping their genealogical records organized.
Archivists are always careful to use special materials such as archival file folders and boxes to put records and artifacts into for preservation. Genealogists should use archival materials to preserve and store their records just like archivists do.
Tip: Click here to read my article on how to archive family history documents. It’s packed with great tips and recommended products to store your items safely.
4. Keep the stories that go with your artifacts.
Telling the stories of the people that have come before us is also something that archivist try to do with the records they have in their care. Archivists do this by sharing their records collections with the public through displays, exhibits, and open houses. Genealogists should tell their ancestor’s stories by sharing their family histories with their families and passing down their ancestor’s stories to the next generation.
Tip: Create a meaningful display of artifacts in your own home. Group together items that tell a story, preferably unique, eye-catching items. Add framed copies of documents and photos (keep originals safely tucked away). Click here for some fantastic ideas from Lisa Louise Cooke on sharing your family history with the non-genealogists in your family.
5. Archive your own mementos.
Archivists collect today for tomorrow! Many archivists collect documents and artifacts that are produced today so they can be preserved for tomorrow. They collect items such as the high school graduation program, digitizing the local newspaper, and that local diner menu.
Genealogists do the same thing in their “home archiving” by collecting and preserving a funeral card, digital photographs they took at the grandbaby’s birthday, and the marriage invitation you received for your niece’s wedding.
Home Archiving, National Archiving: It’s all in the Genealogy Gems Podcast
Did you know I’m on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast now? I chime in frequently with that “offline” archival perspective that’s so important in our research. Click here to see the list of recent episodes. In Episode 211, publishing this week, I report on a fascinating way you can help make collections from the National Archives more accessible to everyone. Why not listen in? It’s free!
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!
Though the United States is a relatively young country, its history is a rich source of genealogical information! This week we’re featuring new collections available for United States family history, from the big and exciting to the small and fascinating. Vital...