Let me introduce you to one of my brick walls. His name is Chester Benjamin and he’s my great grandfather. I’ve been looking for a photo, a relative who knew him, anything for the last fifteen years. Researching his life became my mission. My great grandmother and her children are gone and my father only had a few stories to share. Curse you, brick walls!
Then one day, when I was least expecting it, a distant cousin posted his photo to her online tree. After doing a happy dance, I got down to business to contact this new cousin and thank her for the best gift anyone could have given me.
I used to think that researching my family tree was a solo pursuit. But it’s not. We rely on the research of others to corroborate our research, to confirm a family story and to share photos.
In other words, we need to know where to find distant cousins and we need to know what is the best way to contact them to get a response. So read on for my tips and tricks I learned along the way.
5 Places to find new relatives
- Online family tree websites such as Ancestry, FamilySearch and My Heritage. You’ve looked at the trees that others have built with your common last names. Why not reach out to them! I find it best to contact them via email if they listed that on their profile. If, not contact them through the message app. Make sure that you list your email address in the profile so that relatives can reach out to you.
Bonus tip: Upload your GEDCOM file to other family tree websites. This will help you reach more relatives. This article lists a number of places to upload your tree.
- Test your DNA and tie your results to your online tree. Since I was tested a number of years ago, that is the way I have been connecting with relatives.
- Facebook. Chances are you are already on Facebook and connected to some family. Have you found that a family member you are connected to is friends with a relative that you were not aware of? Ask that person to introduce you.
Bonus Tip: Join a Facebook group specific to your surname or start your own!
- Join GenealogyWise. Genealogy Wise is a social network for genealogists. Like Facebook, you can connect with people and post research questions
- Go to family reunions.If you can’t go, hold a virtual reunion over Zoom, Google Meet or Skype. Don’t forget to talk about family history and take notes!
Ok, so you know where to find them. But what should you say when you reach out to them? Don’t worry, I have that covered too.
4 tips on emailing your new found family members
- Use a warm and friendly tone, but be specific in your email. You don’t want your message to sound like an excited fan, or be misinterpreted as demanding. You also don’t want to ramble. Be warm and friendly, but get to the point of why you contacted them. Still not sure? My scripts will show you how.
- Give a gift. If you are asking someone you never met to share information with you, you need to be willing to share first. I normally share something I don’t have online after the introductory email I send. I want them to be comfortable sharing information and know that I’m not going to use them.
What happens if you don’t get a response?
- Email or leave a message again. It wouldn’t hurt to contact them again. Maybe the first message wasn’t received.
- No response? Don’t get too discouraged. I know this is easier said than done. I know that you are eager to hear from them and exchange information. There can be many reasons you didn’t hear from them. I’ve seen issues ranging from not seeing the message to not having time to research genealogy to not interested in sharing information.
- Remember not everyone is into genealogy. This one hurts. How can anyone not be into genealogy? Sadly, it’s true. Some people are just interested in learning about their ethnicity. Look to see if your new found relative has a tree attached to their dna. This clue might help in knowing the likeliness for their response.
How does this tie into storytelling?
- Your new found relative can lead to new family stories you never heard of.
- They can potentially confirm or deny the authenticity of family stories you’ve heard.
- They may have access to more photos, documents and information that you don’t have.
- They can help you write family stories from their perspective. Plus it’s always more fun to work with someone rather than alone!
Need some help?…Use My Email Scripts
I’ve created a few scripts you can use to help you craft your initial email to your new family members.
Enjoy the journey in meeting new relatives!