Contacting Distant Relatives

I’m just looking for some input about contacting distant, living relatives.

I don’t mean your Great Aunt Bessie that you see every few years at the family reunion.  I also don’t mean fellow researchers who are also seeking you out in hopes of sharing information.

I mean people who don’t have any interest in genealogy.  That might be leery about you contacting them.

Have you ever done it before?

I have been in contact with numerous distant relatives who were fellow researchers, but I have never contacted someone who wasn’t also doing research.

Since I’ve been doing genealogy for almost 13 years now, it is abundantly clear to me that many family treasures and stories are probably lost each year.  There are people who are not active in research who might have an attic full of family pictures.  Who could solve some of the family mysteries.

Through the power of the internet and especially Facebook, it’s easier and easier every day to find distant relatives.  I’m interested to hear if any of you have had good experiences in contacting distant relatives for information.  I’m hoping that maybe the people I contact would also be interested in what I have to share with them…


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  • Mary - May 21, 2012 - 7:00 am

    I have contacted several distant relatives by mail and email. I’ve had some success, altough some never respond. I’ve found that it is hard to maintain contact, so I try to email them from time to time to keep in touch and I let the “new” relatives know what I’ve found about our family.ReplyCancel

  • shaz - May 21, 2012 - 8:12 am

    I haven’t done it often, but when I do, I include an old family photograph to pique their interest. That usually gets a response of some kind.

    One woman I contacted – the daughter of my grandfather’s younger brother– saw the photo while she was in the hospital shortly before her death. Her son said she was so happy to see a photo of her father as a young man. The photo I usually send (to that side of the family)is a posed shot of my great-grandparents 50th anniversary in 1923 with all but one of their surviving children and grandchildren.

    I never cold call on the phone because the person on the other end most likely would not have any information at their fingertips. I’d rather send a letter and photo and an offer to share so they have time to think about what they might be able to contribute.

    Back to the anniversary photo. In the background there are two large oval photographs of a man and woman. I rediscovered a second cousin from the 1950s on FB mentioned the photo – which she also has. Then I mused I wonder who were the couple in the oval photos? She said “Oh, that’s our great-great-grandmother from Holland.” She went on to say that she had the damaged original and would I like a copy? Would I? Lucky for both of us I have another cousin who can repair old photos. So now several of us have a duplicate — mine is hanging on my ‘genealogy’ wall.

    So anything is worth a try.ReplyCancel

  • Debi Austen - May 21, 2012 - 3:24 pm

    I’ve done it once with not great results.

    My mother’s parents divorced when she was about 10 and her dad remarried and had a couple of more children. Because my mother was somewhat estranged from her father, I only met him once and never met the other children.

    A year or so ago I “found” my mother’s half sister on facebook. I sent her a personal message, explained who I was, and asked if she’d like to have contact. She was so excited, said she’d always wondered about my mother and us kids, and we exchanged e-mail addresses and even though we became friends on facebook, we decided we would communicate via e-mail.

    Since she asked me to let her know all about everyone, I sent her a fairly long e-mail explaining what had gone in our lives for the last 50+ years. Nothing. After a week or so I sent her another e-mail just to spark her interest again. Nothing. She did once comment on my blog via facebook but that was it.

    Fast forward to about 3 months ago and I decided to give it one more try. I sent her an e-mail and told her that my mother has no pictures of her father and, thus, I have no idea what my grandfather even looked like. I explained that it would make my mother, who is approaching her 84th birthday, very happy to see just one photo of her father. Nothing.

    I’ve given up :-(ReplyCancel

  • Judy G. Russell, CG - May 23, 2012 - 8:33 am

    I’ve done it repeatedly over the years with widely disparate results. In some cases, I’ve found new best friends. My cousin Dick in New Mexico and his wife Julie, my cousin Mary Ann in California, a TON of Baker cousins (none closer than fourth) are at the top of that list. In other cases, I’ve had — shall we say — less than stellar results. But it is so very worthwhile trying anyway for those nuggets that you do find. The visit I had last week with my grandmother’s 93-year-old first cousin and her family — people I was meeting for the very first time — proves that in spades.ReplyCancel

    • Jen - May 24, 2012 - 1:42 am

      I’m going to go for it! I guess the worst they could do is not answer – or maybe tell me to leave them alone. :)ReplyCancel

  • Russell Bridger - November 23, 2013 - 9:11 pm

    Facebook has “groups” with members that may include people you are looking for. You have to search for the particular groups.ReplyCancel

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