The most important reason you should contact as many living family members as possible is that these folks have information, first hand. This is an opportunity you will NEVER HAVE AGAIN. Once these folks are gone you will be left to only piece impersonal information together. You won't be able to hear the stories about the firey, red headed great-grandfather ever again. These folks will be able to give you details no one else can give you.
Begin with the oldest living family members you can. Do you have great-grandparents still living? Aunts, Uncles, cousins? Start with the oldest and go down to those even in your generation. From experience my cousins had a totally different experience knowing my grandmother than I did.
I know that my own intimacy with my grandmother, Marie Elizabeth REBENSTORF/DEBUS/GESCH has yielded more personal stories about her growing up years than any of my numerous other cousins.
How to Find Living Relatives
- Probably the number one tool today for finding living relatives is the Internet. The Internet has opened so many doors and made the world infinitely smaller
- Message Boards are a collaboration of people in a 'room' type setting discussing and asking for help with family history searches. Use them! (GenForm, Ancestry.com Boards, About.com Genealogy Message Boards, Genealogy Today Message Boards)
- Facebook and Google+. These resources allow you to create groups for just family members, can send and receive videos, audio files, and that all important photo. You can chat in real time on facebook also.
- Genealogy websites is most likely the most used tool for finding dead ancestors and the least used for finding living family, however with the popularity of DNA and the consequent matching by many of these sites living family members can be found.
Approaching living family members can be key in just how much, if any, information you get. The wrong approach can actually yield someone literally hanging up on you or slamming the door in your face. We live in a day when there are thousands of folks out there trying to scam folks and everyone knows it. You don't want to give the appearance of being one of those scammers, especially if you have never met these folks before.
First and foremost, introduce yourself: Give a brief history of your life such as where you live, who your parents and grandparents are/were. Tell them how you think you might be related to them. DON'T be pushy, you could loose this contact source forever.
Using the snail mail and/or email approach just might be the ideal way to make contact with a new family member if you have never met them before. The letter/message should contain information about you (see above), some of your family surnames, how you feel that you are related to them, and how they may contact you. Basically you are putting the ball into their court and gives them some sense of control.
One thing you should be aware of. Some people's history is painful and they might not want to talk about it. Please honor this and so not press them. Simply go on to the next contact. Keep in contact this them through friendly, how are you, notes or emails and maybe someday........
The ideal situation is to set us a face to face interview where the person can feel relaxed and can just talk memories. The only other alternative is through mail/email questions or if they are now comfortable that you are who you say you are even phone interviews.
See our next post CONDUCTING THE INTERVIEW.