Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'm In a Quandary!

A few months back my Aunt promised to send me the address of a new cousin that I didn't even know I had. She is a daughter of one of the little girls that my grandmother left behind in Scotland when she immigrated to Canada. You can read about that here. Well, she finally did.

I'm asking for help! I've never written to a total stranger before (except for archivists, etc). How does one go about writing to someone they've never met and then ask for information: "Hi Nettie, this is not a junk letter so don't discard it. I am your cousin, Alana in Montreal and was given your address by _____!" That just does not seem like a good start!

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


  1. Alana

    I had the same situation about two years ago: I located a possible second cousin via public records online. I knew that his mother had someone become separated from the rest of the family due to a silly feud.

    Rather than call, I opted to write and leave it in the hands of the recipient as to whether or not they wanted to make contact.

    My letter started with "my name is ______ and I am your second cousin. This is not a scam - please see the attached family tree . . ." and I included a chart of our tree. I also added items such as links to my websites if the person had access to a computer. I also included my email address and phone number.

    That is really all we can do. But I would never just call anyone - email possibly but there is the chance it would end up in the spam folder of the recipient.

  2. Alana,
    Remember that you go into this new relationship, not empty handed, but with a full satchel -- full of history from across the ocean,friendship and family, willingness to share, and just old fashioned courtesy and goodwill. Nettie is fortunate that you have taken the time to find her.

  3. I have done this on two separate occasions and been met with success both times. I made it very clear in my letters of who I was, how I was descended from Ancestor X and that I thought they were related to X too. I tried to provide enough details about the history of X and known facts so that they knew I was a legitimate researcher and it wasn't some scam. If I were in your shoes, I would provide enough family history details, pedigree chart or other report to assist your recipient.

    I also found it useful to state that I was seeking some family medical history in the hopes that if I had the right person I could at least entice them to start with sharing medical info and hope to build into other history.

    I strongly recommend NOT calling, particularly if this person is elderly. I know my elderly relatives would be especially leary of this kind of phone call. A written letter and family history data for them to look at and think about first before replying will allow them time and process what you have told them and asked for.

    Good luck. Let us know if your letter works!

  4. I've written several letters to people I thought were family. When I wrote I explained my relationship to the ancestor and how I thought the person I was writing to was related to the ancestor. I sent a family group sheet for the person I was writing to with her as a child and showing her parents. I also sent a pedigree chart. I explained what I was doing (family history), who I was searching for, how I found her, etc. Twice I received photographs of the individuals I was hoping to find, and one of the ladies I contacted sent a family group sheet for her family with her as the parent.

    I think it's important to give as much information as you can so she can recognize you as "family", not just a stranger seeking information.

    Please let us know how it goes! I hope you have great success.

    Nancy from My Ancestors and Me at www.nancysfamilyhistoryblog.blogspot.com

  5. I have written to many hundreds of people whom I still have not met. If you just speak in a letter as if you have already met, I believe you will find it most helpful. Just start talking, ya' know? If I can be of any assistance, please be sure to email me at yayashome (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll be more than happy to help you out.

    ~ Yaya
    Yaya's Changing World