Six Steps for Contacting Distant Relatives

It may have been a long search, but you’ve accomplished something exciting – you’ve found a distant relative, and you’re ready to reach out.

The trick lies in making that initial connection. Here are six steps for contacting distant relatives that you won’t want to miss out on.

1. Use the right form of technology

Just because you’ve found your great-aunt on Facebook doesn’t mean you can reach out to her there. Many people have privacy settings that automatically move messages from people who aren’t in their Friends list into their Other folder, so your message may never be seen. It’s also possible that they may see your message, but be skeptical of internet contact. If you’re reaching out to a younger family member, social media communication may be more appropriate – do a little extra digging to find out what the best way is to contact your new found family member.

2. Make the family lineage clear

It’s best to steer clear of vague familial connections. Be specific about how you’re related – is this person on your paternal or maternal side? Related by marriage or blood? Don’t worry about being overwhelming with too much genealogical verbiage (such as using “once removed” or “second cousin”). It’s better to be specific about how you’re related than to present some loose semblance of relativity.

3. Include a piece of history

If you have a great article of photograph that shows your connection, such as a birth announcement or family photo, be sure to send it along. There’s no need to let go of your original copy, but it helps to make the connection a little more personal.

4. Show how you found them

No one wants random relatives just popping out of the woodwork – besides, if you’ve put hard work into finding this family member, show it! Have you used a genealogical search like Did you find the family name in an archived newspaper on Google News? Use how you found them in your introduction. “I was doing work on my family history when your name came up, and…” Give them all the pieces of the puzzle so you don’t seem like a mismatched member of their family.

5. Don’t ask for anything in return. Not even a visit

People are familiar with all kinds of horror stories of having “distant relatives” appear out of nowhere and who are relying on the kindness of strangers to give them cash loans or worse. You don’t want to be confused for one of these scam artists, so keep it simple, genuine, and friendly. Don’t ask for belated gifts, and don’t ask if you can borrow the keys to the lake house for your upcoming birthday.

6. Leave the ball in their court

As hard as it might be, try not to bombard them with contact. After your initial message is sent, wait a few weeks. They likely didn’t know that you existed either, so it’s a good idea to let them figure out how and when they want to answer. If you think there’s a chance your message may have gotten lost in the post (or online), then it’s polite to reach out once – but anything past that might be seen as harassment, and you may have to accept that for whatever reason, the family member you’ve found isn’t interested in making that connection. It’s unfortunate, but not everyone wants to be found.