When I started researching my family history a number of years ago, I expected my research to involve mostly, well…dead people. I quickly discovered the value of oral history and interviewing my living relatives. Every time I talked with a cousin or aunt I heard new names of more distant relatives. Sometimes I would just hear references to so and so’s son/daughter who might know something about the family history.
This refrain kept running through my mind, “I need to talk to the them, too.”
But how do I find them?
Will they think I am a nutcase if I contact them? Will they hang up on me?
Should I even try? YES!
How do you find “new cousins” to interview?
- Interview the family members you do know. Rarely will you leave one oral history interview without the names of other relatives being suggested.
- Contact other researchers who are researching the same or similar family lines. They often have suggestions.
- Contact the local genealogy and/or historical society for the area you are researching. Many of these members are long time residents and have a vast knowledge of the people and area.
Once you have identified a distant relative you wish to interview:
How do you contact that person you do not know for an oral interview?
- If possible, have a mutual acquaintance introduce you. This can be done in person or by phone. This is the easiest and quickest way. It’s just not always possible. If not……
- Send a brief note by snail mail to introduce yourself. Reference where you fit in the family tree. For example, “I am Winnie Haley Carr’s great-granddaughter.” If you have a genealogy business or interest card, include it. If you have a blog or website, include that as well. Lastly state you will follow up with a phone call in a few days. (Make sure you do!) Remember your goal is to make this person feel comfortable enough to talk to you.
I have had great success contacting distant relatives using these methods. Obviously, I am most nervous using the second method. (I still get nervous doing this.) Let me share an example of one of my successes.
I wanted to talk with a cousin on a different Howard family line than I had descended. She lived about 45 minutes away. I sent her a snail mail note as described above. I included my genealogy interest card and stated where I fit in the Howard family line. I called her a few days after I knew she would have received the card. Her first words? “I’ve been waiting for your call!”
Stepping our of my comfort zone and past my nervousness yielded invaluable information to my research.
Contact that distant cousin, aunt, or uncle and ask them your questions. (Leave me a comment and let me know how it went.)
You will both be richer in family history for it.