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  • Paige Nelson

Asking relatives Questions for The Family Tree

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

As you search the web you will eventually come across others who are also researching the same ancestors. They may have information about your family that has been passed down to them such as, treasured photographs, official documents and records and even family stories. It is possible that they may have researched a family line that you may not had the time or resources to pursue.

A generally good way to contact them is via Email. While you have a shared interest in the same ancestors, keep in mind that while they may be related in some way, they are still strangers to you as you are to them.

To better ensure that message is opened and not overlooked, consider:

  • Include a meaningful message to the reader – Include the surname or full name of the individual you are researching, as well as mentioning something like “Family history” or “(surname) Genealogy” to capture the reader’s attention and show what you are contacting them for.

  • Keep it simple – This is most likely to be the first of many messages so you will want to explain briefly who you are, how you received their contact information, and how you are related to the family you are contacting them about.

  • Be precise – Briefly explain what you already know or where you have already searched for this individual. You may need to include additional details to help identify the individual as through time names are shared or lived in the same area.

  • Do not expect too much – A genealogist who has spent a lot of time and effort into their research over years will not appreciate a message from a person asking for everything they have.

  • Ask for a few specific details such as a marriage date or parents names. They may offer to share more information of course by they will appreciate that you do not expect it of them.

  • Protect the privacy of the living – It is okay to share the names of living relatives with other people, but do not give out any more information without consent from that relative.

  • Offer to share information in return – If you are asking for something that is specific, it pays to offer something in return for the information.

  • Express your gratitude – Always take a few minutes to respond with thanks for any information you receive, whether it is helpful to you or not.

When it comes to questioning elder relatives, the process is different. As the interviewer you need to take a few things into consideration: their memory is not what it used to be, some questions may trigger an emotional response, and the process will take more time.

For example, if you were asking about their spouse be mindful that they may no longer be living, questions such as where did they meet? What did you like about him/her when you met? Questioning about other family members: Has anyone ever told you where your family originates from? Are there any photographs of you when you were younger?

When you question them make sure you take notes but keep them engaged, make eye contact, keep them talking.

If you cannot take notes while engaging them consider recording your conversations. Try to spread the questioning over several weeks for their comfort, it may also give them time to remember more.

If you do not know what kind of questions to ask, here is a link for you to get a free Interview Question Checklist and access to other free downloads including a Chart for planning which family members to speak with. Just click the button “Get Downloads”

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