The most important thing I can
tell you here is to talk to all your senior-generation relatives
immediately after your parents. You don't know how much longer you
have before your senior generations are gone and you're the older
generation, so don't put this step off! The most often heard complaint
is that the senior family members [grandparents, great aunts, etc.] were
not asked about the family before they passed away. Hence, all that rich
information went with them. Find out who your parent's oldest living
relatives are and plan to question them first.
Even a distant relative can be a
veritable gold mine of information about your ancestors. If you aren't
really interested in researching your family now, talk to those seniors
and write down their stories before they have passed away and taken
generations of information with them.
- Plan only
45-minute interviews with these senior relatives as they will tire
quickly. Plan your time around them, not vice versa.
- Know what
questions you want to ask before you begin your interviews.
That means going over the notes you already have and writing down
exactly what you want to know.
- A good idea
is to record your interviews. You'll be more relaxed and not have to
worry about being sure to accurately write down something a relative
has told you. Get names, dates, places, and relationships they know.
- For optimum
results, ask direct, pointed questions - not generalized ones like,
"tell me everything you know about the family."
the Cardinal Rule and plan to follow-up on everything you are told.
Next, contact the remaining family
members. Has anyone else in the family done any research? If so, their
work can save you hundreds of hours [PROVIDED they've documented their
Orally interview as many family
members as you can following the guidelines above. Send questionnaires
to those relatives long distance from you. [Be sure to include a self
addressed, stamped envelope.] Questionnaires should have direct
questions with enough space for replies so your relatives can write
directly on your pages. You can also telephone [being sure to have
direct questions lined up and paper and pencil handy to write their
responses] or e-mail them.
Once you have entered all the
information available from your home sources, consider anyone else in
your family might have information they would be willing to share.
Please, be considerate of others
and their privacy and views. You are asking for help and they will be
doing you a huge favor by answering your questions. Understand that your
relatives do NOT owe you anything, including information. Treat those
relatives with all the respect that you would also want.
- Keep your
correspondence brief and courteous but specific, with the request
stated exactly. Don't ramble.
- Unless you
are sending a questionnaire, limit your request to 2-3 direct
Questionnaires should have direct questions, leaving space for the
- Ask about
anyone else who might have some information.
- Offer to
- Offer to
pay for copies of the records, and special postage and insurance
cost for mailing the information to you.
writing a letter, always include a self addressed stamped envelope
[SASE] with appropriate postage.
- If your
correspondent is in another country, include a self-addressed
envelope [SAE] with at least two international reply coupons [bought
at the post office].
sending an email, do NOT type all in capital letters. It's
considered as shouting, and is hard to read.
- Keep a copy
of every letter you send.
Think about what you're going to
write. Writing a good letter or email isn't always easy. So, here are
some general correspondence essentials:
- CLEAN in
appearance. Attractive letters make a favorable first impression.
Type every letter, if possible.
- CORRECT in
composition. Make your letter correct in details of grammar,
spelling, punctuation, sentencing, and paragraphing. Use a
- CLEAR in
expression. Clearly determine what fact(s) you desire to obtain. A
letter that is easy to read and easy to answer stimulates a reply.
Definite questions usually get definite replies.
in manner. Do not demand. Express your appreciation. Always
acknowledge a reply.
in tone. Never write an 'I' letter. Make your request so interesting
that it will be answered out of a desire to help, rather than merely
out of a sense of duty.
- CONCISE in
wording. Go directly to the point; say it concisely and quit. Long,
rambling requests often end up in the wastebasket, especially with
- COMPLETE in
thought. Communicate your problem. Give enough background
information necessary for the reader to grasp your needs.
REMEMBER: Information from
relatives may or may not be accurate. Return to the Cardinal Rule [see
"25 Tips to a Happier, Healthier Research" in this section] and use your
new data as a guide for further research. Always verify this information
with primary source records if possible.
"For the Beginner"