I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.
Find Living Relatives and Gather Information from Them
Time may be running out to gather information from our parents' generation. They may have family information and photos that give you clues to expand your family history.
If your older relatives are in their 70s, 80s or 90s, you'll be sorry if you delay asking them about names, dates and family stories. Some day they will be gone and there will be no one to ask.
Get organized and get in touch with your living relatives to collect what they know. I talked about this topic at my local genealogy club and members agreed that they needed to do this.
Tracking Down the Living Relatives
Start first with the ones you know. This includes your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Next move on to finding less-known relatives like second or third cousins. They share your great-grandparents and may have family stories and photos to share.
Where can you find the ones you don't already know? Ask your family. "What happened to your uncle? Where did he move to? Did he have children?"
Take the names and locations and start searching. Try the names on Facebook. Check a site like Lost Cousins which tries to match you with others researching the same names.
Once you find a missing relative, get in touch by email, letter, phone or a visit. Remember that it may take some back and forth to establish who you are and draw out the information you want. It can be a slow process.
Set Up Some Cousin Bait
Create a family group on Facebook or start a blog to share your family history. Get your name and your family research out there on the Internet.
If a distant relative is looking online for family names, you want them to find you. Make it easy for them.
Ancestry even set up a series of videos on Ancestry Academy on the topic of Cousin Bait: Making Social Media Work for You. It's free to watch and will set you on the right track for finding those living relatives.
Message boards have been around nearly as long as the Internet. You don’t want to ignore them since they are a great place to find like-minded researchers and cousins, and a good way to possibly get a question answered.
YouTube Video to Watch - Cousin Bait: Blogging to Find Your Family
Set up Family Groups to Share Information on Facebook
Tips for Your Facebook Cousin groups
Facebook can be a wonderful facilitator for connecting with distant family. The cousins that I've just bumped into are probably 2nd cousins, once removed or maybe 3rd cousins.
I'll sort out the relationship later. Wikipedia has a chart to explain cousin relationships.
Anyway, one of the newly found cousins posted a photo of my great-grandfather, John Thomas Martin. It was his great-great-grandfather, so that's how we connect on the family tree.
I administer a Facebook group for the Martin cousins so promptly invited him to it. Ended up with 2 other cousins joining as well. Excellent! The more participants, the more likely that vintage photos like the one above get shared and memories preserved.
Martin isn't an easy name to research since it is terribly common. The Martin line that we are part of came to Greenwood County, Kansas in the 1800s and further back in the 1700s from Kentucky.
How Do You Create a Facebook Group? Start by Clicking on "Create a Group"
Next Step in Creating a Group on Facebook
Put Your Genealogy Info Online
You want distant relatives to find you, so get your name and your interest "out there." Starting a family group on Facebook like I suggested above is one way to go and it's free.
Starting a family history blog is another way to be visible. Wordpress.com is free and so is Blogger. For an example of this, check out my Martin/McGhee genealogy blog which I named Then and Now so it includes family history and relates it to current family ties.
A third way to do this is to put queries on message board on genealogy sites like Ancestry.
If you're using Ancestry, look for trees that overlap your own. If someone has a lot of the same people on their tree as you do, chances are good that you are related in some way. Use the message system on the site to contact the tree owner and chat about how you are possibly related.
Here's a sample message that gladdened me to see:
Hi my name is (name deleted for privacy reasons). My Grandfather is Earnest McGhee. His dad was Green Verlon McGhee. Soloman is my grandfather too. I was wondering if we could talk and maybe exchange some information. Thank You, D.
Blog Your Family Stories
Things to Take Along When Interviewing a Relative
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- What Will You Need?
- Video Camera
- Portable Scanner (or a phone app like CamScanner)
- Photos to Identify or to Use as Memory Starters
- Your Family Tree
- A Voice Recorder
- All of the Above
- All of the Above
A Popular Portable Scanner Used by a Genealogist
Tips for Interviewing Your Living Relatives
Need Some Sample Questions to Ask Your Relatives?
- StoryCorps | Great Questions
This site provides a list that you can take with you to get your relative talking about family history.
Join Regional Facebook Groups And Share Your Photos and Ask Questions
Include as Much Information as You Can
In the above photo, I included the names of the people in the family and also the names of later children they had. Several people responded that the name Fate McGhee sounded familiar to them. They were going to ask their relatives to see what the possible link might be. I'm hopeful that this photo will entice some information from 3rd or 4th cousins who might still live in that area.
Best of Luck to You
in finding living relatives and getting more family history saved for future generations.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Virginia Allain
J.M. on September 29, 2019:
Thanks for sharing these tips!
Gordan Zunar from New York on January 30, 2016:
This is great, I have people in my family researching our lineage on three sides, the lastnames, the onomastics, and our origins (which includes different ethnic background). I'm also doing a a bit of research on my own but in a historical context, comparing certain languages and customs of my ancestors in order to determine their original ethnicity or to which degree they mixed with others. I might even write a hub on it, thanks for the idea :)
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on August 02, 2015:
Thank you for writing this, Virginia. I appreciate the tips.
So many of our older family members are gone, as my generation becomes the "geezer bunch." I didn't get their stories, though I think my brother got a few, living closer to some of them.
But we still have a few in their late eighties and early nineties, and try to get the stories while we still can. I wish they'd let us record them! Some of them are wonderful story tellers, but also quite private and not wanting to leave that kind of legacy.
Thanks for the chuckle too, with "cousin bait." Love that.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 21, 2015:
I wish that my old folks are willing to talk, at least to know my family history
Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on May 28, 2015:
I hardly have any relatives, living OR dead :)
Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on May 28, 2015:
What a great hub!! Good advice. I'm so thankful to grow up with grandparents who were excellent historians.