When communicating with a new relative whose interest level in genealogy is not quite known, take it slowly. They:

  • might not be able to reply immediately–give them some time
  • might not be quite as interested in the family history as you–believe it or not, it is possible
  • might be put off if you share too many “black sheep” stories immediately–they might think you are only out to share the “family dirt”
  • might not want to read five rambling paragraphs in your first email–get to the point
  • might not respond if you immediately point out errors in their online tree–don’t make them feel like you are proofreading their tree
  • might not be interested in sharing details of their personal life–they may be your fifth cousin, not your “bestie.”

Your goal is to establish a line of communication and see if there’s a willingness to share/exchange information. Keep that goal in mind.



8 Responses

  1. I corresponded with a cousin of my second cousin. She was interested if any of my family knew or talked about her grandfather. Apparently he was not a nice man. But my relatives rarely spoke bad about anyone.

    My mother had a first cousin, related through his father, whose mother was also related to us. I found out this cousin’s wife was also related to my family through both of her parents! She said she didn’t “understand all that stuff!”

    • I’ll comment on both topics you brought up. It can be interesting how different branches of the family can have almost opposite views of the same person. That happened in the families my gg-grandfather had with his first and second wife. Entirely different points of view on him depending on which group to whom you talk.

      My Grandfather had two sets of “double cousins.” One set were true double first cousins because two siblings in one family had married siblings from another. The other set of cousins were because another sibling from the first set married a first cousin of the other set of siblings. I was (and still am) forever explaining it to some people.

  2. Thank u so much for this information. I have just started in this endeavour. I really appreciate your input on this . I almost made a couple of the mistakes you just mentioned. Fortunately I thought about it first as I think I am more overbearing in excitement but did stop and thought about how they might feel.

  3. THANK YOU for this post.
    And now with DNA matching, we have a new kind of communication from our ‘relatives’. Received yesterday:
    “Hello. My DNA match shows I am related to ____________. Please send me everything you have in that family tree.”
    My jaw dropped. The name was that of my g-g-grandfather, a common surname with many branches, and the family used a modified naming pattern, giving it duplicates of given names in each generation. I’ve been drilling through brick walls for years.

    • So far I’ve not gotten those (yet). I did have one who wanted me to immediately figure out the connection–I said I would work on it, but it would take some time. It was a distant maternal cousin and all my maternal lines are double/triple related and it takes me a while to get a good idea of approximately how we could be related.

  4. “Might be put off if you share too many “black sheep” stories” caught my eye. I’ve been getting information together for my first cousins about our many relatives. I grew up close to my aunts, uncles and grandparents and heard them tell many stories, some good — some not so good about our many relatives. Since all these people are dead and gone, I’ve related a few of the unpleasant things about them. I hope I haven’t gone too far in my details. Sometimes, you can understand why they behaved the way they did if you know the facts.

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