One of the most wonderful parts of modern genealogy is the ability to connect with distant relatives you’ve never met, but with whom you share common ancestors. You can meet these people in a variety of ways. Connecting on genealogy message boards is common. You might post a query or answer the one about a certain family or individual. People who also have family connections to the family or individual will post responses, and you eventually may exchange email addresses with some of them. You can also meet distant relatives through matches on DNA sites, and on online family tree sites like Ancestry.com, where you post a family tree, and others with connections to that tree message you. Finally, you can do your own research and discover modern relatives from various branches of your family and seek them out on social media.
In all of the other ways of meeting distant relatives online, they will normally be the ones approaching you and will do so in a genealogical environment. You can decide whether you want to communicate privately, and if you do, you may find you each have a treasure trove of genealogy to share with one another, including photographs, family Bibles, and more. You may even get invited to a family reunion of that branch of your family and meet even more extended family who can give you even more valuable information for your family tree. When you trace a family branch to the present and then seek out modern members of it on social media, these same rewarding genealogical exchanges can happen, but you have to approach them a little differently than you would on a genealogy website, where random introductions from distant relations are expected.
What Makes Social Media Different When it Comes to Networking with Distant Relatives?
If you are looking for modern members of your extended family with whom to network, social media is a good place to do it. This is because so many people are on social media. Tracing the family lines you are currently particularly interested in the present is not difficult, and if you’ve spent any time doing genealogy and using online genealogy websites and databases, you’ve probably done it. Once you have the names of people in that family line who are alive in the present time, all you have to do is start searching their names on the various social media websites you use, or think they may use. Chances are high you’ll find them on at least one site, and maybe more.
Most social media websites have a messaging feature, and you can use it to send introductory messages to the family members with whom you want to network. What makes social media different for networking with these relatives is that they are not expecting to hear from you, and likely have no idea of your family connection. To them, you are some random stranger who is contacting them for reasons that may seem suspicious. After all, we have all heard stories of people being scammed on the Internet. Any message from a stranger is suspicious on these websites. They are not genealogical environments. Therefore, you have to approach contacting them with care if you want to get a response and not be reported for spam.
How to Approach a Distant Family Member for Networking on Social Media
When you message a relative you’ve discovered through your own research for the first time, you should always put the surname of the family or the name of the individual ancestor in the subject line of your message. Also use the subject line to indicate you are a descendant of this line, too. Your knowledge of the family name or ancestor name will take some of the suspicions away before the relative reads the message.
In the message, start by saying you are your family’s genealogist, and you are researching the family you are both connected to. Explain the research methods you used to find this person, and detail how you are related. Giving a brief family tree outline from your common ancestor is a smart idea.
Then, you can tell them what type of research you’ve done on the family so far, and let them know what you are hoping they can give you. This could be personal stories they know about certain ancestors (either first-hand or handed down to them), missing information in your family tree they may be able to fill in for you, and photographs of ancestors they may have that you’ve never seen.
Be sure to offer to share what you have in return. They may not be interested in genealogy, but if they are, offering to share information will make them more likely to respond to you, provide you with information, and even keep in touch with you as they talk to other family members from their branch to gather information for you.
If you approach distant relatives correctly on social media, you will find it to be a very rewarding experience and one that greatly enhances your genealogy research. The social media is also an excellent one for keeping in touch and sharing photographs, videos, printed family trees, and more. Just make sure you contact them the correct way, so they will be more likely to make the connection with you. You’ll be glad you did.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)