Genealogy Clips

How to Find Distant Relatives

If you are at a genealogical brick wall, consider looking for distant relatives to help you break through it. Who are distant relatives, and what information might they have to benefit your research? How do you find them and contact them? Here is what you need to know.

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Whether you are just starting your genealogy project or starting a new family line in a project that has been going on for decades, you want to find and mine every available source. While many of the sources are obvious and are ones you have probably used before on other lines, there is one resource you might not consider, but that can be highly valuable — distant relatives.

These are relatives you may not have met before, and may only have heard of in the course of doing your research. Often, they are of collateral lines to yours but connect with you with a common ancestor somewhere in the past. Locating and talking to these distant relatives can be wonderful for finding out about the collateral line of the family that long ago diverged from your own. However, more importantly, talking to these long-lost relatives can help you break down genealogical brick walls.

Think about it. If you have a brick wall ancestor in your genealogy and have used every possible source that is available to you and still can’t get past the wall, you have to think outside the box if you want to get any further. While the official government records and old newspaper records may have let you down in terms of having useful information, there may be other things out there that have just what you need. Things like old family photos, family Bibles, birth and marriage records that were not officially recorded, and even family stories your own close relatives were never told may be out there, hidden.

Where might they be hidden? With distant relatives, whose own family lines were the ones who inherited these valuable things. The distant relatives themselves may also know the answers to the exact genealogical questions you have that will get you through the wall.

If you have been doing research on collateral lines, hoping to find any information that will get you past a brick wall, you have probably come upon the names of some distant relatives who may still be alive and have useful information. With public records databases and social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others, you can easily look up these people and contact them. It is usually better to send a letter rather than call and to send a private message on social media rather than email. These are easier, less pushy-feeling introductions, and will make your distant relatives more likely to talk to you.

Even if the person you want to talk to is no longer alive, or doesn’t want to talk, your query may be handed to another distant relative who can and will assist you. I’ve sent many such queries to distant relatives. Sometimes the queries are answered by the person I sent them to, and sometimes by other family members on that line. In every instance, I have received valuable genealogical information back from the query that I would not have found anywhere else.

Just be sure to offer some valuable family history information of your own in return, and you and your distant relative will have a mutually beneficial exchange. You may even become genealogical friends!


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.