View Full Version : First time meeting with a previously unknown distant relative--Tips? Suggestions?

Justin J. Rebbert
04 February 2009, 01:50 AM
In a few weeks, I will be meeting with an older woman who is a "distant" relative of mine. Until I started researching my family history, I never knew about this person, or anyone else in her family. This will be the first time I have ever met a previously unknown distant relation.

I want this to be more meaningful than me just asking about dates and places. For those of you that have done these types of "interviews" before, can you give me some helpful ideas on what to talk about? Is there a particular way you like to do these things... For example, do you start with recent history and go backwards, or start out with the early days and come forwards? Do you dedicate a chunk of time to getting the bare facts (like dates and places of birth, marriage, etc.), or do you work that in with the rest of what you talk about? How much time do you spend just talking about the person you're actually talking to, and how much do you spend on talking about other people that the interviewee knew?

Any thoughts, suggestions, tips, ideas, etc. will be greatly appreciated!

04 February 2009, 03:58 PM
See this ReunionTalk thread
--> http://www.reuniontalk.com/showthread.php?t=3885

Also let Google be your friend. For starters, do a google search using the words genealogy interview .

04 February 2009, 06:04 PM
Circumstances play a large part in how I handle this. Hopefully, there will be opportunities to see this person again; if so, then I concentrate on establishing a future ongoing relationship, rather than a genealogy interrogation. That relieves the pressure on trying to extract every relevant bit of historical info. I also try to emphasize my interest in their lives. People will relax a bit if you genuinely demonstrate that you are happy to get to know them, and not just using them for their knowledge of your family.

I would also suggest that you not be in too big of a hurry to show them everything that you know. It can be overwhelming for some (particularly the more elderly) to hear how much information about them is available or that others are privy to it.

Naturally, if you are only going to communicate with this person once, then you need to bias the interview more to getting information. But I always put more effort into the person I am interviewing. My interest and caring can make a difference in their life today; that's more rewarding than adding some details to the family tree.



B Jansen
04 February 2009, 08:37 PM
In a few weeks, I will be meeting with an older woman who is a "distant" relative of mine.

Any thoughts, suggestions, tips, ideas, etc. will be greatly appreciated!

Justin, I've been pretty bold with these types of introductions with great success. Some obvious points, be exceeding polite and expressive about your thankfulness for their time and cooperation, etc. Secondly, reassure them as to your motives/goals/etc. WHY are you bothering them.

In a more practical way, I would print up some register reports, pedigree, etc., from Reunion and impress them both with the work that I have done and also pique their interest in the wonderful Reunion displays of information. Both are good conversation starters.

Some have been older otherwise neglected relatives that appreciate the company and interest. Go out of your way to make it enjoyable for them.

After a few days or weeks, depending on circumstances, go over the material you sent them, review what other information you have and write them again adding, "I'm very excited about meeting you. When I was going over my notes, I forgot to mention X, Y, Z." Send some photos, oral histories, etc. that might interest them.

Next, probably in yet another letter, send a list of facts and then pertinent questions about them. Give them sufficient time to digest the information. I am in contact with a 90+ year old distant cousin whom I contacted out of the blue. She loves my letters: "I have read them three or four times and picked up something new each time."

Interrogating someone without any context is unnecessarily confrontational, "Tell me about your grandfathter." Better approach is to share what you have and prompt stories.

Bring a digital tape recorder or camera, scanner for pics and docs, and something personal for them to keep (picture of your family, a box of chocolates or bottle of wine or something indigenous to your area that they might miss such as Skyline Chili from Cincinnati!).


05 February 2009, 02:57 AM
Any thoughts, suggestions, tips, ideas, etc. will be greatly appreciated!

When I have contacted relatives like that, usually over the phone, I always say that anything that I ask for, like copies of pictures that have to be digitized and stuff like that, is always done on MY dime. That is, if they incur any costs, that I will pay them back or something like that. If I have to leave a message when I call, I tell them that they can call me collect. Btw, none of them have but that is another story. I hope that this helps some.