of the best ways to find information is to ask.
Ask someone you met on a genealogy website if they have any information about
your family; ask someone you found in the telephone book who lives in your
ancestor’s hometown who has the same surname if he or she has any information
about your family; ask the small public library in your ancestor’s hometown if
they have any files on your ancestor including biographies; ask relatives if
they remember any family stories.
way to “ask” is to write a letter. Genealogists have been doing this for
years and it is still one of the best ways to find information.
Here are a few general suggestions to
get the best results from your correspondents:
your letter. No one wants to wade through pages of messy handwriting. A
typewritten letter shows you have a neat and organized mind.
writing to a business or an institution avoid being wordy. Clerical staff
will take the easiest looking letter off the pile first. If possible, use a
14-point font. Indent and bold critical information. See sample letter to an institution.
to relatives is a different story. A friendly letter, a bit chatty, with a
personal anecdote will capture their imagination. Ask only a few questions
in each letter; you can always write back, sharing your latest findings. See
sample letter to an individual
writing to other genealogists, offer to share information and help research.
Send family group sheets that include notes and complete source citations.
Make sure copies of documents have proper citations.
forget to include your address and the date on the letter itself. Envelopes
are easily lost.
the reader, in a sincere way. Show you have a high regard for his or her
opinion. Add a postscript asking him to recommend another person if he
doesn't have the information you need.
a self-addressed stamped envelope (often referred to as an SASE) and offer
to pay for copies, postage and expenses.
a thank-you note. Reply promptly.
Where to Write
to relatives. You'll find that even your siblings have different family
stories than you!
to other researchers. Two minds can be better than one.
online bulletin boards and list serves. There may be one for your family or
location. Start with Cyndi’s List
Use your search engine to catch sites that those registries miss. Most towns
and businesses have commercial sites now. Even cemeteries and churches have
to local sources:
funeral homes, cemeteries
societies, historical societies, ethnic societies
in telephone books
to government sources:
Archives for military records, passenger lists, homesteads
clerks for deeds, probates, and other records
records offices for births, deaths, marriages, divorces, naturalization records
for employment, business, medical, school transcripts
Help Me! Find the
address of a library, society, institution, etc. where I may write for
Help Me! Compose a
Me! To write a letter in Italian, Spanish, or another language.
ask these or similar questions, click on Help
Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.