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Collect Family History from Your Living Relatives

Updated on May 30, 2017
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.


How to Find Living Relatives and Gather Information from Them

Time may be running out to gather information from our parents' generation. They may have family information and photos that give you clues to expand your family history.

If your older relatives are in their 70s, 80s or 90s, you'll be sorry if you delay asking them about names, dates and family stories. Some day they will be gone and there will be no one to ask.

Get organized and get in touch with your living relatives to collect what they know. I talked about this topic at my local genealogy club and members agreed that they needed to do this.

Tracking Down the Living Relatives

Start first with the ones you know. This includes your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Next move on to finding less-known relatives like second or third cousins. They share your great-grandparents and may have family stories and photos to share.

Where can you find the ones you don't already know? Ask your family. "What happened to your uncle? Where did he move to? Did he have children?"

Take the names and locations and start searching. Try the names on Facebook. Check a site like Lost Cousins which tries to match you with others researching the same names.

Once you find a missing relative, get in touch by email, letter, phone or a visit. Remember that it may take some back and forth to establish who you are and draw out the information you want. It can be a slow process.

As the greatest generation grows older, it's a race against time to preserve their knowledge of family history.
As the greatest generation grows older, it's a race against time to preserve their knowledge of family history. | Source

Set Up Some Cousin Bait to Find Relatives You've Lost Touch with or Who You Don't Know about

Create a family group on Facebook or start a blog to share your family history. Get your name and your family research out there on the Internet.

If a distant relative is looking online for family names, you want them to find you. Make it easy for them.

Ancestry even set up a series of videos on Ancestry Academy on the topic of Cousin Bait: Making Social Media Work for You. It's free to watch and will set you on the right track for finding those living relatives.

Message boards have been around nearly as long as the Internet. You don’t want to ignore them since they are a great place to find like-minded researchers and cousins, and a good way to possibly get a question answered.

  • Writing That Perfect Message Board Query (5:10 minutes)
  • Do You Need More Email? (4:10)
  • Facebook Isn't Just For Cat Videos (4:14)
  • Twitter: Genealogy in 140 Characters (5:13)
  • Pinterest -- Visualizing Genealogy (3:58)
  • Searching for Blogs About Your Ancestors (5:28)
  • Create Your Own Blog (4:35)

Set up Family Groups to Share Information on Facebook


Tips for Your Facebook Cousin groups

Facebook can be a wonderful facilitator for connecting to distant family. The cousins that I've just bumped into are probably 2nd cousins, once removed or maybe 3rd cousins.

I'll sort out the relationship later. Wikipedia has a chart to explain cousin relationships.

Anyway, one of the newly found cousins posted a photo of my great-grandfather, John Thomas Martin. It was his great-great grandfather, so that's how we connect on the family tree.

I administer a Facebook group for the Martin cousins so promptly invited him to it. Ended up with 2 other cousins joining as well. Excellent! The more who participate, the more likely that vintage photos like the one above gets shared and memories preserved.

Martin isn't an easy name to research since it is terribly common. The Martin line that we are part of came to Greenwood County, Kansas in the 1800s and further back in the 1700s from Kentucky.

This is the photo my cousin shared with our Facebook group.
This is the photo my cousin shared with our Facebook group. | Source

Put Your Genealogy Info Online

You want distant relatives to find you, so get your name and your interest "out there." Starting a family group on Facebook like I suggested above is one way to go and it's free.

Starting a family history blog is another way to be visible. is free and so is Blogger. For an example of this, check out my Martin/McGhee genealogy blog.

A third way to do this is to put queries on message board on genealogy sites like Ancestry.

If you're using Ancestry, look for trees that overlap your own. If someone has a lot of the same people on their tree as you do, chances are good that you are related in some way. Use the message system on the site to contact the tree owner and chat about how you are possibly related.

Here's a sample message that gladdened me to see:

Hi my name is (name deleted for privacy reasons). My Grandfather is Earnest McGhee. His dad was Green Verlon McGhee. Soloman is my grandfather to. I was wondering if we could talk and maybe exchange some information. Thank You, D.

Things to Take Along When Interviewing a Relative

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A Popular Portable Scanner Used by Genealogist

Flip-Pal mobile scanner with 4GB SD card and USB adapter. EasyStitch and StoryScans talking images software
Flip-Pal mobile scanner with 4GB SD card and USB adapter. EasyStitch and StoryScans talking images software

This has the ability to scan oversize pictures and stitch the parts together on your computer.

Other options are the wand style of scanner.


Tips for Interviewing Your Living Relatives

Best of Luck to You

in finding living relatives and getting more family history saved for future generations.

© 2015 Virginia Allain


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    • Gordan Zunar profile image

      Gordan Zunar 20 months ago from New York

      This is great, I have people in my family researching our lineage on three sides, the lastnames, the onomastics, and our origins (which includes different ethnic background). I'm also doing a a bit of research on my own but in a historical context, comparing certain languages and customs of my ancestors in order to determine their original ethnicity or to which degree they mixed with others. I might even write a hub on it, thanks for the idea :)

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for writing this, Virginia. I appreciate the tips.

      So many of our older family members are gone, as my generation becomes the "geezer bunch." I didn't get their stories, though I think my brother got a few, living closer to some of them.

      But we still have a few in their late eighties and early nineties, and try to get the stories while we still can. I wish they'd let us record them! Some of them are wonderful story tellers, but also quite private and not wanting to leave that kind of legacy.

      Thanks for the chuckle too, with "cousin bait." Love that.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      I wish that my old folks are willing to talk, at least to know my family history

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 2 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I hardly have any relatives, living OR dead :)

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 2 years ago from Washington KS

      What a great hub!! Good advice. I'm so thankful to grow up with grandparents who were excellent historians.