Calling relatives is a great way to fill in blank spots on your tree, but sometimes it can be scary to call people, especially if you don’t know them well. Here are some tips that will make calling your relatives much easier. And just in case you’re wondering if a phone call is really necessary…it is, and here’s why. This free printable and guide will walk you through identifying relatives to call and choosing which ones to start with. Once you have a game plan, go ahead and jump in! The more you do it, the easier it gets. So take a deep breath, you got this!
1If you don’t know the relative well and are feeling nervous, try asking someone you are closer with to make initial contact. I was extremely nervous about talking with my great grandpa’s sister because I hadn’t seen her since I was a child and didn’t know her well even back then. I was worried she wouldn’t remember me, so I asked my mom to set up the meeting. It was so much easier for me and now I contact her frequently on my own. If you don’t have someone else to make initial contact for you, you can still do this! You can always send a Facebook message or text to set up a time to talk. Resist the temptation to not call and just communicate virtually. Remember why this is important? Just give your full name, and explain how you are related. You might even want to include a memory you have of them or your mutual relative to break the ice a little.
2Choose a time to call when you know you won’t be rushed or distracted and find a quiet place. Have your kids play outside, shut the door to your bedroom, or if you have to, go sit in your car.
3Take notes! If it is hard for you to take notes while talking consider audio recording (always ask permission first). A good way to phrase it might be something to this effect: “I have a hard time taking notes when I’m talking and I don’t want to forget any of the details you share with me. Would you mind if I record our conversation so I can easily remember what we talk about?” If you’re thinking about recording, here’s a link to more tips and the app that I use for recording phone calls .
4Have your tree opened up so you can refer to it if the conversation shifts toward other relatives you weren’t planning on talking about. Don’t have a tree yet? You can get started here in just 15 minutes a day!
5In addition to questions about names, dates, and locations, be sure to ask about stories and memories. When first building a tree, it is easy for people to overlook them but these are the things that truly become lost through time. Records with names, dates, and locations will likely become available over time as more and more records are made available online each day, but memories are truly gone unless recorded. Just in case you missed it, here is a tutorial for adding stories to your family tree.
6Ask if they have any photos they would be willing to share copies of. If the photos are not digitized, make sure you offer to pay for copies and shipping.
7If they can’t think of memories to share, try sharing one of your own. One way you might approach this is at the end of your call: “Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with me. I have such fond memories of (insert ancestor’s name here). I remember when (insert memory here). If you think of any other stories I would love to talk again in the future.
8Make sure your relative knows how to get in touch with you if they ever come across new information or think of new stories. Verify that they have your phone number or email address.
Seriously. Calling relatives isn’t as hard as you think. You got this! Gear up for it, take a deep breath, and think of all the neat things you’re about to learn. You got this!
Some of these ideas were inspired by Lisa Louise Cooke’s article on calling relatives you don’t know. I love listening to her podcast!