The numerous locations for data, records, photos and documents vary between governmental agencies, private individuals and genealogical societies. Contacting these individuals and organizations has become much easier by using electronic communications - emails and the Internet. Still acceptable are requests sent through the postal service. The following are some of the locations for information and suggestions of what to include when making a request.
Most regions or counties have either a genealogical or historical society, made up of a membership eager to assist others. Most of these societies have their own Internet web sites with instructions on how to make requests and if there are any fees. If no fees are listed, it is advisable to include a check for a minimal amount (3 GBP or 4.66 USD), a self-addressed envelope and ask that if there are any additional costs.
To locate a genealogical or historical society in a given area, use a search engine on the Internet with the phrase ‘genealogy society’ plus the name of the region, such as ‘Lancashire County.’ If you do not have Internet usage, then contacting a local genealogy society in your community or using public library references will offer a name and contact information for your requested region.
Using the resources of a genealogy society where your ancestors lived can provide an enormous variety of information. Everything from photos, obituaries, property listings, censuses, businesses and especially any books already written on a family surname could prove to be invaluable in your research. Contacting them using the Internet, by telephone or a written letter, will give you an idea of what they have available. If there is a special question or request, such as any listing of your ancestor in a business or city directory, the society can better locate what you need.
In any request, whether to a society, a government agency or public library, always include your name, complete mailing address, email address and phone number. Make your request simple and to the point, asking just a couple questions. Those answering you will do so much quicker if they are not inundated with many questions from you. After hearing back from them, you can always transmit another request with more questions.
Your request will need details. Write out clearly the ancestor’s full name, with other relatives, such as the spouse’s name, parents and children, along with approximate dates and your precise request. A sincere thank you at the close of the letter or email is always appreciated.
Another great source of information is fellow surname researchers, those individuals looking up the same surnames you’re perusing. On the Internet are many message centers. Some include: Rootsweb Message Boards, GenForum and Family History. Type a surname into its search box. Displayed will be a selection of posted messages. Quite a few may include a location and a given name similar to an ancestor you are researching. If the information they have or are requesting is similar to what you are seeking, you can reply to them and be in contact for further sharing of information. As always, only use information provided as a springboard to locating primary sources to verify the data.
Be positive and upbeat about locating a possible relative with the individual researchers and you both can share information. If a family tie-in or match is discovered, it might an excellent opportunity to exchange photos or family stories.
With any correspondence present your request in a polite manner. Show your appreciation by thanking the person for taking the time to write to you.
Maintain a copy, handwritten or computer file log, of your letters, either by postal system or email. It could be weeks or months before you get a response from a society or an individual. When you hear from them, you may need to refer back to the original letter or message you sent.