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Requesting Church Records: 5 Tips to Encourage a Response

Researchers often make a request for records that seems to fall on deaf ears, never receiving a response -- the more you can do to make their job easier, the more likely you will be to receive a response.


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When requesting records from church offices or other private organizations, it's important to understand that staff may be limited, and there may not be anyone in particular whose job it is to respond to research requests. And research does take time: not all information is computerized and at someone's fingertips. The more you can do as a researcher to make the task easier, the better. Following are five suggestions that might help in eliciting a response.

1. Begin with a phone call. Unless an organization's website specifies a method of contact, it may be best to begin with a phone call. While sending an e-mail is convenient, an e-mail is often overlooked; it might be read and put aside, then forgotten; but it's also possible your e-mail may not have reached the right person or may not have been sent to the right place. A phone call allows you explain what you are looking for and ask to be directed to the right person. Even if the "right" person is not available on that day, it at least gives you the name for directing your inquiry.

2. Put your request in writing. Putting your request in writing is important, but it is equally important to be specific in your request, indicating exactly what you want to know. Avoid asking "for everything" they have on a certain person or family, or providing too much information, which can seem overwhelming. Narrow down your request by asking for information on a single, specific event such as a baptism date, marriage date, etc. And then provide as much "relevant" information as possible: the full name of your subject, including maiden name, if known; all relevant dates and places such as where you believe the person was living at the time of the event; and the names of parents, spouse(s) and children -- you will also want to include your relationship to the subject and your purpose in asking for the information (family history research). Providing this information shows that you have anticipated their concerns in providing information. You will also want to include your name, mailing address, phone number and your e-mail address. In addition, be sure to keep a copy of your request.

3. Make it easier for them. As stated, the easier you make it for them to fulfill your request, the better. In your letter, be sure to enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE), and an offer to pay for any copying or mailing fees. Often they will contact you by phone or possibly by e-mail to discuss any costs. And when submitting fees, you will want to send a check in care of the organization, rather than an individual person -- a rule of thumb is to never send cash.

4. Develop a relationship. Whether communicating via e-mail, by phone or snail mail, do all that you can to develop a relationship with those you are in contact. Follow-up on what you say you will do such as providing additional information or covering costs. Courtesy and respect goes a long way -- people are less inclined to help a demanding person and you may need their help in the future. And once you have established a relationship, continuing your correspondence through e-mail or sharing other information may be quite appropriate.

5. Finally, you may want to consider submitting a donation to the church (in the form of a check), along with your request. Many churches are understaffed with very tight budgets, and submitting a donation simply shows that you respect their time and attention -- this, of course, would be over and above your offer to pay other costs.

After all is said and one, you may still have to exercise patience, understanding the organization may receive numerous requests; but it also acceptable, if you do not hear back, to follow up after period time, especially with a phone call. And while this approach may seem a bit archaic and time consuming in today's technological age, courtesy and forethought are never out of date.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2012.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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