Internet postings and group mailing lists have made it easy to locate others who are researching the same families—to share information and make a connection to cousins you may never have met, otherwise. In this age of instant communication, even seasoned researchers have, however, forgotten a basic reality. Not everyone is 'online'!
Submitting a query or family group sheet to area magazines that deal specifically with genealogy can often garner immediate results. Magazines such as Kentucky Explorer do not charge a fee for queries of reasonable length, and will include photographs. For those of you with a gift for writing, many such magazines will accept stories of one to two pages in length. Details contained in these family histories help identify your particular family to other "cousins" who may read the article. Imagine the response you could expect from an in-depth history of your family!
Check your local library for a list of such magazines which cover the area where your family originated or resided. Read old copies to get an idea of the size of the queries that have been submitted in the past. Check the queries for any that might provide a connection to your own family. Rules for submission are included in the magazines, usually inside the front cover. Some magazines charge a reasonable fee if you are not a subscriber.
If you choose to submit a query, make it simple. Too much information can be overwhelming and readers will scan the material rather than reading it carefully. Limit your query to a single surname. Stick to the basics—who, what, when, and where. Asking for information on John Smith who married Angela King is too vague to be of passing interest to the reader. Adding basic details can make an important difference. Consider the following example:
"I would like to share information with anyone who is researching John Smith, born about 1815 in Clark County, Kentucky. He married Angela King, daughter of Moses King, in 1835 and was in Monroe County, Missouri in 1870. Three children have been identified—Robert, born about 1836; Samuel, born about 1840; David, born about 1842. Please contact: John David Smith, 1111 Plain Street, Somewhere, Missouri or email firstname.lastname@example.org"
If you feel comfortable doing so, include your phone number. Many people who submit queries in magazines and newsletters maintain a separate mailbox to avoid giving their street address.
Do not underestimate the value of the old-fashioned newspaper! A simple letter to the editor, requesting anyone familiar with or related to your family to contact you, could mean adding another cousin to your family tree. Letters to the Editor are printed in most newspapers, at no charge.
Unlike a query posting in a genealogical magazine, the newspaper targets persons who may not have an interest in genealogy. Your Letter to the Editor should contain references to your family members who lived in the area in the past 70 years. You are targeting those persons who may remember them, or remember stories about them that will assist in your research. As in magazine submissions, keep your information simple, but include the basic details that set your family apart from others of the same surname. Include former addresses or places of employment they may have had, schools they attended, or military units to which they were attached.
Avoid the use of too many abbreviations unless your space is limited. If you must use abbreviations, limit them to the easily identifiable ones. Those who are unfamiliar with genealogy may not understand "b." for "born", for instance.
Keep a list of the places where you have posted queries or submitted letters and articles. Check subsequent publications for any responses or other related queries that may have been submitted. Always thank those who responded to your queries, whether the information they provided was helpful or not. When you request copies of their information or documentation, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for their convenience. Offer to pay for the cost of copies or additional postage to mail documentation. Always—always—share the information you have promised. Include the citation for your sources, and offer to provide copies of documentation you possess. It is not enough to find documentation—you must be willing to share it so that correct information is passed along to other researchers and family historians. Only by sharing your family's genealogy can you hope to continue to collect cousins and increase your family tree.