When writing to the family members, several techniques are helpful. A family questionnaire may be useful in approaching members of the family to seek their resources or information. This questionnaire should be personalized with a short note written across a corner of the form and include the genealogist's full name and address at the bottom. A self-addressed, stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.) should always be included.
Another alternative is to send the questionnaire by E-mail. Since some people cannot either accept attachments or open them, it's important to copy and paste the text of the questionnaire into the body of the E-mail. In either case, it's also important to note when the questionnaire should be returned.
Here's a sample questionnaire to use. Of course, each genealogist can adjust it to fit his or her family. Questions may be added; others deleted:
FAMILY HISTORY QUESTIONNAIRE
We're working on developing a brief account of our family. This isn't a business venture or a sales promotion. We're just interested in learning more about our family.
Would you please complete the following items if possible? We're even interested in trivial facts, since these might provide clues to further research for our family history. Use words like "perhaps" or "possibly" when you're uncertain. Add another sheet if you need it.
Please give detailed answers, specifying date, name, and events.
1. Do you have a family Bible with historical information recorded in it?
2. Do you keep a family chart, history, or notes?
3. Can you give us clues to family locations, such as property of any kind?
4. Do you know of church records?
5. Do you have deeds, wills, or similar old items which mention the family?
6. Do you possess or know of certificates or papers from lodges, clubs, or veterans groups?
7. Do you possess or know of military certificates, discharges, or papers?
8. Do you have letters( especially before 1900) from or to family members?
9. Do you have marriage certificates for family members?
10. Do you have old books with the family name noted?
11. Do you possess or know of diaries, notebooks, or samplers kept by family members?
12. Have you old family photos, tintypes, portraits, or other likenesses?
13. Do you know any family stories or traditions regarding residence, relatives who served in the military, civil service, trade, occupation or profession?
14. Do you know any information about former homes, churches, schools, or special events?
15. Can you give locations of family burial plots?
We're interested in getting to know our family history. If you tell us what you're interested in, we'll gladly share what we know with you.
City, State, Zip Code
Phone/Fax/ and/or E-mail
Another method is often used to seek specific information about an individual or a family group. The individual is put on an abbreviated ancestor chart that shows two or three generations. The top portion of the chart is copied onto the top half of a sheet of 8½" x 11" paper. When the family genealogist asks for specific information, he or she has a better chance of receiving a reply. A short, personal cover letter should also accompany the chart.