Hot Chocolate & Genealogy
Hot Chocolate & Genealogy

Tips for Writing Away for Info

You wrote to the archives, church or orphanage at least two months ago and heard nothing. How frustrating! Well before you kick the gift horse in the mouth, review these tips for research correspondence.

  1. Wording: Legends & Legacies recommends you use the phrase, 'For genealogical purposes', in your correspondence. It will direct your request to the correct individual and give purpose to your enquiry. It wouldn't hurt to include please and thank you.

  2. Proof: Certain records are only released to next of kin or the appropriate descendants. When requesting confidential records or records that are not yet 75 years old or greater, it is important to include linking identification (photocopies, preferably certified). That may be a birth, marriage or death certificate for the subject being researched with excerpt from your family tree clearly illustrating the relationship.

  3. Donations/Fees: Money seems to be a dirty word in our world of free information on the internet or at your local Family History Center. Keep in mind that many institutions are hurting for dollars and therefore will not perform services without the required fee. In the cases of churches or non-profit charitable institutions, it is wise to send a modest donation for the work they will have to do for you. That can be from $10-$100 depending on your request.

  4. Accuracy: Be accurate in all aspects of your request. Write to the correct address, give clear information of what you do know and ask concisely what it is you need to know. Don't get long-winded or personal in your requests/pleas. No one has time to read it and figure out what you are trying to say.

  5. S.A.S.E.: The self-addressed-stamped-envelope is now rquired for most research requests. Postage is not cheap anywhere and mounting requests to these record keepers cost hundreds of dollars in postage. If you are writing to a domestic address, include the correct postage and a letter size envelope. If you are writing outside of your country, include the appropriate IRCs to receive a reply (International Reply Coupons). These can be bought at any post office around the globe.

  6. Photocopy: Photocopy or save to disk a copy of your correspondence and any atachments. You want to have a reocrd of what you did and a method to follow-up at a later date, if necessary.

  7. Confirmation of received: Do you want to know if they received your request okay? One way to do this is to include a small postcare (pre-stamped of course) and request they fill in the date your request was received, sign it and pop it in the mail to you. Then you can officially let the clock start ticking! CD Roms for Records

  8. Patience: Sometimes it is hard, but patience is a must. Your request may take anywhere from two months to six months. For overseas, it may be longer. If six months passes and you still have heard nothing, draft a new letter stating you have heard nothing and need confirmation that your request is being processed. Attach a copy of the original request for their reference. Sometimes it helps to let them know they can call you collect with any questions or concerns. Good luck!


This article appeared in the May 1998 issue of Hot Chocolate.

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