GenToday-L Archive

Help from Public Officials

Very often you have the opportunity to write a letter to public officials to request a birth, marriage or death record, military records, land or court record or to librarian of a public library or genealogy society library. In order to ensure your success, here are some tips:

Typing is preferred for legibility and double spacing is great. Leave lots of white space on your letter for clerks to write a quick answer back to you. Include your return address on your letter and include a self addressed, stamped envelope with your request. Request a photocopy of the original record, not a certified extract. The cost is usually the same, but you will get all the information the record contains, not just what will fit on the abstract form.

Calculate search dates carefully. Clerks vary in their search policy; some will check the records for a wide range of dates and some will only check a small bracket of years. If the surname is a common one, be as specific as possible.

MOST IMPORTANT TIP: Keep your letters brief and to the point! State just the facts. Clerks are not interested in your family stories.

If you receive an answer that says there is no record, wait a couple of months and try again. Sometime a different clerk knows where certain little-used records have been shelved.

If you don't receive an answer, send a courteous reminder, refer to the letter you sent, give the check number and date (if you sent money), briefly restate your request and send another self-addressed, stamped envelope. Your first letter may have gone astray. When a clerk goes out of their way to help you, send a thank-you note. Express appreciation for their help. This will help the genealogist who writes the next letter!

Tip of the Month

Relationships in genealogy can be deceiving. Don't jump to conclusions when you encounter terms of kinship in the old documents. "Brother" may simply mean a brother in church, in a lodge, a husband of a sister or just a term among friends. "Cousin" may refer to someone closely related such as a nephew, niece, uncle, etc. "Senior" or "Junior" may not always be a father and son. It could also mean an uncle and nephew or may simply be a way to distinguish two men of the same name from the same place according to age. Remember that a "junior" may become a "senior" on the death of the elder.

Additional Articles:

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