How to Get Relatives to Update Their Genealogical Information Without Jail Time

You have been elbow deep in records of all types:  Census, Draft Cards, Church records, etc. You look at the family tree that you have put together and are pleased with all the people of years gone by.

BUT WAIT.  You take a look and your LIVING relatives are few and far between.  Sure, you may have your 1st cousins listed, but then life happened.  You got busy.  They were busy. You moved on to the working world, started a family, etc.  They did as well.  You know they had XX kids, but their children’s children?


You send out requests for information and…well, nothing.  They do not respond or they only fill out a piece of the puzzle.  Now what?  Don’t they see that this is important??

There are gaps, I tell you – gaps!  I can’t have these huge gaps and this branch is now broken off…

Tell them Great Grandpa will come back and haunt them?  Camp outside their place of business?  Start calling their kids, trying to get information out of them?  Send letters to the home with cutout letters from magazines stating ‘Birth dates or there will be consequences’?

Sorry, got a little carried away there…

No, they probably don’t understand your passion.  They are in a different ‘place’ than you are.  You need to make it personal to THEM, not to you.


  • History buff?  Give them the names, dates, places, but most importantly the geographical, historical information.

Did you know that Great Grandpa survived the Chicago Fire?  Did you know that Aunt Alice lived two doors down from the Capone family? Did you know that Grandpa came to the US with $50 in his pocket?

  • Old  photo fans?  That one’s easy.  Start a Facebook album, Flickr album, etc. and connect them to it.  There is bound to be a photo that peaks their curiosity.  They can comment on it and start the conversation.

OK, so that’s the old stuff.  I still haven’t given suggestions for the current, family information.

  • Send them a Family Group Sheet to update and a few blank ones for their children. Tell then you have a goal to put this in the family archive by XX/XX/XXXX.  Having a date doesn’t guarantee that it will be adhered to, but it doesn’t hurt.  E-mailing a pdf probably won’t get a response – either snail mail or invite them to an Ancestry, My Heritage, Family Search, Tribalpages, etc. family tree to look at your information.  I have found that when they see the big picture of all that you’ve done and their piece is sorely lacking, well, they want to help!
  • Friend them on Facebook.  Many relatives are on Facebook.  If you only ask this one thing – friend me – it will pay off.  You will be surprised how many birth dates (and years!) I’ve found on FB.  FB is more than happy to tell me that “Mary’s Birthday is today.  Send her a gift?”.  They also post photos.  If they accept the friend request, they have to understand that you will be seeing their posts.  A genealogist has to do, what a genealogist has to do!
  • Start a family tree website or blog.  Similar to the family group sheet idea, create a website or blog to get family interested.  It doesn’t have to be public.  It can be just for those you invite.  If you do make it public, it can be great ‘Cousin Bait’.  (If you can’t get it from one cousin, you might be able to get it from another.)
  • Visit or call.  Be careful with this one.  Showing up unannounced to 90-year-old Aunt Edna’s house, who you haven’t seen since kindergarten, could wind you up in a whole lot of trouble!  Also, when you visit – keep NASA in the car.  Huh?  Yes, keep the 10 photo albums, the computer, the tablet, the scanner(s), etc. in the car until you know it will be OK.  Even then, if it will take 15 minutes to ‘set up’, you are going to creep them out and scare the living daylights out of them (by the way, where did THAT saying come from?).
  • Send them interesting stuff.  Great family story?  Share it!  Much like the history buffs, telling family stories – recent or old – may get them in the mood.  Names and dates on a page are boring.  Colorful stories get attention.
  • Not sure about any stories?  Ask them to submit.  You can even make it a contest.  Ask them a specific question, not 50 all at once (Here – fill this out).  What is your favorite Holiday memory?  What was your first job?  Brothers and sisters giving you grief?  Tell them you are putting everything in a book/binder and will give them all copies.  If they don’t give you anything by the deadline, send the info out anyway.  They will see their stuff missing and want to be part of it.
  • Bite the bullet and plan a family reunion.  Give yourself plenty of time to plan it.  Invite as many people as you can.  If only a few show up, well, you will still have fun talking about family, right?

All of this sounds great, but if they aren’t interested, you might as well be a telemarketer for the dead.

They will hang up on you and put you on the do not call list.  Leave them alone.  I know – who doesn’t love this stuff?

Maybe their children will be interested and will thank you when they see all that you have done.  Remember – this is a labor of love.

If you have had success getting those ‘tough’ relatives to respond and finally broke through, how did you do it?  By all means let us know – there has been several posts to some of the Genealogy FB groups about this, so I know folks would be interested.

I look forward to hearing from you!

About Our Lineage

I invite you to join me as I share my journey of successes, surprises, and of course, disappointments. All belong to my passion called Genealogy.
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7 Responses to How to Get Relatives to Update Their Genealogical Information Without Jail Time

  1. Wendy~ LOVE the posting! How true it is!!
    I use the “Holiday Season” to send out cards to ‘unknown cousins’
    If you are so inclined, you can see the post I did about it a couple of weeks ago

    I went a little crazy this year, sending out 30! I’ve already had 5 very positive responses!

    PS- Happy BlogBirthday!

    • Our Lineage says:

      Thanks, Nick! I’ll take a look at your post as well. I’ve had pretty good responses myself – the only “no gos” have been from those where there is a skeleton that they do not want to deal with. They know where I am if they ever change their minds! 🙂

  2. Jana Last says:


    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  3. This is so true! “Telemarketer for the dead” had me in all-knowing tears 🙂

    • Our Lineage says:

      Thanks for commenting, Sally! I’m so glad that I am not the only one who has experienced THAT! Like a true Telemarketer, I don’t stop. I don’t think there is a Genealogy Do Not Call List just yet! Haha.

  4. So many fabulous ideas, Wendy! I’ll be printing off this post of yours so I remember them in the future! Thanks for posting.

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