Finding Family: How to Connect With Long-Lost Relatives Online

You did the legwork involved in finding family. Maybe you’re working to complete an ancient family tree or found far-flung matches using a DNA analysis service, and hit the jackpot, discovering some relatives that had slipped away and some you never even knew you had. But how can you reach them? After all, the point of your whole ancestry exercise was not just to chart out your family history, but get to know those newly found family members in the process. 

Luckily, with some easy-to-use online tools, your efforts to find contact information for long-lost family members are easier than ever. Read on to discover where to start and what to know before you begin making the connections that will extend your family tree.  

Finding Family

Getting Started

Though some services like Ancestry.com allow you to message new-found family members directly if the are also a member, you may not be able to reach everyone through those official channels. That’s where the following three tips come in. Use these to figure out how best to reach your new-found family members.

  1. Gather all of the information you know about your relatives, including names, nicknames, ages, professions, locations, other family members, etc.
  2. Search the names and locations online. If you’re lucky, your search will yield results. You’ll find a way to get in touch, perhaps through an employer, school, website or maybe even a published email address or phone number.
  3. Using the names and any additional information you found from your search, look for your family members on Facebook or LinkedIn. Although you are unlikely to discover email addresses or phone numbers, you can note their employers.

Diving Deeper

What if, after all your efforts, you are unable to find contact information? Although it’s nearly impossible to go completely off the  grid, many people seem to escape being mentioned online. But take heart: There are public repositories of all types of information, including cell-phone numbers. There is a high likelihood that your relatives’ contact information is in at least one of these databases.

One of the best ways to find contact information is by using a dedicated people information service such as Spokeo. Spokeo makes finding family easier, providing basic information, including previous address history, and giving you a listing of cities where your relatives lived. The site pulls information from more than 12 billion public records, providing access to contact information, location history, social media accounts, other family members and much more. Meaning that you are more than likely to find a viable email address or phone number for your newly discovered relatives. 

Contacting Family Members

Following a fruitful search, you’ll likely have an email address, place of employment or possible phone number. If you found a Facebook account, you can contact your relatives through messages, or, for LinkedIn, by requesting a connection. But before you pick up the phone or reach out through other means, you should know how to protect yourself.

Family or not, keep in mind that you are reaching out to a near-stranger. One of three things could happen:

  • They are less than thrilled to hear from you.
  • They are not the type of person you want to know.
  • They become a welcome addition to your circle.

Of course, there are no guarantees, but there are steps you can take to facilitate the best possible outcome.

Enjoy Safe Connections

If you haven’t already done so, you may want to further investigate your newly discovered relatives. If you were unable to find a Facebook account, you may be able to locate it once you have a phone number. Enter the number in the Facebook search box. Provided they haven’t tightened up their privacy settings, you can learn more about them.

From Facebook, grab their profile pictures and look them up using Google Reverse Image Search. This will show you other places their images appear online. You may discover where they work and play, attend school or give opinions in online forums. You may also discover other social media accounts where they are profiled.

If you have difficulty finding your relatives’ social media accounts, Spokeo can also provide you a report so you’ll know exactly where to look and how to locate them.

Run a Background Check

If you would like even more security, run a Spokeo background check report. This will provide plenty of information with which to make the decision to contact your relatives or not. In addition to arrest records, it includes:

  • Direct links to social media accounts
  • Details of criminal history
  • Marital status and divorce listings
  • General interests
  • Additional family members 
  • Members of the household
  • Current home value 
  • Income and investment profile
  • Employment history

This is all information that can be invaluable when deciding if and how you should contact your long-lost family members. Because with a little research, all of your family reunions can be good ones.

Pamela Fay has been a business writer for more than 15 years, with work appearing in publications such as “Legal Times.” She has also worked in the consulting arena since the 1990s, specializing in leadership development, human resources, change management and diversity. Fay holds an M.B.A. from Dartmouth College.

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