Relatively Speaking: Finding living relatives

Feb. 23, 2010 at midnight
Updated Feb. 23, 2010 at 8:24 p.m.

In Beginning Genealogy 101, students start with themselves and work backward. But when trying to locate living relatives, it is always good to begin at a certain time period and work forward. The 1930 U.S. Federal Census is the latest available to us at this time. In April 2012, the 1940 census will be made public, a long-awaited boon to genealogists and family history researchers., a subscription database, is very useful for researching surnames. If numerous families with your surname of interest live in the same area, chances are very good they are relatives. Note their locale, occupations, ages and other information on the census record. Look for first and middle names that could provide clues to women's maiden names.

For example, my cousin was Harry Hensley Fuller. Hensley was our grandmother's maiden name. Also check for World War II Draft Registration Cards which contain a wealth of information.

Next visit the county or counties where your forebearers lived. Visit the library and check for local histories, high school yearbooks, microfilmed school records and copies of local newspapers printed at the time when your family lived in the area.

Obituaries are often microfilmed and indexed. They usually include several kinds of information that may help with your search: names of the deceased's children and grandchildren, place of burial, church or synagogue membership, professional or volunteer group affiliations.

Official certificates of death often list place of burial and name a "witness" or "contact" who may be an adult child of the deceased.

Keep in mind when the person's death happened. If they died late in the 19th century or early in the 20th century, their children and grandchildren listed in the obituary as survivors are now likely deceased themselves. Look for their obituaries and then try to find their living survivors or descendants

Call, write or e-mail the cemeteries, funeral homes and monument companies for more information. The cemetery may be able to provide the name of the person who purchased the burial plot and should be able to identify the monument company. The funeral home may have the names of living descendants. The monument company may have a record of who paid for the grave marker.

Another resource is, a subscription database, but available for free in many libraries. It is an excellent source with more than 62 million documents, photos, and newspaper clippings online.

Look for people with the same surname as your ancestors and instead of concentrating on direct ancestors, start searching for ancestors' siblings' descendants.

Also, try listing the relative's name in Only the surname is required, but additional information is always helpful. For example, if you know at least the first initial of the person, list it and perhaps try a few different states if you are not certain of the exact location.

City directories and old phone books are good sources for locating collateral relatives.

Finally, if all else fails, type the person's name in You never know what you will find.

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