I have heard an award-winning genealogist describe searching for living ancestors as “reverse genealogy.” In my opinion, I think it is just a continuum of the genealogy process. After years of collecting dead relatives, I thought it would be nice to look for some living relatives – you know, someone with whom you can share your genealogical research discoveries? Sometimes the only way you can find the living is by way of the dead. In this article, I am going to help you find your living relatives, rather than your non-living relatives. Genealogists, get ready to flex those fingers and boot up your computer; we’re going to crack open the genealogical research toolbox and help you find some of your living relatives.
Facebook and LinkedIn
Just about everybody has heard of a Facebook reunion – you know, one in which siblings were separated at birth and reunited after 50 years, or an adopted child found his/her birth mother, or long-lost lovers rekindled their relationship after 67 years. Facebook is just one gigantic global photo album, and it is a terrific tool in the genealogist toolbox.
LinkedIn is another handy tool in your genealogy toolbox for finding living relatives. It touts itself as the “world’s largest professional network with 225 million members in over 200 countries and territories around the globe.” You can narrow your search by location, business, interest, etc.
For the family genealogist, finding living relatives will probably be less dramatic than some of the Facebook reunions, but still just as interesting. What may surprise you is that in order to find living relatives, you may very well have to start with the dead relatives. In this case, “Dead men do tell tales.”
Ironically, a good genealogy research tool to find living relatives is the trusty obituary. Many family genealogists begin a search with a death event, simply because so much information is recorded at the time. If you are not sure how to locate an obituary, then a virtual trip to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) will be in order. Many websites such as Fold 3, Ancestry, and FamilySearch include the SSDI as a free database. FamilySearch is extremely easy to use, and it is all free.
After a quick search of the SSDI, the genealogist will learn the birth and death dates and the last residence of their ancestor. The last residence may prove helpful to the genealogical researcher, because knowing where the ancestor lived narrows down the newspaper search for an obituary. Remember, an obituary may deal with the decedent first and foremost, but it almost always lists surviving family members of the dearly departed.
For example, my grandfather Harold Thrasher died in 1974. A search of the SSDI indicated his last residence was Allen County, Indiana. That information led me to an obituary published in the November 23, 1974 issue of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. The write-up listed surviving family members: Mrs. Marvin Hutsell (daughter) from Fort Wayne, Indiana; Frederick (son) from Warsaw, Indiana; and Norman (son) from Flint, Michigan. I realized that since the obituary was published in 1974, some of the living relatives might have since died, but that didn’t stop my search.
Another great tool for finding living relatives is PeopleSmart, a free people search database and public records website. When I entered the name of my grandfather in the search box, PeopleSmart confirmed that he died in 1974 at age 72. You can also search by name, address, or telephone number. In addition to indicating if the person is deceased, it will also give the age, the locations where the person resided, and a list of possible relatives. I entered the name of one of the sons, Frederick, and I learned that he died in 1991 at the age of 63; PeopleSmart revealed that he lived in Warsaw, Indiana, but it didn’t list any possible relatives. When I entered the name of the son-in-law, Marvin Hutsell, my family search disclosed his age as 77, and listed possible relatives as Alta C., Dean, and Debra Hutsell.
Online Phone Directories
With this information, I went to two of the many online phone directories – another terrific genealogy research tool to help you find living relatives. The caveat here is to use more than one source. It is best to use at least two online directories to confirm information. For example, I did find a listing for “Marvin” in one directory, but not in the other. I found an address and phone number for Alta. If her listing had not included a phone number (cell phones are not listed), I would have considered sending a letter via regular mail. This is always a good option, allowing you to introduce yourself and ask your questions.
City Telephone Directories
If their digital footprint doesn’t include social media, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, then a city residential telephone directory might yield the information you are seeking. Some city directories offer information including occupation, residence; it may even note the death.
PIPL People Search Database
Another website that claims to be the most comprehensive people search database on the Web is PIPL, which advertises that it will “dive into the deep web to bring you results you won’t find in any other search engine.” PIPL allows you to search by name, email, username or phone, as well as location.
Then again, if you are “Feeling Lucky,” you can just Google the name you are looking for, but beware! Remember my grandfather Harold, the person we started with? I Googled his name and got 97,300 results; my own name yielded 16,300 hits!
So the next time you are looking for a long-lost relative, don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket. Consider opening your genealogy toolbox and ratchet up your research for finding living relatives.
No genealogical research toolbox can hold ALL of the family history researcher tools. Sometimes, you need to reach out to a professional genealogy research service when you need a tool you don’t have. The professional genealogists at RecordClick are ready to roll up their sleeves and delve into your latest living relative search project. Whether you are looking for a living or non-living relative, RecordClick’s genealogical services will answer your needs.