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Genealogy/What do I say?

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HI- In one week I will be making a trip across the US to meet my bio-dad's sister.  He died in 1988 before I met him.  I never knew of him until 20 years ago.  Now that I have found out where my "other" family is from I am wanting to know more about them.  They possibly don't know I exist.  I am 58  years old.  From my research, my bio-dad never married or had other children.  My Aunt (only surviving family member) is 83.  I am prepared for the worst but hope for a civil reception.  I don't want anything other than possibly to "fill in the sots" of time to see if this man is truly my bio-dad.  All I was given was a name and it is  very common one with an uncommon middle name.  I have found where the family cemetery is and plan on spending time in that area - AFTER I introduce myself to my aunt.  Which leads me to my question:  how do I come across without appearing as "stalker" or wanting something other than information about my mother and bio-dad's relationship?  I did hire someone to find my dad and he did within 10 days.  Now that I've found him and he's no longer living, I am scared to death as to how to approach the family without judgement.  I don't want any regrets by not at least trying.  Any suggestions?

Answer
Hi Melody,

I can understand your trepidation. And you are right to hod off until looking at this situation more carefully. bear in mind that your Aunt is 83, you probably have no idea what her situation is, healthwise or socialwise.  Whether she has supportive friends. etc.  I would always advise against just knocking on someone's door and announcing that you are a long lost relative.   Put yourself in their position, this may be the last thing that they want to happen, but with you standing at the door it could be very awkward for them.  Of course they may welcome you with open arms, but don't count on it.

Obviously you have an address, so the first approach should always be by letter.   Don't phone, even if you know their number, because if they hang up on you then you are dead in the water.  If you write a letter, it will give them the chance to digest the contents and what it may mean to them.  By all means enclose a photo of yourself and family and your phone number.  Say a little about yourself, but don't write screeds, just enough to outline things and your reason for wanting to meet them.  It might be a good idea to show the letter to one of your friends and ask their opinion about its contents.

If it is customary in the US do enclose a returned stamped envelope.  An elderly person may not have these to hand so they just put off replying, even if they want to.  Having done that, you wait.  That's the tough part, because some people do not reply to such things in a hurry. They may keep them for weeks or months. It has certainly happened to me when contacting remote family members.  The thing about sending regular mail is that it does not close doors.  If you do not receive a reply after some time, you could write again, suggesting perhaps that you will shortly be in their area and would love to meet them, if convenient.  If you get nothing back, then you may just have to accept the situation, but my betting is that you will receive a reply.  I do hope so.

Good luck with your search and I would be interested to know how things work out for you.

Very best wishes

Peter  

Genealogy

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Peter C. Amsden

Expertise

Questions related to the archiving and preservation of images. From photographic to electronic.

Experience

I do have a reasonable knowledge of genealogy, being a member of the Society of Genealogist and of the Guild of One Name Studies. However, my real expertise lies in the area of archival preservation and the salvage of damaged photographs. I have made an in depth study of the subject. and my knowledge may be of particular value to those concerned with their personal archives. My knowledge extends from the photograph to film, video and computer imaging.

Organizations
Associate of the Royal Photographic Society
Associate of the British Institute of Professional Photographers.

Publications
Author of "The Accidental Archivist" A guide to the selection & preservation of photographic & electronic images for personal archives. ISBN 978-0-9535019-8-4

Education/Credentials
Degree in Photo Science. Many years experience in the photographic, film and TV industries.

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