How to Gather Descendants

IMG_1338How To Gather and Update Family Members

by Ann Lewis (

Many of you may belong to family organizations who have published family history books in former years.  Some of you may be a part of a family with many active family historians, where a great deal of family research has been completed over the years.  Many of you may be asking, what can I do to further the work in my family?

Some of you may be grandparents who haven’t learned the computer skills necessary to dive deeply into family history research, but you want to be involved.  Here is a fun and rewarding project that anyone anywhere can help with:  Finding and Updating Descendants.

Determine a starting point. Pick an ancestor.  It might be a grandparent, a great grandparent, or a great-great-grandparent.

Talk to family members about who might have the most complete mailing or phone list of descendants of that person. Get copies.

If anyone in the family has a family history data file (in PAF or other program), get a copy, or ask them to print out Descendant Charts and family group sheets for each of the children of your starting person. This will give you a generational list of which family members you already know.  Your job is to take it from here.

Starting with the names you have, start listing contact information for the people on these lists. If you do not have complete information, go to websites such as and find current addresses and phone numbers.

When you have enough phone numbers for a fun evening of phone calls, settle in and get to work!

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Two other fabulous finding aid websites Find-A-Grave and BillionGraves.  Find A Grave is a free resource for finding the final resting places of famous folks, friends and family members. This free website contains more than *** MILLION grave records.  You can search for them by Surname, Cemetery, Date, Location, or Claim to Fame.  BillionGraves is similar, with GPS locations attached to every headstone.  Both have moble apps that allow you to upload photos from your phone.

Many volunteers all over the nation have photographed and submitted information to these web sites.  If your family members are not there, you can add them.  Many of the individuals are linked to other family members.  Many listings contain obituaries or short life sketches or photographs of the individuals.  You can also contact the person who submitted the information to make additions or corrections.

Pick a grandparent or great grandparent who has died.  Search for them by their surname (females are indexed by their name at the time of death, often a married name).  Look to see if there are links to their children or spouses.  Notice who is buried in the same cemetery with the same surnames.  Update your death and burial records and find surviving relatives who may be listed in obituaries for that person.  You can look up living people using or other online directories.  Gather everyone you can!

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[Our family organization has been updating a family genealogy book that was printed in the 1970s.  I am the family representative of one line in that family, the descendants of my great great grandmother, Charlotte Turley.  Below is the dialogue I use when gathering information.]

 1. “Hello, (call the person by name). My name is Ann Lewis and I am calling from Orem

  1. I got your name and number from (your mom, sibling, a family mailing list, phone book, etc.) I am a member of the Theodore Turley Family Organization and I am the family rep in charge of his daughter, Charlotte Turley Bushman. We are in the process of updating a book on Theodore Turley’s descendants that was published in the 1970s. You and I are both members of that branch of the family.”

It is important to let the person you are calling know how your got his/her phone number. If you have visited with other family members, let them know who. Ask if they have mentioned talking to me. Put them at ease about your knowing who they are.

When I make the call, I have that person’s family on my computer screen so that I am able to remind them of how their family ties back to Charlotte, and I explain which line I descend through and how we are related (most are 2nd or 3rd cousins).

  1. “Do you have a few minutes to help me make sure the information I have on your family is correct?”

Then I go over the information on that person’s parents, or other family members they would know about, which helps to establish my credibility and understanding of their family.  I want to dispel any feeling of suspicion they may have that I am a stranger trying to dupe them into giving me information that would cause identity theft concerns.

I might ask them to confirm birth dates or death dates.  I add burial places that were not included in the Turley Book.

Then I ask them if I might update their immediate family information.  I only ask for birth, marriage, and death dates and places.  As they give me the information, I type it into my computer data base.  I use a head attachment/ear piece on my phone so my hands are free to type or take notes.

  1. After I have entered all family members and dates, I ask them for their contact information (mailing address, phone #s, and email), with the promise that this information will be protected within the family.  I assure them that my own personal information is right next to theirs, and I will guard it carefully.  I have promised to contact them in the coming months to let them know about this project and how they might access copies of our work.  I also let them know about the newsletter and websites that have Turley Family information, and I tell them that once my contact data base is complete, I will be contacting them to send them family treasures, which will include photographs, histories, obituaries, and interesting information about our ancestors that will be of great interest to them.

Next I ask them if they would help me to contact their children by giving me phone numbers of each of their family members.  Rather than collecting grandchildren’s information, I have found it more reliable to get the phone numbers of their children and call them each individually to introduce myself and get the information from a more direct source (mothers and fathers, rather than grandparents).  These parents attended the births, and usually have more accurate information.

  1. I repeat the steps above with each generation, collecting names, dates, and places, and then collecting contact information on each family.
  2. The next step is to ask if they know of any other family members that I should contact–cousins, aunts, or uncles, etc.  I also like to ask specific questions about missing family members I’m having trouble finding.  Many know each other and send Christmas cards between branches of the families.  I also ask if they might know the married names of the women in older generations so that I can look for them in online phone books.  Once a woman marries and changes her name, it can be hard to track her down.

It has been a great help to give my phone number and email information out to each family I contact as I gather their phone numbers and emails.  Often, I will send a quick email thanking them for their help (which puts my email in their box) and which allows them to contact me again if they need to.

Some family members have said, “Can I just email my information to you?”  “Of course!” I reply, and I make note of that in my notebook as we visit.  I also keep track of which family members seem to be the record keepers in their families, so I can return to them for help if I need it.

  1. The last step is to keep a good record of each conversation.  After adding information from each individual I speak with, I create a source in my data base for that person with their name as the author of that source.  It looks like this:

Personal information of Joe Blow Turley

Author: Joe Blow Turley

Notes: “As per phone conversation with (or email to) Ann Lewis on 10 Feb. 2012.”  I attach this source to each individual’s information given to me in that phone call (or in an email).

When this is complete, I check off the name from my list, circling the name of the person I spoke to, with a date beside it, I check in a different color to show I have entered their contact information, and check in a 3rd color to show that I’ve entered the source information.  That way if something is missing, I can easily go back, knowing what was left out.

I try to make most of my phone calls during the evening hours or on weekends when it’s easier to find people at home, although many retired family members are home during the daytime.  Avoid the dinner hour, or calls after 10:00 p.m.

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This project has been fun and rewarding.  Not only have I met 100s of wonderful relatives from across the nation, I have uncovered a few real Treasures.  One morning I met a relative in a nearby town who phoned me back to say she had a hand-written letter from Charlotte’s husband, Jacob Bushman, to my great grandmother, Grace, written in 1900.  In the letter he expressed his love for his family and grandchildren.  I felt as if he were speaking to me as well.  She also had a beautiful portrait photograph of Charlotte I’d never seen before.

Great and wonderful blessings attend this work.  Someday our descendants will be thrilled that records and information have already been gathered from people who were alive to speak for themselves.  We can insure now that our beloved family members will not be lost in the future–all will be accounted for.  There is no greater gift you could give!

As I am making phone calls, I often feel as if Charlotte, herself, is looking over my shoulder, smiling down on her family, thrilled that we are re-uniting ourselves.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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1 Response to How to Gather Descendants

  1. Pingback: Holt Family Reunion 30 August 2014, Enterprise Utah | Ann's Words

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