Connecting with Distant Relatives

Using Social Media

To contact relatives on social networking sites, the best place to start is with people you already know. Reach out to your relatives using your favorite social media site such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Since Facebook is the most common social networking site in the United States, we will use it as an example.

  • Become friends with your known relatives on Facebook.

  • Let them know who you are and what you are doing with a post like this:

    Hello, [relative name], it's me, [your name], your [relationship to relative]. I hope you are doing well. I recently got genetic testing and found out I have a genetic variant in the [gene name] gene that increases my cancer risk. I am trying to connect with relatives who may have the same genetic variant, and I am wondering if others in our family have had cancers related to the variant [list cancer types]. Could I ask you some questions about our family?
  • After they respond, let them know who you are and what you are doing with a post like this:

    I'm working to see if there are other people with [type of cancer] on our family tree. First I need to make sure that the tree is complete. Do you know of other family members that have [type] cancer or other cancers? Can you remind me of your children's names? Could you let me know and help put me in contact with them? Thank you, [your name].
  • If you have a relative's name, but not a good contact, you could search on Facebook or other social media sites for people with the same names.

  • If your relatives have common names, there might be quite a few (unrelated) people that have similar names. Try to see if there is any other information that might distinguish your relatives from other people with the same name. For example, if several people all have the same name, your cousin is likely the one whose friends include other people you know in your family.

  • Once you think you have found a relative, you could send them a message to see if they will connect with you. Here is an example of a message you might send:

    Hello, my name is [your name]. We don't know each other well, but we're [list relationship here]. Your [parent/grandparent] was my [parent/grandparent's sister/brother/cousin]. Could I contact you to find out more about our family?
  • After they respond, let them know who you are and what you are doing with a post like this:

    I'm trying to retrace my family tree to find out if anyone has [type of cancer]. Would you be able to help me with your part of family? Also, if you or any family members feel comfortable sharing whether they've had [type of cancer], please let me know and help put me in contact with them. Reply or email me at [your phone number and/or email address].

    Thank you, [your name]

Another way to find distant relatives is through online genealogy sites. There are family trees, forums, and message boards on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and many other genealogy websites that help you connect to people researching the same lines. If you can find an ancestor that you are interested in, then you can post a query to see who else might be interested in the same person.

Don't Forget Simpler Options

While many of your relatives may be on social networks, you may need to try alternate methods of communication. If you can get somebody's phone number, you can call or text them. You can also write them if you have a physical address or email address.

Public Searches for Contact Information

When you try to get in contact with distant relatives, you may not be able to find family members who know their contact information. There are other options. Some phone numbers and physical addresses are listed publicly. People search engines can sometimes provide you with phone numbers or physical addresses for people given only their names. However, as with social media, if their names are common, make sure they're really the relatives you're looking for. Also, be considerate and cautious when contacting them, as they may not have anticipated hearing from you.

Some people search engines and helpful sites are listed below.

I've Connected with Them... Now What?

After you have contacted a relative and spoken them about cancer risk and getting tested, you can ask the relative to help you find other relatives.