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long lost family

How to find long lost family

Ellie overthrow jones. Author at Find my past
Ellie Overthrow-Jones
26 January 2021

Somewhere, perhaps halfway across the world or even just down the street, could be a distant cousin or a biological sibling you didn’t know you had. Here, we share our top tips for finding those long lost relations in your family tree. 

You might know your close family, your aunts, uncles, and cousins. They’ll be on the family tree you’ve already made a good start on. But what about your grandmother’s cousin: do you know what happened to him? 

Start your family tree

He may have married, had children, and who knows, perhaps his descendants went to the same school as your own children. Imagine that, sitting in a maths lesson not knowing you were sitting next to a distant cousin.

Or perhaps you never knew your birth family. Maybe you have a half-brother you’ve never met. If you’ve ever thought about how to find lost relatives, let us help you, just how Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell reunite family members in ITV’s Long Lost Family.

Looking at your family history research forwards, instead of backwards, can be fascinating, rewarding and often life-changing. One ancestor in your distant past may have descendants from all over the world. Tracing a family forward uses the same tricks as you would with normal family history. Here’s what you’ll need to get started with your search.

Take an ancestry DNA test 

With a DNA test, you’ll not only discover your genetic roots, but you’ll also be able to connect with living relatives who share segments of your DNA. Even better, the Findmypast DNA test also allows you to get in touch with your DNA matches. Before you know it, you’ll be discussing who inherited great aunt Bessie’s curly hair or planning a family reunion after comparing DNA results. 

Private Messaging and tree-to-tree hints 

If you’ve started building your family tree on Findmypast, you’ll notice the orange bubbles which appear from time to time. These are hints: we think we’ve found details in our family history records that match the information you’ve entered. But we don’t just find new details in historical records. 

We also match against other Findmypast family trees. So, if there’s a branch that is similar to someone else’s, we’ll let you know with a tree-to-tree hint.  

Better yet, everyone with a Starter, Plus, or Pro subscription can message the tree owner with Private Messaging. Not only will you have someone to compare genealogy notes with, but chances are, you’ll also find a living relative. And you’ll already have something in common: a love of the past. 

Search the records

One of the most basic methods of genealogy is to use civil birth and marriage records together to move further back. Well, you can use that same method to find long lost family too. 

Find a relation on your family tree and if you’ve not looked yet, step into the marriage records to see who they married. Then, armed with those details, search for children born with the surname of the father, and the maiden name of the mother, with a broad year range just after the marriage.

Our MarriageFinder tool gives the spouse’s full name, to save you trawling through the marriage index to find it. Keep repeating these steps until you reach the end of the online indexes in 2005, and remember that further indexes can be explored at your local record office.

Check the electoral registers 

In the UK, each time someone over the age of 18 registers to vote, their name and address are entered into the electoral register. Though someone can choose to withhold their details from the public register, this is a great way to trace your living relatives.  

Exploring historical newspapers 

Another great source is our newspaper collection, especially if you come across a family announcement such as a wedding or a funeral. In these, you can often see whole families listed by name, helping you paint a better picture of the line you’re tracing.  

funeral announcement newspaper

Report of a funeral from the North Wales Weekly News, 31 March 1960.

Ask the community 

Nowadays, many of us are on social media. There are numerous groups and societies out there who might know someone who knows someone. And if you’re after advice, our official Facebook group The Findmypast Forum is a wonderful place to look. 

Have any of your genealogy finds changed your outlook or perspective?

Posted by Findmypast on Tuesday, January 19, 2021

All it takes is for one person to help, and it can open a number of doors for your research.  

What about adoption?

If you were adopted in the UK, to make contact with your birth relative you’ll need to add yourself to the Adoption Contact Register. For contact to be made, your relative will need to be on the register too. If you don’t have your birth records, you can get them from the General Register Office.  

Remember, there are lots of charities and organisations out there to support you through this emotional time. 

Making contact

If you’ve come this far, well done: you’ve identified a possible living relative. The next step is possibly the hardest. When making the first contact, send a letter or an email rather than telephoning them. Include your name and home address, and ask them to politely acknowledge receipt, even if they’re not in fact a relative, or just not interested. If you can include a stamped addressed envelope for their reply, even better. 

If you have a family tree chart or a photograph to send too, this can increase the chance of a response and it's also great for jogging the memory. Keep an open mind when making contact, and be aware not everyone will have the same interest in connecting with distant relatives.

Has Findmypast helped you make contact with a long lost relation? We’d love to hear your story. You can email us at discoveries@findmypast.com.