|Introduction to Genealogy|
Letter Writing 101
While it would be the best solution, most of us do not have the luxury of being able to travel wherever our research takes us. Therefore, there will come a time when you will need to write a letter to obtain the records you need. The people who work at various record repositories, such as libraries, archives, record offices and genealogical societies are usually happy to help you with your research but very short on time. It is best to keep your letter short and simple.
Tips for Ensuring A Response to Your Letter:
- Contact the organization before writing to see if they have a correspondence policy with information on which type of questions they will answer, how long they will search to answer one request, how long you may expect to wait for your response, how many copies they will make of records and what they charge for this service (if anything).
- Keep your letter short and simple. State what information you need and include only the background information that may help someone find the answer to your request. A harried clerk or librarian will be much more likely to respond to your questions when they can tell, at a glance, exactly what you are looking for.
- Do not ask more than one or two questions in a single letter. If you have several requests, then you are best off sending them as separate letters.
- Be sure to include alternate name spellings, nicknames, etc. under which any records may be found. You should also be sure not to use too many abbreviations in your letter as they increase the chance of misinterpretation.
- Always enclose a S.A.S.E. (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) with your letter. Many libraries and societies do not have the budgets to pay for luxuries such as return postage.
- Say "please" and "thank you." A little common courtesy goes a long way.
- Even if the organization doesn't have a specific fee schedule for genealogy requests it is always nice to include a few dollars with your letter to cover photocopying expenses. You should also offer in your letter to cover any additional expenses which your request may entail.
- Proofread your letter for grammar and spelling, make sure that your request is easy to understand and that you have included accurate names, dates and places.
- Keep a copy of your letter, at least until you receive a reply. You will also want to make a note of it in your correspondence log which we will discuss on the next page.
Query Writing 101
When it comes to correspondence via the Internet, many people seem to lose their writing skills and/or their manners. Just because the letter or query is electronic, doesn't mean there isn't a human being at the other end who would appreciate a well written, polite and concise request. Yet people ask questions everyday such as "Send me everything you have for SMITHS." When posting questions or queries to online bulletin boards (forums), electronic newsletters or mailing lists there are some basic guidelines you should always follow to make sure that your query is clear and effective. Read How to Write a Successful Genealogy Query for these guidelines, plus a few tips to help increase your chances of getting a response to your queries.
Next page > Tracking Your Progress