How To Reconnect With Long Lost Family
This article will cover how to reconnect with long-lost family. When you know a long-lost relative is lurking out there somewhere, it is only natural to wonder what it would be like to meet them. What is their personality like now? Are they like you? What exciting stories can they tell you about their past? How can they explain their absence? What went wrong?
Historically, finding people in your family was difficult. Before the internet, tracing long-lost relatives involved making a lot of phone calls and doing reconnaissance on the ground. With the rise of social media, however, more and more people are reaching out over the web. Dozens of websites provide channels of communication. And there are even specific tools, like Findukpeople.com, committed to providing services that allow you to reconnect with long-lost loved ones.
But there’s a problem. Approaching family members you haven’t seen for a long time (if ever) can be tricky. You want to make it clear that you’d like to establish contact, but you don’t want to do it in a way that scares them. You want to avoid anything that could make it less likely that you develop a relationship in the future.
The trick here is to tread delicately. Ideally, you want to use your emotional intelligence to allay the other party’s fears and signal your intentions. Ultimately, that will maximize the chances that you will get what you want out of the interaction.
Thanks to the internet, there are now dozens of ways to reconnect with people. You can find lost relatives by trawling social media, family history websites, or even by searching for their contact details on Google. But throughout all this, you need to ensure that you approach the first contact sensitively, doing everything that you can to avoid adverse reactions.
So what do you do when you want to reach out to somebody? How should you reconnect with long-lost family members? Let’s take a look at some best practices.
Be Upfront About How You Found Your Long Lost Family Member
When you contact somebody for the first time after a long interlude, their first reaction may be one of concern and worry. While the majority of estranged family members want to reconnect with loved ones, some don’t. It is vital, therefore, that you provide them with candid, honest information about how you found them and the sources that you used. By being upfront, you immediately generate a sense of trust. Even though you’ve done a bit of snooping, you make your methods clear, allowing the other person to scrutinize them, immediately putting them at ease.
Telling them how you found them also helps to break the ice. Doing a simple search on Facebook, for instance, is perfectly acceptable AND provides you with material to discuss if and when they respond. Likewise, if you found them through a company website or bio page, you can draw information from there too. This approach makes it clear that you haven’t been doing anything untoward, like flicking through their credit reports. You’re honestly and reasonably reaching out using publicly available information.
Spell Out Your Reasons For Making Contact With Your Long Lost Family
Being authentic is vital when you first reconnect with someone, even if your reasons for reconnecting are selfish. People want to know why you’re bothering to speak with them. They don’t like it when you perform the “bait and switch:” giving one reason for reestablishing contact and then revealing another.
Our natural inclination is to withhold our selfish intentions and present altruistic reasons for making a connection. But this sort of thing can actually backfire quite severely. People like it when you’re candid about the reasons for contacting them, even if it is just because you want something for them. They don’t like deception.
Say, for instance, you want to re-establish contact with somebody who has achieved success. Be honest about the fact that you heard about their progress and you want to cash in a favor. Don’t pretend there are other reasons. If you falsely present yourself, they will distrust you, and it could make future relations more difficult.
You should apply the same approach when getting back in touch with people for emotional reasons. Talk about your motivations for family tracing. Perhaps you want to make up for things that you did wrong in the past. Maybe you want to tell a relative about the birth of a child. It could be anything, even just telling someone that you miss them and want them back in your life.
So that’s the theory, but what does this look like in practice?
Here are some examples of the sort of message you don’t want to send. Where possible, try to avoid playing the blame game.:
Hey Johnny. I was just getting back in contact with you to see whether you’ve finally mended your ways. I hope you’ve grown up and learned some valuable lessons in life and you’re not still running around breaking young girls. If you have, then get in touch.
Dear Susie. I’ve searched online, and I think you’re my mum. I’m getting in contact with you today to allow you to make up for the fact that you abandoned me when I was young. Now is your chance to make amends for your terrible behavior and the damage you caused dad and me.
Hi Richard. Even though I know you’re a terrible person, I just wanted to reach out and see how you were doing to clear the air. You probably won’t get back to me because you’re a coward, but if you do, then I’m willing to meet for a coffee. Peace.
The above messages are overtly negative, confrontational, and designed to hurt. They are not the sort of things you want to say on the first contact, even if your feelings are hurt. Instead, you want to take a diplomatic approach that helps to get the conversation started.
Let’s rewrite the above messages in a constructive, positive, and emotionally mature manner.
Dear Johnny. The other day I was thinking about one of the interesting things you once told me about how to approach life, so I did a Facebook search for you, and you popped up. I wanted to get back in touch with you to hear more of your ideas. I know we’ve had a checkered history, but I still think there’s value in knowing each other.
Dear Susie (mum). My name is Katie, and I believe that I am your daughter. I found you through Ancestry.com and wanted to reach out to learn more about you. It would be wonderful to get to know you better and understand your life story. Please don’t fear the past – that’s behind us now. This is an opportunity for a fresh start.
Hi Richard. This is Becky. I know we haven’t spoken in a while, but I wanted to get back in touch to tell you about our child, Zach, and how he is growing up. I found your contact details on Google and thought it would be great if you could meet your son. I would love for him to have a positive father figure in his life.
Notice the stark difference in these examples. Unlike the first set of messages, none of these includes attacks or negativity. You’re not using your texts to scorn those with whom you’ve lost contact. Instead, you’re trying to find the positives and focusing on those.
Second, the above messages all talk about the methods you used to do the tracing, such as Facebook or Google. Again, this immediately helps to clear the air and keeps things transparent.
Finally, all of these messages state what the person reaching out wants. There’s no equivocation or ambivalence here. In the first example, the ex-partner is reaching out because she misses Johnny’s valuable contributions and insights. In the second, Katie is getting touch with her mum because she wants a meaningful relationship with her. And in the final text, Becky is asking Richard to be a part of their son’s life.
There are, of course, dozens of reasons for wanting to get in touch with family, but the same principles apply:
- Be positive
- Focus on the value of the interaction
- Talk about how you found them
- Avoid placing blame or name-calling
- Be clear about your motivations from the outset
- Try to write clearly and effectively
Discuss How You Might Want To Communicate With Family In The Future
Meeting long-lost family members is usually a positive experience, but not necessarily. The person you want to contact may have hurt you in the past, or you might have damaged them in some way.
Hard feelings can persist for decades, so merely meeting up with them for a coffee might not be a good idea. The best strategy is to lay the groundwork first through remote methods of communication – usually text or phone. Ideally, you want to set the parameters of the relationship, detailing what is acceptable communication, and what isn’t. Remember, the purpose of the interaction is to add value to your life – and that of the other person. You want the experience to edify both parties. It should be positive.
Texting and calling beforehand can give you a sense of whether the relationship is worth taking further. As you talk about your motivations and feelings, the other person will respond with theirs. After a short while, you should have a good idea of whether an in-person meeting is possible. In most cases, it is, but sometimes feelings run deep, and there is no way to undo the damage done in the past.
Talking about how you wish to communicate also gives you and the other party a lot of control over the interaction. Reestablishing connections with people is naturally a sensitive process, and it is easy for tempers to fray. But when you talk openly about the way you want to communicate, you empower the other person to decide on the pace at which things should develop. At first, you could just arrange a weekly text chat. After that, you could move onto voice calls and eventually arrange an in-person meeting. Settings the terms of the interaction takes away the pressure and uncertainty. You both know how things will proceed, making it a great way to build trust.
What If They Ignore You?
Ignoring people – sometimes called “ghosting” – is a common behavior in online communication. Occasionally you’ll send a message to someone, but they won’t reply.
If you communicate with someone and they don’t reply, what should you do?
First, note that it might not have anything to do with you. A lot of people will ignore people from their past because they don’t want to experience the vulnerability of discussing their life in the present. Second, they might just be busy, forget, or feel awkward about responding. And, lastly, they could still be angry or upset with you or themselves.
You should expect this type of reaction. There’s no guarantee that people will reply to your communications. But it is still worth trying if you think that something valuable will come from the interaction. Sometimes a person won’t answer the first time, but will the second time, so it is worth sending a follow-up message.
Obviously, if the other party asks you not to communicate with them, you should respect their wishes. But until they do that, it is perfectly reasonable to make several attempts at contact.
Try to avoid spamming them through multiple channels, such as text and email, as this can come off as a little bit intense.
We hope you enjoyed our article about how to reconnect with long lost family. Not all reconnections with long-lost family members are happy ones, but some will be. Re-engaging with a relative can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life – and something that changes it for the better.
When getting in touch with someone, do your background research first. Try to find out what kind of person they are now and tailor your communications to reflect that. Be positive, honest, and authentic, and start earning the results you deserve. Get that conversation started!
Read our next article on reconnecting with long lost family