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How to Write a Letter to a Long Lost Relative

Published on 4 Oct 2013 14:37 : 10 comments : 74528 views

At Genes Reunited we know searching for missing family members is one of the most emotional journeys a person will ever take. If you’re on this site reading this the chances are you’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of research. This is all done in the hopes that your future will include this newfound relative. Then you do and there’s a sense of triumph for finding them coupled with the feeling of fear; because finding them is only part of the journey. 

Once you’ve found your long lost relative the question on how to contact your family member arises. A phone call feels too awkward and a little forceful. What if they hang up? An email feels too impersonal and blasé. What if it gets sent to their Junk mail? A letter however might be just right in terms of opening the lines of communication. 

People have been writing letters for centuries. There is nothing as valuable or revelatory as a good letter. Once, the only means of long-distanced communication the art of letter writing has been replaced by innovative technology and is now merely a quaint habit for the quirky or technophobe. 

There are lots of arguments for sending a letter to a long lost relative. Letters take more time to compose than an email and require a lot of thought on the right choice of words that best describe how you feel. When writing a letter the writer has to think carefully about what they truly want to say and how they want to express their emotions to a family member whom you’ve never met or not seen for a long time. 


Here are five top tips to take note of: 

1. Determine the letter’s purpose and stick to it

Why are you writing this letter? What do you want to achieve with this letter when writing? What results do you want to get once it’s sent? Thinking of a goal for your letter makes the whole writing process so much easier.  The purpose of the communication could be anything from setting up a meeting or reunion to making the person you send the letter to aware of your existence or show a willingness form a relationship. It’s so easy to let your mind wander away with ideas of what to write in a letter. But stay focused and keep what you write down on the topic. Otherwise, your goal will be completely lost on the person who receives the letter. 

2. Write with the pen and not your emotions

Using overly emotional language is not a good idea when writing a letter to a long lost family member. This is especially the case if you harbour even a small amount of resentment towards them. An angry letter won’t encourage a relative to respond and any chances of a relationship will be broken. Remember this is the first line of communication. You have to start by keeping your emotions in check. Be approachable but not needy or whiny. 

3. Keep it short

Writing long letters is a common mistake. Long letters mean a long rant and a load of waffle. You don’t need to note your life story down. You don’t want to overwhelm the relative. Remember the purpose – to establish a contact with someone for the first time in the hopes of possibly building a relationship and invest time in getting to know each other. A page or two will suffice. Be succinct and to the point. 

4. Write one day but send it the next day 

After you’ve finished writing a letter, it’s best to leave it aside overnight instead of sending it off immediately. You need time to reflect on what you’ve written. Maybe you want to change something you put down, edit out or add a sentence. The desire for an answer as soon as possible can make you act hastily and send the first draft. Try to be patient. All good things come in their rightful time. 

5. Get someone to read your letter

Get a friend or family – someone you trust and who’s been supportive throughout your search - to read the letter. Ask them questions; how would they feel if they received a letter like this? What’s their first impression? Is your message clear enough? Another set of eyes will find any errors or wrong-sounding phrases. A friend or family member will be honest as well and can provide helpful feedback.  


Writing a letter to a lost family member isn’t easy, but there are some guides to making sure you write the best letter possible. The best thing is to take your time. This is not something that can be rushed. In this particular circumstance the letter is not just an art form of communication but a key to opening a door into another person’s life. Good luck, and may the first letter you send be one of many more to follow and the start of a beautiful relationship.  


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by Rickshaw on 8 Oct 2013 22:32 : Report Abuse
Have recently made contact with second cousin and stayed there. Got her to join Genes reunited and start family tree.
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by David on 22 Oct 2013 18:46 : Report Abuse
I recently wrote to a family member I knew of but had never met, it was a total shot in the dark as I just looked them up in the 'phone book and didn't even know if it was them, and had an e-mail back.
This has led to a meeting and a good time, we have exchanged a lot of information, and found UTT about our extended families, so it was a positive reaction, I would recommend it to anyone. :-D
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by Eunice on 23 Oct 2013 11:56 : Report Abuse
I have just found a family member whom I didn't know existed iv written a letter to him and received one back he didn't know anything about us it's going very slowly and I don't know what will come out of it
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by AndyTG on 7 Nov 2013 22:05 : Report Abuse
I agree with all the above. The more thought and effort the greater the rewards! I have included the associated part of family tree with specific photographs. Even language can be defeated, using Google translator. I have gained contact with my parents family in Hungary, leading to face book linkage and discovering my great great grand parents details this week. :-)
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by Elizabeth on 12 Nov 2013 16:00 : Report Abuse
There is not always a positive result to an approach to a relative. I tracked down my husband's unknown family and he wrote a short letter asking for information about his mother. Unfortunately he got no reply. He is, however, living in hope.
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by rooney on 9 Feb 2014 12:24 : Report Abuse
Being adopted so young ,its years later decided. To find my reel parents. At the I did find a brother and step sister. We kept in touch and still do after we lost our brother , then I thought to too look my fathers. Side realised he may have took me years to find them ,but thanks to genes united we tracked them Down I was pleased to find them so close to my area .but always they have never replied but I got. My answer which was in my mind all the years. Did father remarry. And did he have any other children I know now out there I do have. 2 sisters and brothers. I loved to meet them. And their family's. Tlme heels. May be one day we will meet. But got to look on their side. May never known about me ,and again they say. Its to late. But never give up. Feel peace full my questions. Been answered. By jean. 7feb. 2014
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by Jean on 25 Feb 2014 21:28 : Report Abuse
What do i do now , having wrote to a first cousin that my father and myself have been looking for years for and found her last year(dad has died since) i got a reply that said it took too long to find her and that was that , she is the last of my dads family and i would have loved to have communicate further with her , any ideas how i can approach her(via a letter) again
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by patricia on 18 Apr 2014 04:16 : Report Abuse
I agree
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by on 27 Aug 2016 13:10 : Report Abuse
I have found a record of someone I wish to contact. But I don't know how to find them and we're they are now etc? All I can find is there record. Year they were born and we're they were born. Were do I go from here?
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by JaneyJane on 14 Feb 2017 21:41 : Report Abuse
I wrote a letter to my Mums half sister she never knew existed, she never replied which I found really disappointing, my mum passed away never having met her. I don't think i could ignore a letter of this type of content