The Delicate Act of Reaching Out
The sad irony — in an O. Henry sort of way — is that I had set aside work on the family tree project for four months to finish a deadline. And the day my schedule cleared was the day my aunt died.
The day after the funeral, I unfolded the family tree and started searching again, this time completely on my own which is an odd feeling. In the past, when I found a lead, I called my aunt and she confirmed or rejected a name or date. And now I was finding things, piling up names and dates and addresses on post-it notes that I stuck to the tree, and I tried calling a few people to ask if anything sounded familiar. But no one knew this information like my aunt or my grandmother.
Suddenly, it felt like I wasn’t just creating a family tree. It felt like I was counting people; putting them in their place. I didn’t want to leave anyone behind. And the only thing I could think about was Holden Caulfield as the catcher in the rye field, and my job was to catch all my family members before they fell off that cliff, into the abyss, never to be remembered again. If their name doesn’t end up on the family tree, there could be a future generation who doesn’t know that they existed, that they were here, that they were part of a large continuum.
At the funeral, I was able to gather the name of a distant cousin from a woman I met, and I Googled him when I got home, feeling such a strong sense of relief that I had his name. With that name and a few random facts, I found a Facebook page with pictures, and from there, an address and telephone number. I had five new people that I caught before they went off the figurative cliff, five new people on the family tree. And through some fancy searching on a new data base at the library, I found five more. Five brand new people who hadn’t been on the tree before that point, and with a Google search, I found an obit with a dozen additional names I could add to the tree if I’ve indeed found the correct people.
Josh and I have been debating how to reach out to these new people, hoping that they’ll be the key to giving me the rest of the names that I don’t have for their branches of the family tree. I tried leaving the man with the Facebook page a message, but since we’re not friends on Facebook, my email went into his “other” folder, and I doubt he’ll ever see it. I’d really rather not pay Facebook a dollar every time I want to message someone that I’m not connected to, and they’ve done away with the feature where you can provide a message WITH the friend request. So… how to contact these new people without being too creepy?
Here are the options:
- Send a friend request on Facebook and then message them if they accept the request: would you accept a friend request from a stranger? I wouldn’t. But perhaps others would?
- Write them at work: I have a work address for a few people. Is it less creepy to get a note at your workplace instead of your home? For instance, one is a doctor, and I found his office address.
- Call them at work: Again, is it less creepy to get a call at the office instead of at home?
- Write them at home: For a few people, especially older people, I have a home address. Would it be creepy to get a letter at home?
- Call them at home: Again, for those older people, all I have is a home number. Should I call and explain who I am and what I’m doing?
And then there was one that I already emailed at work. I felt like it was fine to spring ahead with an email. Though he hasn’t written me back yet, so perhaps he was frazzled by this random woman writing him about genealogy stuff.
I don’t think I could sit back and do nothing, which obviously would be the least creepy option, because I’m so anxious to make sure that everyone is counted on that family tree. So which methods of communication (or any I haven’t considered?) feel like the least creepy/most sane?