The Shotgun Approach to Genealogy Research

By April Leigh Helm, Matthew L. Helm

You’re probably wondering how to find others with whom to share your genealogy information. Well, you could start by going through telephone books and calling everyone with the surname that you’re researching. However, given how some people feel about telemarketers, this isn’t a recommended strategy.

Sending mass emails to anyone you find with your surname through one of the online white-pages sites, networking sites, or online social circles is similar to the telemarketing strategy. This mass email strategy is the shotgun approach, and many people refer to it as spamming. You shoot out a bunch of email messages aimed in various directions, with hopes of successfully hitting one or two targets. Although you may find one or two people who answer you in a positive way, a lot of people may find such unsolicited email irritating. And, quite honestly, gleaning email addresses from online white pages is not as easy as it was even just a few years ago.

Most of the online directories that allow you to search for email addresses no longer give the precise address to you. Rather, they either enable you to send an email from their sites to the individuals, leaving it up to the recipient to respond to you, or they require you to purchase the specific information about the person from them or one of their sponsors. This is their way of protecting that person’s online privacy, and for some it’s a means to earn money.

Instead of spending hours trying to find email addresses through online directories and following a three- or four-step process to send an initial message to someone, go to a site that focuses on genealogy to find the names of and contact information for researchers who are interested in your surname. This is a much gentler, better way to go about finding others with the same interests as you.

Also, note that email directories are not completely useless in genealogy. Email directories can be a good means for getting in contact with a relative whose email address you’ve lost or one you know is interested in your email.