Most family trees have two boughs. Anything over that is pretty rare. If one bough has a number of offshoots, that means you have relatives you don’t know.
There are several reasons to want to find out about unknown relatives. If the family is about to inherit some assets, you need to be aware of the exact number of people who have claims to them. Usually, lawyers are responsible for tracking down the heirs and heiresses, but you can save money by doing it yourself.
You might want to reconnect with a long-lost loved one. Maybe you had a favorite cousin who disappeared, of whom you have fond memories as a child. You want to reconnect with them as an adult, find out where they live, and see them again.
Another reason you might want to find an unknown relative is because of a will. Some people decide to make a will early on. Depending on the jurisdiction, you might be legally obligated to distribute your assets among all of your living relatives.
Ways to Find Unknown or Lost Family Members
You might want to track down one of two types of family members: unknown ones or ones that you lost touch with a long time ago. Let’s begin with the former.
You can take one of several approaches. Another relative may have told you this person existed, or you want to know if you have half-siblings from a parent’s previous relationship. You might have been adopted and want to find biological family members.
Autosomal DNA Testing
A number of DNA testing companies in the US offer autosomal DNA tests. Autosomes are part of the genes we share with relatives. Choose leading providers because they have the biggest databases, so the likelihood of getting a match is higher.
After you’ve taken the test, you start checking for matches. Some people get lucky very soon. In other cases, years can pass before you find the relative you were looking for. Sometimes, you never do.
If you get a match in the DNA database, like with a first or second cousin or another relative, you can use the site’s messaging system to try and get in touch. You might get a friendly reply but be prepared for anything. There might be no response, or perhaps they don’t want to make contact.
In the best-case scenario, you’ll find a distant relative who can provide more information about the target relative.
There are other things you can do no matter what the situation is, like a free people search. Here are some alternatives.
If the DNA test fails to get the results you hoped for, there are other avenues to explore. Find a reliable people search website and open an account. The more information you enter into a people search engine, the more specific your results will be and vice versa: the fewer details you have, the higher the number of possible matches that require further exploration.
If you don’t know anything about the relative, you can’t use a people finder. You just don’t have enough information to feed into it.
Check Social Media
If you know their name, you can find more information on social networks. Try the major ones. Look up other relatives. Send them messages and a friend request if you find them on Facebook, so you can see their lists of relatives. You might find out about one you don’t know.
Hire a Detective
If you don’t get far on social media either, there isn’t much left to do. The process of discovering, compiling, and gathering information about a person takes a lot of time and effort. It’s something you can leave to a pro. It’s the most reliable way of finding new family members, albeit the most expensive one as well.
When They Don’t Want to be Found
When you set out to connect with a previously unknown relative, you need to consider the possibility that they might not want to be found. Ask other family members why they lost touch with that person. It might be that the “unknown” relative chose to cut all family ties and start over.
It’s a good idea to start with a DNA database search and test. Gather as much relevant information from any matches you get. Then, try to find out if the relative wants to find out about you as well. If you believe so, you can use a people search tool or hire a detective to locate them.