Contacting DNA Matches
You've just received your DNA test results, possibly through Ancestry.com, and when you check your results you notices a large number of matches. This is exciting as you are about to embark on a journey of discovering your ancestral past, and may even be able to connect with long-lost relatives!
Before you get too excited though, it is important to realize that not everyone wants to be found, or to connect with long-lost relatives. In some cases, there may even be a good reason for keeping some relatives 'lost'.
I've been researching my family history for the better part of 20 years, and in that time, I have found a significant number of previously unknown (to me, at any rate), relatives. Some of these relatives have been closely related to me - 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins, and others much more distant. Some of the relatives I have found and that I later made contact with I had already known about, and either had lost touch with them over the years or our branches of the family simply lost touch over time. Other relatives had been completely unknown to me, and I to them. I have even connected and worked with several of these distant relatives to help solve family mysteries while at the same time we formed a bond while helping one another fill in missing family information. For the most part, my experiences with contacting and even meeting these relatives have been positive, but not always.
Some people may react quite well when you contact them, and I am happy to say that has been the case with at least 90% of the distant relatives I have contacted, but some do not. A good number of people that I have confirmed a family relationship with don't bother to respond at all, and others have been downright rude in their responses. Not everyone that builds and publishes a family tree is looking to find long-lost relatives; I have even had one distant cousin tell me she is only interested in dead family members, not living family!. Another family member, who just happens to have a moderate amount of success in the music industry, had her husband tell me, in a not-so-polite email that any information I wanted to know about her and her "very successful and accomplished" family could easily be looked up on the internet. I politely thanked him for taking the time to respond and deleted those people from my family tree. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why families grow apart over time, and in the case of that particular branch, the answer was quite clear.
Not everyone with a noble title or some claim to fame has been rude or dismissive with me, but I have found a propensity for those family members to be less open to communicating with long-lost members of their family. For those that have taken the time to get to know me, they quickly find out that I have no ulterior motive for contacting them other than to enhance my knowledge about different branches of my family.
I understand that not everyone wants to know about their extended family like I do, but if that is the case, they should really mark both their family tree and DNA test results as private. Leaving both a family tree and DNA test results published for all to see is tad amount to an invitation for family members to make contact. For my extended family members that have celebrity status (and there are quite a few), I can completely understand why they would be suspicious of anyone contacting them. Celebrity is something that I, personally, would never want as I value my privacy and ability to move about undisturbed as I go about my daily life. This doesn't lessen my desire to learn more about these relatives, but I do understand why they would be unapproachable. The nobility in my family though is another matter, and while I have made contact with a couple of those family members, there has definitely been a formal feeling to the communication and I did not pursue anything beyond gathering some information about family members.
I publish my DNA test results and keep my family tree information available for discovery by others. I do this in order to locate other family members and to help those who are trying to answer their own ancestry questions. For those that are friendly, polite and sincere about discovering more about their families, I am only too happy to help wherever and however I can. There is a great feeling of satisfaction in being able to help another family researcher find answers to their questions. I have had a couple of what I would call "odd" contacts over the years, but I still endeavored to help them answer their questions. When things became a little too strange for comfort, I simply wished them well and broke off our correspondence. No harm, no foul.
We cannot choose our families, but if a long-lost family member contacts you, you can choose to respond in a pleasant and polite manner.