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I'm 30 years old and I am trying to piece together my family tree. I haven't seen my father since I was 11 but my mother's friend's husband was friends with my father in high school.

I seen these family friends quite a bit when I was growing up and was over at their house playing with their daughter but I haven't spoken to them or seen them since I was a teenager. I have recently added them on my Facebook though.

I want to ask them if they are in contact with my father or maybe even know his birthday/birthplace/other genealogical info.

I don't want to ask my mother because it's a highly-charged, contentious topic, she might not know, and I don't want her to know that I could be looking for my father. I don't really get along with her and she might think that me getting into contact with him will magically fix our relationship.

They ran into my father a few years ago in public so they might have an idea. They all went to high school together.

How can I approach this topic with them? I thought about writing a letter but I am not sure how to make things less awkward and not put them on the spot.

I don't live anywhere near any of them.

My motive is to both collect genealogical information and to possibly hear my father's side of the story.

It's probably not an emotional matter for the family friends but I have not had any contact with them for years so it's awkward and out of the blue.

  • Is your primary intention to find your father again? Or is it solely to build the family tree without direct contact with your father? In case of the later there's also options to ask your mother if you make clear it's not the former. – Imus Mar 14 at 10:31
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If you are friends on Facebook, drop them a line in messenger, something like

Hi, I am doing my family tree right now (isn't everyone), and I remember my mum telling me you knew my father, is there anything you could tell me about his extended family?

With these really open-ended question you haven't put them on the spot as well they can say it took them weeks to see your message, the tone is very "if you have anything let me know" so they may have nothing to say, or may not want to say it but it is still covered.

  • Can you provide some back up (personal experience, reference material, etc...) to explain why this approach will work? – Rainbacon Mar 14 at 14:23
  • It's probably not an emotional matter for the family friends at all. I just don't want my mother thinking it will fix everything. – user1261710 Mar 14 at 15:03
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Short note: your situation requires a discussion which is both:

  • personal
  • emotional.

Both these characteristics require that the discussion be kept:

  • as private as possible;
  • without interruptions.

Also, be ready for any reaction from the people you want to discuss with, regardless of how you decide to talk to them. Nobody can guarantee how they will react.


It is best if you have the main discussion face to face. There is no real benefit of one place for the discussion over another. It can be at their house, a cafe... Any place where you can have a decent discussion.

Of course, you should agree an appointment with them beforehand, and do not forget to mention:

  1. that you need to discuss a personal sensitive topic;
  2. the expected duration of the "meeting". Depending on how many questions you have and also depending on how much they are willing to talk about it, I would assume it can take up to 2 hours.

Which exact words you should use

It is not very important. Just be yourself. Admit to your emotions, if you think they are not easy to control. Adapt as you go.

I wish you success.


Why face to face works better

Well, I am not an expert, and I do not know why, but it works. I know it works because I noticed it countless times. If I communicated with my colleagues / business partners by e-mail, communication was ok(-ish). Things changed radically for the better every time AFTER we had the opportunity to meet and discuss face to face at least once. We learned about each other's expectations, way to be / way to behave, and things always got a lot smoother.


If you live far away from these people

In this case, it will be less than ideal, but still doable. Preparation should be the same, with asking for their availability and so on.

Regarding the actual discussion, I recommend an audio-video communication. It will help in the communication of non-verbal details - important, since the entire thing is emotional. Using broadly available internet technologies (you already mentioned one) is just fine - I will not give names to avoid discussions with the moderators :)

In this case, again, the environment must be suitable for this discussion. Home, office, park, car - anything will do, as long as the technology is working (e.g. wifi signal, mobile network signal...) and it is quiet enough.


The bottom line is: since the topic of discussion is personal and emotional, you should organize it exactly to facilitate this kind of communication.

Worst alternatives: e-mail, SMS... Totally impersonal, totally improper for handling emotions.

  • But I live in another country. – user1261710 Mar 14 at 9:07
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    Right now this looks like a "try this" kind of answer. Can you provide some back up to explain why this will work. – Rainbacon Mar 14 at 13:13
  • @Rainbacon: I made some changes. Will you please tell me which part requires more backing up? "Explain why this will work": all advice about inter-personal communication is a "try this". If you know a "magic bullet" which will work in all cases, please provide a reference to it, I am more than willing to learn and improve. – virolino Mar 14 at 14:05
  • The meta post that I linked has some explanations of the expectations we have for citing answers. We know that questions and answers on this site are going to involve some degree of subjectivity, which is why we have expectations for back up answers. We have some criteria for backing up answers based on this blog post. We ask that answers be based on personal experience, or include references to external materials. – Rainbacon Mar 14 at 14:21
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    You mention that face-to-face is better than a text based conversation. Do you have personal experiences that can back this up? Credible sources that you can point to about this? That's what we mean by explaining why something will work. – Rainbacon Mar 14 at 14:21

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