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How to Write a Letter to Your Long Lost Family

27/08/2013 14:05 BST | Updated 27/10/2013 09:12 GMT

The lost art of letter writing is the perfect way to reconnect with long lost relatives.

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You are on a mission - an emotional journey - to find your long lost family member. The person you have wondered about all your life. You have done the research, built a family tree, asked relatives about what they know. Your hours, days and months have been spent searching aided by ancestry sites and census records. You have delved deep into the past to find where your missing relatives are in the present. This is all done in the hopes that your future will include this relative. But it's the final step, the connection, that most people find the most challenging.

The struggle starts with the way you contact a family member. A phone call might be too awkward and forceful. An email feels too impersonal and blasé. A letter however could be the right way to open the lines of communication.

A letter provides a lot of opportunities for the sender and receiver. It's a physical object that the receiver can either keep and cherish or discard. Letters take more time to compose than an email and require a lot of thought on the right words that best describe how you feel. Think carefully about what you truly want to say and how you want to express your emotions to your family member whom you have never met or not seen for a long time.

1. THINK ABOUT YOUR LETTER'S PURPOSE

Before writing anything, ask yourself this question: what result do you want to achieve with your letter? If you think of a goal it makes the process of writing a letter much easier. The goal could be anything from setting up a meeting or reunions, making the person you send the letter to aware of your existence and would be open to talk more and form a relationship.

2. REMEMBER YOUR GOAL WHEN WRITING THE LETTER

It's very easy to go astray when writing a letter. You start thinking of more ideas and points to write and the end result ends up being either really long, all off topic or both. Plus, the goal you wanted to achieve at the end is lost to the person who reads the letter.

3. KEEP YOUR EMOTIONS IN CHECK

Overly using emotional language is not a good idea when writing a letter to a long lost family member. This is especially the case if you harbour even a small amount of resentment towards the family member. An angry letter won't encourage the relative to respond. Initially keep your emotions to yourself and just be as approachable as you want.

4. KEEP IT SHORT

A page or two will suffice. Anymore and there's a risk the letter will be too overwhelming to your relative. Be succinct and to the point.

5. REFLECT OVERNIGHT

After you have finished writing a letter, leave it aside instead of sending it off immediately. Leave the letter aside for one night to reflect on what you have written.

6. ASK A FRIEND TO READ

Get a friend or family - someone you trust and who's been supportive throughout your search -to read the letter. Ask them questions; how would they feel if they received a letter like this?

There's no escaping the fact that the process of writing such a letter is going to be one of the biggest challenges. The best thing is to take your time over it. This is not something that can be rushed. In this circumstance the letter is not just an art form of communication but a key to opening a door into another person's life. Good luck, and may that first letter be one of many to follow.