Are you interested in how to find relatives in another country? Many people who have begun the process of researching their family tree realize that they might have not-so-distant blood relatives living in another country.
Does this seem far-fetched to you? It really isn’t. In this post, I’ll explain a little bit about the relationship distance of the cousins that you might be able to find, and how to go about finding them.
Initially, I became interested in this topic because, probably just like you, I learned that I had fairly recent ancestors born regions outside of the US. In my own family, five of my great-great grandparents (out of 16 total) were born in Germany, Poland, Slovakia, or Holland.
If I go one generation back further, 20 out of 32 of my great-great-great grandparents were born in another country.
As I made contact with other descendants of my immigrant ancestors here in the United States, through my research, I realized that I probably had other relatives – similarly related to me – in the “home countries” that my ancestors had left behind.
I have successfully communicated with blood relatives in the Netherlands, Slovakia, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Serbia using the exact methods that I will describe here. It has been an amazing experience – more wonderful than I could have previously imagined.
Why would you want to find relatives overseas?
I’m sure that most people who are reading this post already know that they want to find family members overseas, but for those of you who aren’t sure why you would want to, or need a little more convincing, I’ve included here a few reasons why you should consider it:
- They are family to you. Depending on how recently your ancestors immigrated to the United States, you might have first or second cousins living back in the home country.
- These individuals might be able to provide you with information, photographs, and documents pertaining to your ancestors.
- Who doesn’t love having more family and people to love in their life? You might be able to form lifetime relationships with these newly discovered relatives
- Many people are interested in eventually visiting the countries from where their ancestors came. Wouldn’t it be great to go “home” and have cousins excitedly waiting to meet you?
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that you should continue reading to learn about how to find these mystery members of your geographically extended family.
Strategies for Locating Relatives in Other Countries
The rest of this post is dedicated to the various techniques that you can use to figure out where you relatives are, and creative ways to find them. Happy searching!
Build your family tree
This may seem very basic, but if you haven’t done it yet, it’s where you should start. You should start building your family tree, beginning with your parents, then your grandparents, and then your great-grandparents – if you know them.
You might have a general idea about where your immigrant ancestors came from, but in order to find your living relatives who still reside there, you will have to know exactly where to look.
There are many ways to find records and documents that will point you in the right direction, but before you spend much time on that, you should talk to your older relatives. Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and older aunts, uncles, and cousins just might have the information that you are looking for, and this will save you a lot of time.
If you are wondering where you should build your family tree, I always recommend Ancestry.com to my readers. It’s completely free to build your tree.
Once you start your tree, no matter where you choose to build it, you will quickly see where you should focus your attention. Immigration records, ship manifests, passenger information, and other types of records should give you a good clue as to which country your ancestors came from.
One thing that you should keep in mind – something that confuses a lot of people who are new at genealogy: remember that political borders in Europe and other places around the world have shifted. Some places used to belong to one country, but now they are part of a different country, and because of this, names of cities and provinces have changed.
It’s just something to keep an eye out for, and you might find yourself studying history of a particular area more than once.
Do a Google search using your ancestor’s surname and the word “genealogy” in your ancestor’s native language
For example, my maiden name was Brons, and my great-great-great grandfather’s name was Eppo Brons. I had researched to know his year and place of birth. I typed in “Eppo Brons genealogie” into Google, and within just a few seconds, I was able to spot my ancestor on a family tree website (in the Netherlands).
Of course, everything was in Dutch, but I was able to figure out how to navigate around.
I didn’t know who the person was who did the family tree, but I figured that he should be related to me somehow, since he had my ancestor, and even my grandfather (wow!) listed in his tree. It felt like a shot in the dark, but I sent him a message through his contact form on the website.
He responded in less than a day, in English, and it still warms my heart to remember what he wrote:
My cousin went on to explain our relationship. His grandfather was the youngest brother of my great-great-grandfather, who had decided to come to the United States. His little brother – who happened to be much, much, younger, was the only one who stayed behind in the Netherlands.
As it turns out, his grandfather had always talked to him about his older siblings. He even had saved letters from my great-great aunt, who corresponded with her baby brother until she died.
The amazing thing is that I have the letters that his grandfather wrote to the United States! We could match our letters together 🙂
While I can’t guarantee what your contact with overseas family members will bring, I am sure that you might have a story or two like the one above to tell if you dedicate yourself to finding them.
See if anyone else on your family tree building website, who also has your ancestor in their tree, is located in the home country
Some family tree building websites allow you to search through the family trees of other members who would like to allow others to view them. I like and use Ancestry, and it is great for this purpose.
You can do a search for your particular ancestor, and then filter the search to only show you public member trees that also include that ancestor. You can then access those trees to see the person who is building the tree is in the home country.
And then, of course, you can contact them, see what they are about, and figure out your relationship.
Do a DNA test to find family in other countries
This is my favorite way to find relatives in other countries, and it is how I have located cousins in Poland, Slovakia, England, and Australia. The best way to find relatives using your DNA is to follow these three steps:
- Do a DNA test with Ancestry DNA
- Transfer your results to Family Tree DNA (for free)
- Transfer your results to Gedmatch
This is the best way to get the most for the investment in your DNA kit, since you only have to pay for one test. Doing a DNA test for genealogy can help you find relatives in the US, too, which can help you – especially if you are struggling trying to figure out exactly where your immigrant ancestors came from.
If you follow my advice and transfer your results to Family Tree DNA for free, you may even find living DNA matches that have tested and are looking for matches, too! Family Tree DNA has an excellent international database for DNA tests.
Using this exact technique is how I found second cousins on my mother’s Slovak side of the family. Some members of my mother’s Slovak family stayed back in Slovakia, and their descendants ended up migrating to Serbia, which is where they live now.
I’m brushing up on my Serbian, Slovak, and Macedonian (I’m joking, since I don’t speak any of those languages) because I’ve received an invitation to visit. How neat is that?
If you are interested in doing a DNA test, you can get your Ancestry DNA kit with this link (I do earn a small commission at no extra cost to you): Discovery the story AncestryDNA® can tell . I am really excited to hear about what you learn and who you are able to find using your DNA.
Email people with your ancestor’s surname to find family
Please note: I am not recommending that you “spam” anyone, nor act like a wacky stranger. To the contrary – I want you to take all measures to ensure that the people who you contact might actually be related.
It also needs to be plausible from the perspective of your potential family member. If you explain that you had a “Babcek” grandfather from “Super Small Polish town”, then they might understand why you would try to contact them.
If you’ve tried all of the things about, and you’ve had no luck, I have a really crazy strategy for you to try. In order for this to have even a remote possibility of working, you need to know your ancestor’s exact surname, and the exact town where they were from when their left their home country.
Once you have this information, then you can move on to the next step.
Take a peek at the following types of places in order to find e-mail contact information for people with your ancestor’s surname who also live in their home town. If the town is small, you have a good shot at making contact with a relative:
- Find a list of the town’s government, administrative, and law enforcement offices. You will often find names and e-mail addresses on these types of websites.
- Do a google search with “surname” and “town name”. You never know what you’ll find. You might also include “email” or “contact” in the target language, too.
- Social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook will sometimes let you search for people by town and name.
When you find someone that you think you would like to contact, craft a nice email. Explain who you are, where you live, and that you are looking for relatives with your surname to see if you can find some close cousins. Give them a few details about your ancestor, if you can.
Details like the names of his/her parents, brothers and sisters will be helpful. While not everyone is interested in genealogy, or even knows much about their family, most people know who “that person” is in the family who does know.
If you are lucky, and they are nice, they might forward your request on to someone who really might be able to help you.
I know several people who have employed a strategy like this and have had successful results. If I had not tested my DNA, it’s likely that I would have done this, too.
I’ve had such luck with the first things that I mentioned here that I haven’t really had to do this – yet! But I know that if I do do it, it will work if I am creative and smart about who I decide to contact.
I hope that this post has given you some ideas about how to find relatives in other countries. No doubt, there are more ideas, and if you have a good one, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Monday 11th of January 2021
In Ancestry, when viewing your DNA matches, switch from list view to map view which will reveal where in the world you’re matches are located!
Monday 11th of January 2021
Hi Steve, This is a great suggestion - thank you for the reminder!! Mercedes