Tips for writing to institutions
Institutions such as county courthouses, libraries, and government agencies have all kinds of records and information that should be helpful in your genealogical research. They are usually quite happy to help you; however, remember that the people in these offices are probably very busy. It's best to keep your letter concise and business-like.
1. Keep the letter short. There's no need to include a lengthy explanation of why you are doing your research. You're more likely to get a reply to a short, clearly written letter. This is especially true when sending away for vital records. The clerks working in such offices probably receive several requests each day and don't have time to read a long letter.
2. Make your request specific. The easier it is to understand your request, the more likely you are to get a response. Be sure to clearly state the following:
- The kind of record or information you want.
- The full name of the person whose records you are searching for. If you are looking for records of a marriage or divorce, include both names, if possible.
- The date of the event (birth, death, etc.). If you don't have the exact date, give an approximate date.
- Some types of information can only be provided to immediate relatives. If this is the case with the information that you are requesting, be sure to state your relationship to the person whose information you are requesting.
3. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with your letter. Otherwise, you may not get a response.
4. Enclose a small payment for any copying costs. Unless there's a specific fee, a check for a few dollars should cover any expenses required to answer your request. You should also offer to pay any additional fees that may apply.
5. Remember to say thank you. There is no need to apologize for making your request, but a simple thank you acknowledges that you appreciate the effort someone is making for you.
6. Be sure to read your letter before you send it off. Make sure that your letter is easy to understand. If you have trouble reading it, the person who receives it will have even more difficulty. Also, ensure that the names and dates that you have included are accurate.
7. Finally, don't forget to keep a copy of the letter for your records. For information about keeping track of your correspondence, see Tracking your correspondence.