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25 Mar 2017

Persuasion in Family History

Probably my shining achievement in family history is when my Dad told me exactly how auntie E. answered the door in Salford in the 1950s.

Put into perspective, there were a tonne of family secrets which slipped out eventually, but this one was actually volunteered!

I also, at the age of 10, gave the floor to my elderly grandfather, hovering uncertainly on his stick in the centre of the room. He was given the opportunity to divulge his grandmother's name, and exactly how and why his uncle Philip ranaway to sea in the 1890s. Unfortunately, this gentleman failed to oblige and he never visited us ever again.

A few years ago I was pulled from my job as PA and put on stakeholder management duties. The reason? I was just too persuasive. The project manager's diary was being filled from early in the morning to late in the afternoon - only right and proper as they were on £xxx per day of taxpayers' money. To make matters worse, those at the venue assumed they would be meeting me, not my erstwhile boss. "I pulled people in", I learnt.

Not my grandfather, apparently.

We hear so much about how suspicious the British people are, with many poised at the net curtains, enjoying nimbyism, telling people not to park cycle or play ball and withholding internships to everyone except their tennis partner's son.

Oh no, friends, the British people are not suspicious, they are inordinately trusting. How else did they sleepwalk their way into zero-hours contracts, politician's charms and (for some) the cutesy notion that the govinmant has money to pay for everyone to be on benefits? Aaaah!

In truth we tend to trust people whose faces or identities we understand.

In the last ten years I have not snuck a single letter past an American, but the Brits love a letter. It's my most powerful tool, a warm sheet of introduction that just slips its way into a centrally heated home, and is safe enough to place with the breakfast papers while being slowly and pleasantly digested.

I was an awful letter writer, boring people with facts and questions. Exactly what they wanted to hear! A chance to talk. In 2005 or so everyone was still in love with their BlackBerry, and hated getting 'snailmail'. But with online shopping back, paper bills, statements and junk mail all easing off (reduced carbon initiatives and consumer watchdogs helping here) - your letter is now really welcome again just as in the days of Postman Pat.

"Knock. Ring. Letters through your door!"

I've sent out hundreds of these warm pieces of propaganda and they're a great way to learn more about your own puzzling family, if you're brave enough.

For the less pushy, you can still use persuasion to meet your archival needs. (For a bonus point, where is archiving on Maslow's hierarchy of needs? It's there, believe me.)

Setting up a web presence or tree on Ancestry, and subtly seizing the vacant position of family expert helps you claim more territory. When aunt Grenda dies, her children will ensure those nasty old photos (covered in dust) come naturally to you, rather than setting off everyone's asthma and clogging up the family's Feng shui.

I get a lot of eyeballs on my site and it's informative to get a handle on their research interests. Last month I pounced on Timmy in Canada who had submitted a query about my grandpa's third cousin Denis.  And soon I was enjoying a nice chat online with Denis's son across the water. (Yes the Canadians are much more open to persuasion.)

But not exclusively so. This week I was so delighted to finally make contact with the granddaughters of Auntie Bea, both in southern USA. It's the right time for everybody. I knew I had to share the stunning Twenties photograph of their mothers (sisters) bathing in the sea, and of course they responded well. So privileged to be in touch. I first saw that photo 20 years ago and knew I would one day share it.

I pulled a really fast move on my Irish cop cousins. I needed to meet them and laid a trail of cookies to get their undivided attention. Sure enough, screeching around the corner of my home-from-home, Boston youth hostel, was cousin Gerry in his police wagon. Out I stepped ready to glad-hand him as we greeted reach other warmly.

Behind the smiles and superb choreography lay a string of careful plans. The meat of the encounter, the bait, was the letter Gerry's grandfather wrote from wartime Ireland, six to ten pages, which they got to keep. I bet that was all he ever wrote in his life, at least in English. Assisting with the meet-up was tough substitute teacher Kimberly, Gerry's niece. She got him to check his phone, accept the message request, and bring a smile.

With more front than Selfridges, I treated myself to an afternoon at the Boston Athletics Club for a complimentary tour, stating that I was in fact, a resident, if just for one day. #Persuasion

See: faith in family history, luck in family history, determination in family history, inspiration in family history

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