Cat Whiteaway's tips for tracing missing relatives
Keith Matthews from Workington had lost touch with his nieces in Wales after the death of his brother Terry in 2001. While moving house they had lost various important details, including the addresses of his brother's daughters.
Keith was able to tell me his brother's age and the name of his sister in law. I quickly checked the marriage indexes and found the entry, which meant I could also check the spelling of her name and maiden name. Then using the birth indexes I was able to confirm the full names of their daughters.
Luckily, each of the girls was also given a middle name and having this additional initial made it easier to determine which Matthews was the right one when checking the marriage indexes.
After that it was simply a matter of examining the current electoral registers and sending them a letter to ask if they wanted to be put in touch with their uncle and if they knew that he had moved house and was looking for to be reunited.
Within a few days three of the nieces had been in touch and were amazed to learn that Keith was looking for them, since as far as they knew they weren't lost! All that was left was to reunite them.
The producer asked Keith if he would ring the studio while I was live on air to explain what he wanted and why it was important to him to find his nieces.
Unbeknown to Keith, the producer had also set up one of his nieces to be on another line and so we were able to reunite him with his long lost family.
It still brings a lump to my throat now. Afterwards listeners were tweeting to ask us to stop making them cry in the car!
If you are looking for someone here are some tips on what to do next:
Make sure this is spelt correctly if possible, or write down all the different ways of spelling the various name combinations.
When searching on databases most will accept a wildcard or * in place of an unknown letter... so if you don't know whether Stephen could also be spelt Steven then try simply entering Ste*en. If the person you are looking for has a really unusual first name or surname then try just using that and leave the other details blank.
What year were they born? Do you know their birthday? Are they older or younger than you or the same age as your siblings? If you know their date of birth you can search the death indexes on ancestry.co.uk without entering a surname. Then you could order the death certificate from gro.gov.uk to see who registered the death and write to them.
What was their last known address? What year was this?
As long as it wasn't during World War Two there will be old electoral registers you can access at the local archives or library, or you can ask a researcher to do this for you. This will give you the names of all the people of voting age living at that address. To find out where the archives and county record offices are located visit genuki.co.uk.
If you have a last known address then why not visit or write, enclosing an SAE and a plea for the current occupier to forward it or pass it to the person who has lived in their street the longest or even to the estate agent.
For searches of current electoral registers or for those times when you don't know where they live then try using 192.com.
Can you recall more personal details about their family? What about their siblings, parents and even cousins; all of whom might know where the missing person is. Tracing males is often easier since the surname does not change.
Locating the deaths of parents or grandparents can also help and often details can be found on online obituaries such as iannounce.co.uk. Often a distant member of the family will have posted a family tree on a site such as Genes Reunited. You will need names to be spelt correctly and ages known and the best place to do this is on ancestry.co.uk (which is free if you pop into your local library) or via freebmd.org.uk.
If your request involves adoption then please make sure you have received the necessary counselling from social services or similar and then seek professional advice from a relevant specialised organisation like norcap.org.uk, afteradoption.org.uk or perhaps salvationarmy.org.uk.
If you think they have moved abroad then you can try international phone directories via infobel.com or try emailing a local library asking for details of local newspapers or radio stations and then contact them with a brief plea. Make sure to send a photo if you have one but only give your email address and mobile number.
Keep trying. New databases keep being added and details being updated almost daily on the internet. Make certain that it is easy for them to find you too.
Please remember if you post a message on the internet or join an organisation then make sure they have your current email address so messages will get passed onto you. Keep entering their name into Google etc and don't give up.