When the lost don’t want to be found

Torn Memories by Berkozturk

Torn Memories by Berkozturk

Family Detective has been involved in some wonderful, heart-warming stories of family reunions over the years. A few of them would even bring a tear to Cilla or Davina’s eye! Have a read of these:

But what happens when lost family or friends don’t want to be found? Just because we have the ability to track people down, does it mean that we should?

I faced an interesting dilemma just this week. We had offered to act as a go-between for a client who was looking to contact an old flame from 40 years ago. We followed the protocol we’d learned from Social Services many years ago, and sent out carefully worded letters to the likely candidates. The letters were designed to be easily dismissible, should the recipient not want to be found.

Very often we never receive a reply at all, but in this case the client’s ex-girlfriend phoned us up almost immediately. She and I had a brief chat and she asked what he had wanted. I said that I hadn’t been told the precise nature of his enquiry, as it was obviously a personal matter, but if she was agreeable I could forward her contact details on to him and they could take the conversation on from there.

She said no. And that’s absolutely ok.

What I gently tried to explain to my client, who wasn’t very happy, is that just because we have the ability to trace someone, doesn’t mean they want to be found. In the 40 years since their relationship, there had been marriages and children – and he had no right to intrude on that new life, however much he wanted to make contact.

My solution to the dilemma was to offer to pass on an unopened letter to the lady in question, so that my client could explain himself directly to her, without me breaking a confidence. As it was, I got it in the neck from both sides for this! But it was the fairest and most ethical way I could think of to resolve the situation.

If you are debating whether to get in touch with long lost family members or friends, here are some things to ask yourself first:

Why do I want to make contact?

Are you just curious or do you want to embark on a permanent relationship with this person? Once the step has been taken, there’s little chance of going back. At what point will you be satisfied?

What’s the safest and most considerate way of making contact?

Arriving on the doorstep with a bunch of flowers could end in disaster. Reunions do not always have happy endings. Read this: Don’t rush to contact your living relatives

What will I do if they don’t want to be found?

Be realistic about the consequences of getting in touch. If you get the feeling that you are intruding, or if they say ‘no’, be prepared to retire gracefully. Sometimes the harder you push people, the more defensive they become. Perhaps with a little time and some space, they will come round.

Discussion: Do you have any advice or experience about getting in touch with long lost family or friends? Please share it in the comments below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.