Talk to your family---NOW!
Posted on Feb 21, 2012
Talk to your family---NOW! Genealogy is not just names and dates; it is about people, who they were, and the stories of their lives. What is keeping you from taking to your family? Get over it. Don't wait until after a relative passes on to find information. Someone in the family has excellent information on the line and you have to find them. Rest assured that your family will provide answers to questions you have and insights that will be invaluable to writing your history and searching your roots.
Interviews provide opportunities to locate family records. Interviews also provide opportunities to locate, identify, catalog, and preserve items that are important to the family and why they are important. Items can include heirlooms (e.g., furniture, small collectibles, and photographs), manuscript materials (e.g., diaries, letters, and family bibles), and copies of public records (e.g., certificates of birth, marriage, death, land, patents, and wills.)
Use open ended questions in interviews. By asking the right, open-ended questions, you're sure to obtain extensive family information. Take time to personalize the questions to the person you are interviewing. When you are ready to conduct an interview, have the questions in front of you to make sure you are getting the information you desire. Conversations about family can go many directions.
Ask the same question to several individuals. Asking the same question to multiple individuals helps to develop a more complete picture of a given situation, process, or memory. For example: Interview the children of any set of parents and see the variation of answers you receive. Some will have more detail than others. Together they give a more complete description of the evolution of the parents as individuals, parents, and a couple. One or more of the details you receive will more likely lead you to another question, clue, and answer.
Record and write down the information you are told. Take the time to record and write down what you are told soon after you have the interview so not to miss any details.
Check out dates and stories. Family histories are not always accurate, especially when it comes to dates. Information by family will lead to clues of where to look for information you can use to confirm dates. Everyone gets confused or misunderstands things at one time or the other, then relates them to other events incorrectly.
There are two sides to every story. There are always two sides to every story. Never accept as fact all the stories that family members tell you--often the stories have taken on a life of their own. There is probably a grain of truth somewhere in the story. You just have to find the grain of truth. As one genealogist wrote, “For over 70 years, a family rift existed due to a story that was retold over and over about one brother who stole property from another brother. When researching newspapers from that time period, it was found that one brother lost the family land due to not paying taxes. The other brother paid the taxes and rescued the land for the family but did not include the brother as part of the family leadership.”
And yes, some family may become terribly upset when you suggest that perhaps the family story is not totally accurate.
Do not edit family stories. Just because you don’t agree, are embarrassed, or offended with a particular story you are told, don’t edit so it will be told in a more favorable way. The details you eliminate are most likely key to others understanding one family member’s perspective.
One genealogist wrote: “Don't judge one's ancestors but simply document what you locate. In my family, there are those who killed others, those who had affairs, those who married several times and had affairs on the side, one who was a Madam in a house of prostitution, children born outside of marriage, etc., you name it, and my ancestors were guilty of it. Sometimes people find one bad thing and simply give up. We are all products of those who went before with all their hardships, etc. All we can do is try to locate them, find out about their lives and document where they were buried. We can simply remember that they were here at some point in the past and we are only here because once upon a time they lived.”
Some family secrets/gossips should remain family secrets. When you interview family, you may be told information that should remain secret, but you have been told to help understand one person’s perspective. These secrets or gossip should remain that way and not be included in the tree that is shared. Pain is caused to others by repeating some things.
Respect the living. Family members can be offended by your biography of them, siblings or relatives even when the information is fact. Make sure you have written permission to write about living family members. Be courteous and include family in reviewing content. Those whom may be offended will no longer cooperate with your efforts to capture your family’s contemporary history.
Go to family reunions. Go to family reunions and interview and talk with as many people as you can. Each person knows something about the family that others don't.
Ask others to help gather information. Ask other people to help you gather information and stories from other family members. Many families are so large, it may be hard to take time to talk to them all. Travel and money are factors as well.