23 August 2010 ~ 6 Comments

Trace My Family Tree – How to Interview a Relative

So what do you need to keep in mind when interviewing a relative? Let’s go through a quick checklist that I used when I started to trace my family tree. Obviously this is  just a recommendation and interviews show flow and not stick to a specific format. Every person is different and you should try to read your subject and see what they are more comfortable talking about.

1. Don’t surprise your relatives. Plan the interview in advance.
2. It’s always a good idea to prepare a list of questions and let your relative know what you’re going to ask ahead of time.
3. I don’t like to take notes because I always miss something and it slows down the interview. Get a small digital voice recorder and make sure it is charged and ready to go. Don’t let technology mess you up!
4. Don’t forget to make note of the time and place where the interview took place.
5. Start with an easy question, but try to stay away from yes/no questions. Strive for details.
6. Be a good listener and try to stay engaged in the conversation without taking over the interview.
7. Use family photos to jog the memory.
8. Don’t force an issue. Sometimes you might hit a nerve and that can cause someone to shut down. Move on.
9. Be creative and let the conversation flow. Don’t stick to your prepared questions if the interview heads down a different path.
10. Don’t correct your relative’s answers and always thank them for sharing their stories with you.

See that wasn’t too hard. The interview can be a great way to gather a lot of information. Just be natural and prepare in advance and you should be fine. Don’t drag the interview on for hours. If you need to come back several times – do it. Sometimes your relatives will want to see what you are going to write after the interview so assure them that you will not publish or share anything before they approve it.

OK, what are you waiting for? Get to it!

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19 August 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Trace My Family Tree – Up Next: Interviews

Probably the most important step is interviewing your relatives. Start with your parents and then move on from there. If you still have grandparents or even great-grandparents don’t waste time! It’s not pleasant to think about these sorts of things but while your oldest relatives are going to be the ones who can link you further to the past, they are also the ones who are the most likely to forget. My own grandmother has given me three different variations to the mother’s surname when I started to trace my family tree.

You can do these interviews while your in the collection phase. Don’t wait until you have everything to get started. It’s always a great idea to interview your relatives while gathering documents and photos because you will likely be able to relate better to their stories. You should try to collect stories and not just random facts and try to ask open-ended questions. Here are a few questions to ask during your interview:

How did you meet your spouse? How did your parents meet?

What do you remember from your childhood?

What do you know about the origins of your surname?

Do you know any family stories that have been passed down?

Are there any heirlooms that have special stories associated with them?

What are you most proud of and would like people to remember about you?

Here’s a great list of 50 questions to ask during an interview. And don’t worry too much about being nervous. These are your family members! You’ve probably known them all your life and they will be happy to share their stories. People love talking about themselves!

In the next post we’ll go through some steps for the actual  interview.

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18 August 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Trace My Family Tree – First Step: Collect

So you’ve decided to figure out who everyone is in your family tree. “How do I trace my family tree?” you may ask yourself. “What is the first step?”

Well, start out by collecting anything and everything you have about the family. Here’s a quick list:

Documents
Photos & Postcards
Papers
Family Bibles
Other Family Heirlooms

Everything you gather may hold valuable clues to the identity and lives of your ancestors. Get into that basement or attic and look for old boxes that may have been left there when a relatives passed away. Check the closets and filing cabinets. You might have a lot of stuff or very little, but don’t be discouraged. You can get started with just your memory!

Don’t worry too much about identifying or sorting through everything right away. Just make sure you know where everything came from because you’re going to want to keep that in mind when you cite your sources later on.

Since these are supposed to be quick tips, that’s it for right now. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the next step!

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