Family, friends and neighbors are living treasures when we begin to write our family story. As you look for ways to add more interest, humanize your ancestors beyond the dates and places, look to these living treasures to help. You will not find someone who can share personal stories about your fourth-great grandfather, but there should be people with stories to share about your parents, grandparents and their siblings.
I pestered my out-of-state aunts and uncles for stories about my grandparents. They were older than my parents and each provided a different perspective. With each shared memory, I learned more about my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. One such story was about the time that my aunt was all dressed and ready to go on a date. And she waited and waited with no date arriving. The would-be suitor finally showed up, driving into the yard and honked the horn—expecting my aunt to rush out—even though he was an hour late. Instead my grandfather came out of the house and sent him on his way with a few choice words. That little scene told me a couple of things about Grandpa: He loved his girls and expected them to be treated with respect. And he taught my aunt and her sisters a great lesson about the importance of respecting yourself. I never knew my grandfather, but I like the character of the man in this story.
There are many tips and tricks to have successful interviews but some of the best information I find comes from having a conversation rather than an interview. It doesn’t mean that you can’t asked questions, but I think listening is much more important. You learn things that you didn’t even know to ask about.
Remember to write down the information they provide—I often did it after the fact because I wanted to stay in the moment. If your interviewee is comfortable you could choose to record a session. Some people are uncomfortable with recording and you might not get them to speak freely. However, the benefit is you’ve captured their voice and can go back again and again to hear their words.
You may find that certain things trigger great discussions and shared stories. I’ve found that looking at old photos or family keepsakes helps get the conversation and memories flowing. Another trigger is “driving around”. We often would take my out-of-state aunts driving around to see where they used to work or visit or lived. This would make for great conversations as they recalled the past.
Lastly, if you’ve lost someone dear in your life, you know that one of most treasured things is when someone tells you a story about them. It’s truly a gift when someone shares these memories. Be sure to write them down.
— The Doctor, Season 5, Episode 13
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.