When writing family history, it is essential to talk to older family members to get their input. How do you do that?
Aunt Mary is of sound mind, but 90 years young. She has a lot to tell you about your family history. She cannot hear nor see so well, so how do you interview her effectively?
First of all, make an appointment to see Aunt Mary. Take her a little something, flowers, candy, fruit, etc. When you sit down, tell her who you are. Even though she knows you, she might not be able to see you well enough to recognize you.
Start an ordinary conversation, how are you? How have you been? Do not lead into your questions until she feels comfortable with you.
Don’t ever say – tell me about your life. That is too broad a question. Start with little questions. The best bet here is to write down your questions on a pad of paper. Leave room for her answers. If you have difficulty writing, purchase a small tape recorder. With this device you avoid writing things down word for word. Remember to bring extra batteries and tapes.
If Aunt Mary has family pictures, she might not want to give away her originals. Take a digital camera with you and take pictures of the pictures. You will not have to remove the pictures from her home.
Some Questions to Ask Are:
What year were you born, Aunt Mary? How many siblings did you have? What do you remember best about your childhood? What do you particularly remember growing up?
The rest of the questions will come easily from your conversation, which you started. Jot down on paper some of the facts, or turn the recorder on. You might play back some of the tape, as most elderly are fascinated by the sound of their voice on tape. I hear, Do I really sound like that?
Ask who you should talk to next in the family. This will lead you to the next person who has a wealth of family history. Share what you have found through research with Aunt Mary, also. Maybe you uncovered some wrong information, and she can correct that for you. All geneology facts are not correct as found in research. It is always nice to have someone verify them for you.
Don’t make the interview too long, as it is tiring for the elderly to reflect and talk for a long time. If you need to, re-schedule another appointment to finish up the research.
I find that people are the greatest source of genealogical information, along with the internet, and books.
That interview might be the most rewarding in your research. Make it a good one.