After you have decided where you are going to put your information, you start collecting the material you are going to put into your files. The basics of genealogy are who, where, and when for births, marriages, and as you go back in time, deaths. But that’s only the skeleton of your family. You can include other information as well, such as family stories. You begin by writing down what you know about yourself and then your siblings. Next you go back to your parents and their siblings, then to your grandparents, as far back as you can remember. If you remember it, write it down. There are three forms that might help you figure out what you know and what you don’t. These are provided with links so you can print out what your need. There are forms for individuals. for family groups, and for direct line ancestors. Take a look. You should find them useful.
Have you discovered that you have a number of gaps? Dates and places you don’t know? Names that you can’t remember? Your next step is to collect information from your relatives. Ask questions of your parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and their siblings if they are still alive. If you are older, you can talk to cousins, nieces, and nephews. Some may be younger, but they may still have family stories you never heard or photographs you have never seen. Be prepared for all sorts of responses. You may encounter relatives who think you are wasting your time. Others will be curious, though maybe a little skeptical. And you may discover that there are others in your family with a genuine curiosity about their family history. Some may have collected family stories and/or family photographs. You may even find someone who is working on putting together a family tree or has in the past.
It is a good idea to take notes either during or as soon after talking to a relative as possible. Always include your name, the name of the person you talked to, how you are related, the date and the place you talked. Someday someone may pick up your research and they will need this information. And twenty or thirty years down the line, your memory may need a gentle nudge as well.
Sometimes you may want to actually sit down and interview a relative. You can take notes, but see if they are willing to be taped. In future years it will be a gift to hear their voice. Be prepared for “but I don’t have anything interesting to say. I don’t remember all that much. I haven’t done anything very interesting.” Trust me. In 99% of the cases they do, they will, and they have. But what do you ask them? How do you draw them out? This does not come naturally to most people. You might want to take a look at some of the books or websites I’ve listed below. You can usually find them at your local library or through your library’s Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service. Even if you want to buy it, it’s a good idea to take a look at a book first. Some books will work for you and others won’t. You may not save money. But you’ll have a better working library.
Hart, Cynthia. The Oral History Workshop: Collect and Celebrate the Life Stories of Your Family and Friends. New York: Workman, 2009. 907.2 H25O This work covers all the bases. It helps you prepare for an oral interview, and makes suggestions about the things you do once the interview is over, including transcribing and editing it. The center, Chapter 3, is comprised of all sorts of questions you could ask. (It helps to have those prepared in advance, in case you need all of them. A good interview is knowing when to just let your interviewee tell stories and when you need to guide the interview with questions.
Greene, Bob. To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come. New York: Doubleday, 1993. 929.1 G83T Need more questions? That is what this book is — a list of questions sorted by category.
Ralph, LeAnn R. Preserve Your Family History: A Step-by-Step Guide for Interviewing Family Members and Writing Oral Histories. Colfax, WI: LeAnn Ralph, 2007. 929.1 R13P
Catching Stories: A Practical Guide to Oral History. by Donna M. DeBlasio et al. Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 2009. 907.2 C28D
Creating Oral Histories from FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Creating_Oral_Histories
Family History Sample Outline and Questions from UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research http://oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/familyHistory.html
Oral History Association http://www.oralhistory.org Make sure you check out the section list at the top under the logo, especially the drop down menu under Resources.
Oral Interviews from The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/folklife/familyfolklife/oralhistory.html
Oral History Primer from the University Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz http://library.ucsc.edu/reg-hist/oral-history-primer
vea/4 April 2014
Newton Free Library
Library website: http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog: https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide: http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy