The Plan Was…….

Gpa and Gma Hughes older fixedWhen we first start researching our Family History we usually begin with our parents or Grandparents and slowly work our way back as far as we can go. We spend a tremendous amount of time going over documents, gleaning any information we can from them. We add photos of our relatives, pictures of their headstone, and anything else we find interesting to our trees.

Then at some point, we realize that these people are not just names, birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates. They lived unique lives, had relationships and occupations, owned property, and in some cases did amazing deeds. So we begin to put together the story of their lives taken from all the information we have gathered.

All this is exciting and fulfilling to any Genealogist. We have brought confused-smileyour deceased loved ones back to life. Then we ask the question, “What about those who are still living? Shouldn’t we be recording their stories for the next generations?” Of course, we should. So most of the time we concentrate on our oldest living relative, trying to tell a well-rounded, well-documented story of their life. We feel the urgency to do this because we are not sure how long they will be with us.

Somewhere along the line, we recognize that we should begin writing our own story and that of our spouse as well so that there will be an accurate account of our lives. This way we can choose what we feel is the most important facts and events from our past and include them. We get excited that we are able to add photos and even videos to our legacy. The problem is, writing or recording our own stories usually takes a back seat to our Genealogy quest. We figure there is always time to do it, later.

listI have been actively researching my Ancestry for over 25 years. I have seriously thought of writing mine and my husband’s life stories off and on through all those years. I even began my own story about 15 years ago, but I put it away knowing I would finish it one day. I never started writing anything about my husband’s life because I figured I could always work on it after I research just a few more Ancestors. Besides, we have been married almost 34 years, and he has told me stories of growing up in a small, rural Arizona town so many times I felt I wouldn’t need to ask too many questions to adequately write his history.

Then it happened… a little over 1 ago he began to have problems remembering his childhood. The memory loss quickly spread to what he did a few years ago and then to what he did yesterday. We spent the last year having tests done to try to determine what was going on. About 6 months ago we received the devastating news that he had Vascular Dementia. He had suffered several mini-strokes, and we were told that eventually, he would not even remember my name. The worst part is, he will turn 58 years old in December! I thought I’d have more time to ask him for more details about his life, but now I can’t. I have been trying to remember all the stories he told me, I have asked his family to help fill in some blanks for me, but with 8 kids in the family, they don’t remember who did what. Only he knows the complete story of his life and now it is all buried somewhere in his mind that he can no longer reach.

The moral of all this is: You never know from day to day what may Moral of the storyhappen, so don’t assume that you have plenty of time to write your personal story or that of those whom you are blessed enough to still have with you. Don’t put it off so long that one day you too will say “I thought I would have more time!”

 

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

The Importance of Family Interviews

We moved to our new house a little over 3 months ago. I have been slow to get some things unpacked so I thankfulmade the decision a month ago that I would get my stored Genealogy research out of the shed and put it away. Of course, you know how that went. Once I got it all in the house I HAD to take a look at it and I spent hours browsing. Lo and behold, I found something a cousin gave me almost 10 years ago when I visited her on a trip to Missouri.

Rosie and baby
Rosie Hayes

One of our cousins, John Duane Willard had the foresight to interview the last living child of my Great Grandparents Hamilton Hayes and Elvira Register, Rosa “Rosie” Lucille Hayes (1901-1988). The interview took place shortly before her death so she was about 87 years old. She gave information on the family and told some great stories. Because of her age, some of the facts were off a bit but it inspired me to take a closer look.

                                                                                                                         

Elisia Jane White Register pic
Eliza White

Since she provided information on both my Hayes and Register lines I have had fun with the research. Reading through the two paged typed transcript I noticed a few things I didn’t see the first time I read it. One discovery was that Elvira’s mother Eliza Jane White had lived to be 99 years and 9 months old! It also listed her two siblings which I never knew of. Eliza has been one of my brick walls, so because of this interview, I now have vital information to work with. I have found her Grandparents information and I am working on finding more. I was also able to add two more generations to the Hayes side.

Matthew Arvin Register pic THIS ONE
Mathew Register

The stories are insightful as well. From what she said Mathew Register, Elvira’s father was quite a character. He transported horses, cattle, and supplies from St. Joseph Missouri to the Cherokee Strip in eastern Kansas. After years of doing this, he established a career as a vocal music teacher. He was supposed to have had an exceptional singing voice. He grew tobacco and Hemp on his farm. As an old man, he owned an apple orchard near Hodge Missouri. He raised Golden Seal apples and ginseng root. Rosie helped him wash the root so they could be sold to the public.

All this (and the other information given) would have been lost to ours and future generations if John hadn’t taken the time to sit with Rosie and write down her stories. I believe so much of our history is gone forever because we didn’t listen to the stories or information told to us as we grew up or that we have neglected to ask someone what they remember about the family while there was still time. I interviewed my in law’s a few years ago while working on my husbands’ Genealogy. I taped it so I could hear it, again and again, to make sure I got it right. Almost 3years ago my father-in-law was killed in an auto accident and I am thankful that I have his stories recorded for future generations.

I have decided that I am going to be more diligent with my seeking out the older generation that is left in my family to see what they may have been told or what they remember about our Ancestors. As we all know, tomorrow is not guaranteed so we need to do it while there is still time.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

9 Hints for Better Genealogy Interviewing

clip-art-interviewing-Hopefully at some time during the research of our family history we will have the opportunity to talk with an older generation relative. The thought of “interviewing” someone can be a little intimidating. Here are some hints that can make it easier.

HINT: If possible, mail or email your relative a list of the questions you intend to ask ahead of time. Also ask them if they may have any photos they could share with you. This gives them a chance to really think about the answers or even to look up information that they may have. Who knows, they may be sitting on a gold mine of old pictures and documents?

list

HINT: When making the list of questions you want to ask, place the ones you feel are the most important at the top. Then continue with your questions arranging them from most important to the ones that don’t really matter if they do not get answered. Be as specific as you can. Remember the interviewee can’t read your mind so they may not know or understand what kind of information you actually want from them.

HINT: While conducting the interview try not to respond to the person while they are talking. I have done a lot of counseling throughout my life. One thing you do while listening to the other person is to say something like “uh huh” or “Okay” so they know you are actively listening to them. This does not work when interviewing! When I interviewed my in-laws I wasn’t thinking about me responding to them during it. When I got home and I listened to the tape I could hear these annoying little phrases and even a weird giggle that I did when something was funny. It was distracting while trying to transcribe the tapes and at a couple of points I missed a word or two because I was responding as they spoke. Just be aware that you are taping and every noise will be recorded.

HINT: Interviews can be a little scary to both the interviewer and the interviewee. It is best to try to start with questions that are easy to answer, just to put the other person at ease. Fact based questions are usually the best kind to start with. They don’t require too much thinking and can set the flow for the rest of the interview. Just remember to ask questions that are non-threatening or at least ask them in a non-threatening way. An example would be, don’t ask about your Uncles affair with a waitress that resulted in a child, a divorce and a scandal. You can ask something like “How many children did Uncle “Bob” have altogether?” This gives the interviewee the opportunity to answer the question giving information they feel comfortable with and possibly giving you the story of your Uncle. You don’t want to ask any questions that may insult your family. A side note here is: if you know this relative well enough to ask these kinds of questions then go for it. I would first ask if they felt comfortable answering questions about uncomfortable events.

HINT: When preparing your list of questions the best thing to do is to take a look at the family line of the person you will be interviewing. How are they related to you? Next take the time and write down any questions you have from this line. Are there any holes you would like filled in? Any dates, locations or names that are missing? Unless this person is also into Genealogy they may not know much information past 2 or 3 generations. So try to concentrate on developing questions covering just a few generations back. The goal with creating your family history is to not only know “Who” your Ancestors are but “How” they lived. The more you know about them the better rounded your family history will be.

tape-recorder

HINT: When recording it is good to begin your interview by stating the date, location, and the persons’ name you are interviewing. This way if you don’t get it transcribed quickly you will not have to try to remember the “who, what, or where”.

HINT: It is important to find a place where you and the interviewee can be comfortable and have some privacy. All interviews should be on a one to one basis. Otherwise things can get confusing or background noise can make it hard to hear answers, both in person and on tape. When I interviewed my in-laws a few years ago we set everything up in their living room. I recorded my Mother-in-law first then my Father-in-law. My husband was also present. The first interview went great. When it was my Father-in-laws turn it became quite apparent why you should only have only one person present during an interview. My Mother-in-law carried on a conversation with my husband (he did try to keep it quiet and asked her to stop a couple of times), she would correct my Father-in-laws answers and she even made a phone call during the interview.  When I got home and began to transcribe the tapes I had a difficult time deciphering several of my Father-in-laws answers.

Question mark

HINT: Be prepared that there may be some questions that you may ask that the person does not want to answer. Some memories can be painful and are not easy to talk about. Do not press the issue. Just move on graciously. The person you are interviewing will appreciate it and who knows, they may just decide to answer the question later on because of your considerate reaction.

HINT: If there is no way you are able to record the interview then you should try to take good notes. Still use your list of questions so you keep on track. When I visited some cousins in Missouri I had my list of questions and was thoroughly prepared to tape the interview. However, once we got there I realized it wouldn’t be possible. They had prepared dinner for my husband and I so the first hour was just eating. Then we all sat around the kitchen table and talked. There was my Cousin, his new wife, his 3 daughters and their families. There were too many people to record comfortably. So I just asked questions, took notes, and enjoyed myself.

Remember: Sometimes the stories a person will tell during this time are worth more than having all your questions answered. So be flexible. If you have asked the most important questions first then let the person reminisce.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.