One of the main genealogical tools overlooked is asking living relatives about themselves and the other relatives / ancestors they have known over the years. True, memories can get a bit hazy over the years and there could be some wrong information given, but it is a wonderful starting point or a way to look in another direction on the family lineage.
Start by showing them a copy of a family tree or pedigree you have started. Ask on each branch about the names to see if they are correct or what could be added.
Bring a selection of family photos, including those you have identified and those you have not. Don’t bring hundreds, it is too overwhelming. Each visit bring about 20 to 25 photos to go over, taking notes on each as they are discussed. Ask the relative you are visiting if they have any photos to share. This includes a asking about a family bible which might have births-marriages and deaths recorded. Offer to scan those then returning the original.
Ask the relative what they know of the original family homeland, when a family branch immigrated and to which port of entry. The relative may not know for sure, but it could be a good starting point for additional details.
Do take the opportunity to ask the living relative of any notorious legends or family stories not often shared or repeated. Back when those events occurred, no one spoke of what happened. However, decades have passed, and many people are more open to have the truth known, even if a few family ‘black sheep’ are exposed. Of course, if a person selects not to talk about those family skeletons, respect their wishes.
Finally a good subject to discuss with an older relative is their opinion of the ‘best of times’ they experienced. You might be very surprised at some answers. When I asked that of my mother-in-law, she felt that 1941 to 1945 (World War II) were her best years. You might think that a bit bizarre, but ask for details. Her reason was that on the home front everyone worked together for a common goal plus there were many soldier boys around with lots of parties and dances to attend.
Take the time to ask questions of your living relatives. In FamilyTree.com there is the LEARN section about specific questions to ask. Interview Questions.
Use these five tips in the process of interviewing living relatives.
Photos: Seniors, Roaring Twenties and Dancing during World War II.
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