Genealogy Tip: Record and Share Family Stories

Thomas Stafford family

We each have our own recollections of past events,our personal memories of family members, and these are the building blocks for creating and recording our own stories to preserve in our family histories.

I would like to share some tips and tricks for a successful and memorable interview with family members and how to gather those special family stories that make each of our individual histories so unique.

Family stories help to round out the dates and facts in a family genealogy. A good genealogist will be able to tell you the birth, marriage and death dates for a given ancestor, but a wonderful way to enrich those necessary facts is a family story. The story may be an account of a family event such as a special anniversary or occasion or may just be a simple recollection of the family member’s childhood or their days at school. Family members who served in the military may have some fascinating stories to share of their days in service and historical events that they may have witnessed. These are the stories that enhance and personalize our genealogical dates and documents.

The holiday season is just around the corner and it will be a time when extended families get together to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Let these occasions be your opportunity to record some of your family stories by conducting interviews with your relatives.

Before the Interview/Event
• Who are your oldest family members?
• Will it be formal or informal?
• One on one, or a group?
• A group will give many different perspectives on the same subject

Prepare for the Interview
• Pen and paper
• Camera / video camera
• Audio recorder
• Bring ‘memory-joggers’ – old photos
• Bring old news clippings
• What local, national or world events happened during their lifetimes?

At the Interview:
• Ask for permission to record/film
• Let them know what you are planning to do with the information
• Are there times during the day when older relatives are more alert?
• Take regular breaks

Skeletons in the Closet
• Every family has them
• Be sensitive about family skeletons
• Move on if a topic makes your relatives uncomfortable
• You may learn something new
• Make sure that you have permission to share the story

A Successful Family Interview
• Have a list of questions prepared but don’t follow it religiously
• If your relative is telling a story let them lead the conversation
• Let your relatives share their memories
• Ask if you can follow up with additional questions after the interview

After the Interview
• If you have taken photos or made an audio recording – make copies
• Don’t store the copies in one place
• While your memory is fresh extract the information and add it to your family tree
• Send a thank-you note and a copy of the updated family history

In closing – a little organization before and during the interview will help to ensure a successful and enjoyable time for both yourself and your relative.

Remember – What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the stories of who we were and the tales of how we lived!

Write your stories and pass them on!

4 comments on “Genealogy Tip: Record and Share Family Stories

  1. Laura Hedgecock says:

    Yes! Great article. I would add “Stop Procrastinating.” Save those stories!

    Laura Hedgecock

  2. Laura – I couldn’t have said it better myself! So often we have the stories, or we have the opportunities to interview our relatives and we keep putting it off until it’s too late, and unfortunately sometimes we never get another chance. Good point!

  3. Marlene says:

    Great article. Many of the points are those that I make with my Genealogy 101 students. One point that I add is that if you are making a reliable recording of the interview, do not take notes. Taking notes takes up valuable time and can be a real put off. Be a good listener and let the stories flow.

    • Hi Marlene

      You make an excellent point – that taking notes can slow things down a bit. Sometimes I find that not everyone is comfortable with their voice being recorded and in those cases I have taken notes instead; although not as efficient as a recording for sure! Thanks for the insightful comment!

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