We think we know them. We think we know them well. That is, until we go to write their story. Our families are often mysteries to us. This is why we must ask questions…lots of questions.
The beginning genealogist/family historian begins with the interview. I want the oldest family member to answer my questions as soon as possible, but I’ll begin with whomever I have at hand.
I need FACTS to fuel my research.
- When and where were you born?
- Who were your parents? When and where were they born?
- Who were your grandparents? When and where were they born?
- When did you marry? Where? What county?
- In what states and counties have your lived?
- Did you or anyone in our family serve in the military? When? What branch? Where?
- What are your siblings’ names and approximate ages?
- If their parents, grandparents, siblings are deceased, when did they die? (Approximate dates are better than no dates.)
I need STORIES to flesh out our history.
- What was your best childhood memory?
- What was your favorite holiday?
- Who was your favorite relative, teacher, neighbor, etc.?
- Tell me about your best friend growing up.
- What were your mom and dad like?
- What were your grandparents like?
- What is the best place you ever lived and why?
- Where was the best place you ever visited?
Capture the facts and their stories.
- When possible, send your questions in advance of your visit and interview.
- If possible, record the interview.
- Take extensive notes and “flesh” them out while they’re fresh on your mind.
I cannot overstate the importance of family interviews. You need this information to backtrack your family. You need this information to tell their story. You need it first. When you begin their story, be prepared to reconnect and ask more questions. And you will have questions. Every good historian has more questions.