It’s the season for family gatherings, which is why I was inspired to write a blog post suggesting helpful tips for taking oral histories during the holiday season. After reading my post “Tips for taking Oral Histories” one of our Mocavo Community members, Jean Henley, was prompted to ask an important question:
“The holidays are my favorite time of year because I get to talk to so many people that I haven’t had the chance to catch up with for a while. I also think it’s a great time to learn about my family history from my relatives, however, I never seem to know which questions are the right ones to ask. Any suggestions for questions to ask?”
Well, Jean, here are five more helpful tips for your family interview and some sample questions to help get you started! These conversations are a great way to catch up on some family research and can help you fill in unknown facts while offering clues for further research.
- Approach your interview as a conversation. Relatives may relax with a conversational tone, thus will be more willing to share personal details and memories.
- Start with an icebreaker question to get the ball rolling. This question should be more informal to help ease your relative into the conversation and make them feel more comfortable for the duration.
- Bring sentimental family heirlooms or mementos (such as photographs, documents, old trinkets, etc.) that relate to family members or occasions you will be discussing. These items will help to jog your relative’s memory and will help create a richer conversation. You can also use this as an opportunity to ask your relative to identify the people and places in photographs.
- Record both questions and answers throughout the duration of the interview. When writing notes, make sure you use a pencil. Avoid writing on photographs or documents as much as possible, but if it is necessary to annotate them, use a pencil.
- After the interview, write your relative a thank you note and share your notes, recording, and/or transcription of the conversation. Seeing their personal story documented will help them see the value of your research and will serve as a physical thank you for their time.
Ice Breaker Questions
- How did your family celebrate the holiday season when you were a child?
- How long have you lived in your home state?
- How many homes have you lived in?
- What were some of your favorite hobbies as a child?
- What was a typical family dinner when you were a child?
- What is your full name? Do you know why your parents chose that name? Were you named after a family member? Do you have any nicknames?
- When and where were you born? What are the names of your brothers and sisters? When and where were they born?
- Where did you live as a child? What was your house like? What is your favorite childhood memory?
- What are the names of your grandparents? Where did they live their adult lives and what did they do for a living?
- Who is the oldest relative that you remember as a child? Where did they live? Did they have a nickname?
- Do you have any special stories about your parents, grandparents, or other relatives?
- Do you have any special family heirlooms or photographs of sentimental value that have been passed down through your family?
- Did you ever get married? What is your husband/wife’s name? When and where were you married? What is your favorite wedding memory?
- What is one of your favorite family traditions that you received from your parents or grandparents?
- What advice would you like to offer future generations?
I hope that these questions help you find the information you are searching for and we want to wish you all a very Happy Holidays from Mocavo!
Most people know the difference between the 50-yard dash and the 100-yard dash. But when it comes to grammar, more people have trouble with the different dashes (and hyphens). When sharing your family history, use them properly so you look your best. There are three different marks that are often confused: hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes.
Hyphens (-)are used to connect words, often to make them into a modifier. There are no spaces between the hyphen and words it connects. For example, one lived in the twentieth century, but drove a twentieth-century automobile.
When writing about a range of numbers (dates or otherwise), the en dash (–) is the appropriate punctuation. In genealogy, this is often used to express a range of years, such as 1830 – 1910. It is slightly longer than a hyphen, and is the same with as the letter “n” (thus giving rise to the name en dash).
An en dash should be both preceded and followed by a single space. Finally there is the em dash (—). This is the punctuation one uses to express a phrase within a longer sentence. For example: John would be found at his desk—no matter the time of day or night—whenever an emergency occurred. Like the hyphen, there should be no spaces between the words and the em dash.