Friday, August 19, 2011

Gathering family history

The Southern Genealogists Exchange Society,to which I belong and am the official blogger thereof, is hosting a seminar on 10 September in which Patricia Charpentier will teach participants how to write their family history.  I attended the last time Patricia was here, and it was an interesting, instructive, and fun day.  I had already written down a few vignettes from my own memory of family events and happenings, but the seminar encouraged me to do more.  Alas, I have not done much in that area for the past several years, being caught up in furthering my formal education.

I have several segments written down, though, and am glad I have been doing that.  Remembering some events can often spark memories of other things as well.  And these days, memory is just about all I have to go on, outside of the family documents I have been able to accumulate.  I am in just about the last generation of our family.  There are a couple aunts still alive, but other than that, most of the older generation in our family is gone.

Another approach we can take to recording family history is the interview.  I have interviewed one of my aunts by e-mail, and that brought out some things I had not previously known, not only about her and my uncle, but also about my parents.  Interviews can also be conducted in person, and recorded using a digital audio recorder.  I bought one for myself while I was taking a course in oral history at the University of North Florida.  It was fascinating, and a classmate and I interviewed some interesting people for our class project. A good digital audio recorder can be had for $60-$80.

There are references which tell us how to conduct oral interviews,.  One of the best for the family historian is found in Emily Croom's Unpuzzling Your Past.  She devotes an entire chapter to conducting interviews of relatives, with great information from which questions to ask and how to formulate more on your own to how to make your interviewee comfortable.  Croom writes specifically for the genealogical interviewer.  A more academic approach designed for professional historians is the text we used in the abovementioned class, Donald A. Ritchie's Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide.  Ritchie goes into more detail on designing an oral history project and setting up the interview.  He has extensive endnotes and his bibliography is divided into segments including such topics as oral history of women, oral history of the Great Depression, and oral history of the Second World War.  These bibliographic entries alone can provide a family historian with background information for interviews and for their own family histories.

We are constantly being enjoined to "do it now," to interview older relatives.  Take it from one who did not "do it now," who waited until it was too late -- Do It Now.

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