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A Genealogist In The Archives: Dragging Genealogy Information Out of Our Family

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dragging Genealogy Information Out of Our Family

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the United States! Many of us will travel to be with our families or host our family members at our homes. Getting our family members to talk to us about genealogy and family history can be a daunting task for some of us. Let's face it, they don't make it easy do they?!

Unidentified Family Gathering, Houston County, TN. Archives

There is always that one relative (or more) that just doesn’t understand why you are doing genealogy research. They ask questions like:

            - “Why do you want to know all that stuff about our family?”

            - “I don’t know, that was too long ago to remember”

            - “We just didn’t talk about it”

One of the first things that you have to realize is that not all our relatives have the passion and drive to research family history. It’s just not something they are interested in and so they don’t know why you are interested in doing it. They can be downright uncooperative.

You Have to be Sneaky (But Nice!)

To get any information out of our relatives, we are going to have to be sneaky about it but nice and you can even make it fun! 

            -They know more than they think they know

            -Get them started talking and they may not be able to quit

-As the family genealogist/family historian, it’s your job to coax that information out of them with whatever means you can think of to use

George Washington Stringfield Family, ca. 1901

Family Photographs

Most all of us have family photographs. Why not use these to jog the memories of your family members?

            -Bring photographs with you to the family event and start a discussion

            -Discuss the photographs that are displayed at the family members home

-Talk about the scenery in the photo, objects in the photo and the people, glean any piece of information you can

Unidentified Photograph, Houston County, TN. Archives

Home Movies

If your family has home movies, why not make viewing them part of the family get together. Gather the family members together in one place. Watch the movies and discuss among yourselves the people, places and scenery in the movies.

            -Arrange a special family gathering just to view family home movies

-Make the home movies part of the family event, like Thanksgiving!

-Discuss the people, places and objects in the home movies 

Family Recipes

What is almost always at a family gathering? FOOD! Why not use that to your advantage:

-Ask your family members about family recipes

-Who came up with certain food dishes, who cooked them?

-What does your family members remember about the food and the recipes

Fudge Pie Recipe, Houston County, TN. Archives

Family Traditions

Many of our families have family traditions that they observed during certain holidays, family reunions and other family events.

            -Get your family members talking about those family traditions

            -Ask who started those traditions

            -Find out where those traditions originated

How Do I Record All the Information?

Now that you have your family members talking, how do you record or capture the information they are sharing?

-Write it down. When you go to your family events, take something to write on and something to write with to record any and all tidbits of information that you can get from your family members.

-Use a recording device. Invest in a small recording device or use your cell phone to record your family members telling their stories or any tidbits of information. DO NOT RECORD WITHOUT PERMISSION 

Collect Today for Tomorrow

Most of us as are always looking for the old records, photographs and ephemera for our ancestors. It is also important to collect records, photographs and ephemera from TODAY! One day they will be considered “old records”.

-Take photographs at family events, download them to your computer, identify them, and add metadata

-Collect ephemera, such things as graduation programs, funeral home cards, wedding invitations, baby shower invitations, etc.  

With these tips and tricks, hopefully this Thanksgiving you will get your family members talking!



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  1. Thank you for these wonderful ideas! I often use photos to prompt memories...and most of the time, my older relatives start to remember and just keep reminiscing about the people, the occasion, etc. The key is for us to keep quiet while they search their memory banks and pull out long-dormant bits of information! Once the stories tumble out, they'll probably keep tumbling out over the next few minutes or even longer.

    1. Marian, you are so right! Thanks for sharing and Thanks for reading my blog!