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Learning About Family History From Aging Relatives
Have you ever tried to draw up a family tree? It’s likely your great-aunts and uncles and grandparents know a whole lot more! But, while the convenience and ease offered by computers and other modern devices make recording family history that much easier, some of your relatives may be uncomfortable with such technological contraptions.
This is what you can do: Simply use a video camera (or your computer) to make a record of your relatives’ memories for posterity. This will allow family memories to be shared by your children and grandchildren, and provide a family legacy that will last for generations to come.
Give some of these ideas a try when it comes to documenting your family history:
1. Explain exactly what you wish to do.
Let your aging relatives know ahead of time what your goals are. Make sure they understand that you are interested in family heritage.
- Tell them you think they can help you better understand different aspects of the family history. – Ask them if you can visit them to video, audiotape, or interview them in whatever way you’re comfortable with.
- Use what you know about a particular relative when you approach them. For instance, if they enjoy undivided attention and chatting about themselves, it should be easy for you to obtain answers to your questions.
- If the relative is shy, quiet and private you will be posed with a much larger challenge when it comes to getting them to open up to you. Try engaging them in conversations about the simple details of their day to day lives, which could gradually make them more comfortable opening up about topics of a more personal nature.
2. Make Videos.
Pack up your video camera and consider the topics you want to discuss about your family. Put some thought into what facts and information you would like to know about your family’s history and make a list of your questions prior to the interview.
- Request permission to video your interview. Position the camera as out of the way as you can because lots of folks don’t like being filmed and this way they are encouraged to concentrate on you.
Having a complete interview on video is a great asset as you can preserve it and hand it down through generations.
3. Create audio recordings.
If you have no means for videotaping the interview, but have the capacity to create an audio recording, make use of it. Don’t hurry your relatives or cut them short if they digress.
- You never know when a revelation made during the course of an interview will lead to the discovery of previously unknown and potentially intriguing information about your family. Make sure that you have ample memory on the device you will be using to record the interview in case you should encounter such an occurrence.
4. Put together a well-thought-out list of questions to ask.
Keep a written list of all your questions if you are hoping to collect more data about the history of the family or the family tree.
- If your relative is able to write easily and well, you might want to simply provide a list of the questions you have and ask that your relative write something up for you.
- It may not work for everyone because some of your relatives may not understand what sort of content you seek or the value of that content.
5. Consider the ideal way to get the best stories and information from aging relatives.
Plan out ahead of time how you’ll approach these relatives to gain their confidence and help them open up to you.
- It’s possible that there are still skeletons in closets that are best left undisturbed. Consequently, they could be uncomfortable answering questions and providing information about family history. You may encounter active resistance or attempts to stymie your progress in this project.
- It’s possible to “wear down” reluctant relatives with respectful but persistent effort; it can be especially helpful to let them know that you’ll pursue your project by dealing with other family members whether or not they participate.
6. If you find yourself stuck, get in touch with genealogy experts.
In some communities, there are organizations that will assist you in hunting down your family tree and inform you on how best to approach aging relatives with questions.
- You will also be able to find genealogists online who have experience to give you the necessary help and advice about how to proceed.
Undertaking the researching and recording of your family tree and history can be a great adventure, but could also prove tremendously challenging. But if you continue to persist, there are huge rewards to be gained in learning your family history. The interviews you capture will be something special you can pass on to your children and your children’s children.