Questions and Answers – Genealogy Do-Over Week 2


Week 1 of the Genealogy Do-Over was about putting your research aside, taking a step back and reflecting about past habits. I feel I rushed through that week a little too fast, so I began thinking more closely about this topic and decided to do some further research.

So, just a quick update to say that I have finally tracked down and ordered a hardcopy version of the latest edition of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, the bible for genealogy research citation. The first couple of chapters apparently covers how to weigh and analyse data while the remaining sections contain citation models.

I also began reading Carol Baxter’s “Help! Historical and Genealogical Truth” which I hope will give me a good beginner’s grounding in analysing and evaluating data using the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). From what I have seen, Evidence Explained  may be pitched at a higher level so I am hoping that Carol’s book will give me a gentle introduction. Either way, I love seeing different explanations and approaches in methodology so it will be interesting to compare the books!

In the meantime, Week 2 of the Genealogy Do-Over came upon us!

Week 2 is about starting from the beginning – with you! From the results of a self interview and family interviews, you extract information to create a timeline and complete family group sheets. Identified gaps in either knowledge or evidence inform your first research goals, though this is covered more in Week 3.

OK. That was very simplified, but you get the idea.

1. Conducting Self Interview

I must admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this week. Ironically, I really don’t enjoy sitting down and writing out my life story. I already know it so find it rather boring. I’m much more interested in everyone else’s story and uncovering their mysteries and exciting adventures. However, I’m not writing for myself but for posterity so shall persevere!

There are lots of options for self interviews:

  • Family Group Sheets: I usually find a lot of information is left out but that could be just due to the format of the template. Useful in conjunction with timelines.
  • Questionnaire: There are lots of options on the Internet (see end for extra sources). I tried one and it was lots of fun and provides plenty of background “colour”, though the results were perhaps lacking in useful facts for further research. E.g. “What was your first pet?”. Here is the one I tried called “The ‘When I Was Young’ Geneameme” which you might like to try yourself.
  • Narrative: Thomas MacEntee provided an example and managed to keep it down to two pages. However, using this method, I have already hit 850 words while only reaching age 4 – despite trying to keep it to a summary! The amount of detail I write is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means I will not be ready any time soon to start the timeline using this method. I shall keep writing the narrative as I think it has its place in my family history research but I will treat it as a long-term project.
  • Dot Points: This is a method suggested by Thomas which I have decided to use as I find it helps me to focus down on just the facts.

2. Conducting Family Interviews

Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy -

Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy –

I live in another state from my family which puts a bit of a crimp in my interviewing style. Many Do-Over participants have been able to ask questions via family Facebook groups or email. But, for various reasons, these options are not going to work very well in my situation. So, I’m looking for more workable solutions for my family.

My Mother:

In the meantime, at least my mother has been writing down her stories for a while, both her childhood stories and family stories she was told by her mother. My grandmother always intended to write down all the family stories but, you guessed it, she died before she could find the time and this inspired my mother to start.

You know how some stories are remembered more vividly or fondly and you are eager to write them down? But you feel obliged to write them down in chronological order which means having to get through all the ‘boring’ stuff first? And then the whole exercise becomes a penance rather than a pleasure?

Well, my mother has no such restrictions. The stories are not written in chronological order but rather as she remembers them. Some memories are only a few sentences and others cover pages. She is free to write what she wants, when she wants, hopefully enjoying herself along the way and therefore spending more time writing. And hopefully noting at least a rough time period…hmmm…must double-check that one with my mother.

My Father:

My father, for various reasons, is not able to do this and nor is it feasible to ask him for facts about dates and so on. Instead, I’ve recently bought a digital voice recorder (DVR) which I will be sending to my mother which she can use to record his stories.

The DVR has minimal controls and decent size buttons, so is fairly simple to operate, and runs on two AAA batteries. (Nothing worse than trying to track down a lithium battery model that turns out to be rarely used.) Since the DVR has a slot for a microSD card to extend memory, I’ve also bought a 32GB card which should last them awhile! I’ll swap over cards whenever I visit so I can type up the transcriptions.

To make things easier for my mother, I’ve put together a list of questions I’ve culled from ideas across the width and breadth of the Internet. Plus a few that I just wanted to know about because I’m nosy like that. Every now and again, my mother can choose one or two questions as inspiration to ask my father and see where the conversation leads them. To start with, I’ve focussed the questions around his childhood. If they get through them all, I’ll create another set for the next stage of his life, and so on.

The good thing about this is my mother can use many of the same questions to kick start her own memories. And, since arthritis in her hands is starting to become more of an issue, she can also use the voice recorder if she doesn’t wish to write out the stories.

Here are some other sources for questions and guidance on conducting oral interviews, many of which I used when creating the list of questions for my father:

3. Setting Research Goals

This has morphed into a long-term project so it will take a while for the information to filter through to my research goals. However, some family stories I’ve already verified and will write some posts about them in the future. It also means I will be slowing down in the Do-Over from here on out as I slip a little behind the pack, so future posts about organising my research may become somewhat ad hoc.

Sorry this was such a long post…and thanks for reading if you made it all the way to the end! You obviously have the tenacity and resilience of a seasoned genealogist!

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