Genealogy Road Trip Tip 15: Oral history interviews

Tip 15: Oral history interviews. Part of “Genealogy Road Trip Tips: Take Your Loved Ones With You” — 30 posts in 30 days for NaBloPoMo 2016.

When I first began seriously researching my family, I was focused on amassing documents — whatever I could lay my hands on at repositories I visited. What a thrill to have my files fill up with all sorts of written information about my ancestors!

Rose Curcio (1992). Photo by Molly Charboneau
August 1992: My great grandaunt Rose Curcio at age 95. My mom and I interviewed Aunt Rosie on a genealogy road trip. She filled in details on our Italian immigrant ancestors that helped us identify their towns of origin and trace their early years in the U.S. Photo by Molly Charboneau

However, the voices of living ancestors and collateral relatives are another important source of family information.

Their stories give meaning to the documentary evidence you find — and what better time to record those voices than on a Genealogy Road Trip.

Online sources of interview questions

There are many fine examples online of questions to ask during an oral history interview. Among others, Family Search wiki Creating Oral Histories offers excellent tips, and Family Tree Magazine has published the helpful article 13 Tips for Oral History Interviewing. So I will not repeat any of that sage advice here.

The tips in this blog post will focus on how to work a successful oral history interview into a genealogy road trip with a travel partner.

Second travel partner meeting. At this point, you have probably already had a travel partner meeting where you each laid out your hopes and expectations for the trip. Now’s the time to have a second meeting to discuss the interview — who will you be visiting, how will it go, will you both be there during the interview (perhaps your partner operating the recording device while you ask questions), and anything else that seems important. You want your interviewee — who may be elderly — to feel comfortable with your visit, so work out all the details with your travel partner before you get there.

Make your interviewee feel comfortable. When my mom and I interviewed my great grandaunt Rose Curcio — a younger sibling of my great grandmother Mamie (Curcio) Laurence — we spent some time visiting with her first. We brought flowers and my mom led the conversation, since she knew Aunt Rosie the best. Then, after obtaining permission to ask her about the family’s history, Mom turned on the recorder and simply continued the conversation, asking questions as she went — questions we had gone over and written down during our second travel partner meeting.

Be low-key about your recording device. Younger generations are totally comfortable with hand-held devices for recording, shooting video, taking selfies and the like. But older relatives may be more wary — as I learned when interviewing my godmother, a college classmate of my mom’s. A gifted story teller, she spent hours conversing with me and my travel partner when we visited her home — but froze up completely when I turned on the digital recorder and began asking specific questions. So we started over — and the interview went much better after I introduced questions as part of the conversation and set the small recorder off to the side on the kitchen counter.

Are there relatives you would like to interview on a genealogy road trip? Have you perfected techniques for a successful, onsite oral history interview that you want to share? Let us know in the comment section.

And remember: the records will always be there, but your ancestors and relatives will not, so capture those family stories now so you can share them with future generations. Trust me, your elderly relatives will be thrilled by your interest in their history!

Up next: Research in local repositories. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Please like and share:

Genealogy Road Trip Tip 14: Houses of worship & cemeteries

Tip 14: Houses of worship & cemeteries. Part of “Genealogy Road Trip Tips: Take Your Loved Ones With You” — 30 posts in 30 days for NaBloPoMo 2016.

Nothing quite compares to standing at the graveside of a long-lost ancestor or sitting quietly inside a house of worship where your forebears once belonged to the congregation.

Church and cemetery. Nothing quite compares to standing at an ancestor’s graveside or sitting quietly inside their house of worship. By: Joel Kramer

Sometimes a house of worship may hold records that have not yet been digitized. Likewise, a cemetery tombstone may contain the only record of an ancestor’s birth and death if the paper records are gone.

So plan to visit ancestral houses of worship and cemeteries during your Genealogy Road Trip. Here are some tips on how to prepare and what you might discover:

Visiting a house of worship. Obituaries, death notices and death certificates sometimes indicate where your ancestors worshiped. You might also make an educated guess based on their religious denomination and where they lived.

Once you have identified an ancestral house of worship, make sure it is still active — then call ahead to see when it will be open during your visit. Speak to the clergy or church staff, explain the family history research you are doing, and ask about any records they may have on site.

For example, my dad, Norm Charboneau, and I visited a Presbyterian church in Forestport, Oneida County, New York where we thought our direct ancestors might have worshiped — and we were able to confirm this through onsite Sunday School records, spanning several years, that listed my great grandfather’s sister as a regular attendee.

Visiting an ancestral cemetery. Obituaries, death notices and death certificates — along with online cemetery directories and sites such as Find a Grave and Billion Graves — can help you identify where your loved ones might be buried.

Larger cemeteries often have offices, so call ahead to see what information they can provide — and when the cemetery is open. The office can usually provide a map with plot and lot numbers to help you find your ancestor’s final resting place. And be sure to ask about nearby stones — or those bearing your ancestor’s surname — as they might reveal additional family relationships.

My cousin Barb and her husband found our great, great grandfather William Dempsey’s final resting place in a relocated cemetery in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland after our Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team used the above techniques. They also came away with written records from the cemetery office, as described in Dempsey cousins’ discoveries.

So use your ingenuity and creativity to identify — and plan a visit to — possible ancestral houses of worship and cemeteries at your destination. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you and your travel partner discover when you get there.

Up next, Tip 15: Oral history interviews. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Please like and share:

Genealogy Road Trip Tip 13: Stop by an ancestral home

Tip 13: Stop by an ancestral home. Part of “Genealogy Road Trip Tips: Take Your Loved Ones With You” — 30 posts in 30 days for NaBloPoMo 2016.

Research on your ancestors in census reports or city directories may provide you with a location or street address of the house or apartment building where they once lived.

Houses. A personal visit to an ancestor’s one-time home is a unique genealogy road trip experience, and may yield additional family history details if you are traveling with a loved one familiar with the residence. By: teofilo

A personal visit to an ancestor’s one-time home is a unique Genealogy Road Trip experience — and can sometimes yield additional family history details if you are traveling with a loved one familiar with the residence.

Here are a few examples of family history stories an ancestral home can reveal:

My father’s birthplace. On a family history road trip to Dolgeville, Herkimer County, New York with my dad, we stopped by a house where his paternal grandparents once lived. He had a black-and-white photo of the house from that time — with beautiful snow ball bushes out front and bamboo shades shielding the wide front porch from the sun’s heat.

“That’s the house I was born in,” Dad said matter-of-factly as we stood on the sidewalk looking at the house. “My grandmother was a midwife, so when my mother came due she came here to have me.” This was all news to me — and I might never have heard the story of we hadn’t visited the house where he spent time with his grandparents as a boy.

My great grandmother’s sewing room. My mom’s maternal grandmother sewed gloves at home for one of the many factories that once thrived in Gloversville, Fulton County, New York — Mom’s hometown. On a visit, we parked outside her grandmother’s house. As we were looking at the residence, the woman whose family lived there came out to ask if she could help us.

“My grandmother used to live here and we were just taking a look,” Mom explained.

“Oh, I thought you might be real estate agents,” the woman said with a laugh. “Would you like to come inside?” This hospitable invitation was more than either Mom or I expected.

Once inside, I will never forget the expression of pleasure on Mom’s face as she described where her grandmother’s sewing table sat — and how Mom and her sister, my Aunt Rita, would bring her the leather glove kits from the factory and pick up the finished gloves to run them back. It was a nostalgic step into history for Mom, made possible by a house visit.

A word of caution on photographs.  If you take photos of homes where your ancestors once lived, be mindful that someone else lives there now and they are entitled to privacy. Taking photos for your own reference and holding them in your private files is one thing. However, before publishing house photos or a street address, on a blog or in other media, you may want to seek permission and/or do some research to be sure there are no legal issues to consider. Alternatively, use a historic photo of the house from your family files that was taken at the time your ancestors lived there.

Up next, Tip 14: Visits to churches and cemeteries. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Please like and share:

Growing family trees one leaf at a time