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Kimberly Powell

Keep Asking Questions!

By November 30, 2013

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This past week my Dad while visiting with his mother (my grandmother) discovered a book titled Your Story: A Guided Interview Through Your Personal and Family History. While I gave that book to her probably almost a decade ago, it was still sitting untouched and empty of family stories. Why? Writing things down just doesn't work for everyone. The tape recorder and box of tapes I gave her were similarly unused, headed for the donation pile. My Dad, however, found the solution as he set up a video camera and had her open the book and read the questions and then tell him her answers. There are over two hours of video -- and they only got through page 4!

You hear it over and over, but it still can't be said enough. Your living relatives are the best place to begin your family tree research. If you're getting together with family over the holidays, take some time out to record a few of their memories. Ask grandpa about his wartime experiences. Ask grandma how to make some of those treasured family recipes. It doesn't have to be anything formal, such as a recorded interview. Just ask a few questions as you're all sitting around the table during dinner (try setting up a video camera in the corner to capture the dinner-time reminiscences), or get out a few of the old family photo albums. You might be surprised with the stories you hear! I've been asking my parents, grandparents and other family members questions for over 25 years, and I still learn something new every time we get together. So sit down and collect some family memories between now and the new year.

I know some of you aren't lucky enough to have living grandparents or even parents to ask about your family history. Don't forget the aunts, cousins, even family friends! They each have stories to share as well. You can also learn a lot about your ancestors by reading stories and accounts of their contemporaries - neighbors, members of the same ethnic community, individuals who shared similar experiences (e.g. same Japanese-American internment camp), etc.

There is no better way to understand the history that you came from than through the words of the people who lived it first-hand. So make oral history a priority in your family history research! You don't want to have any regrets...

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