Saturday, May 19, 2007

Research Guidance

When we are struggling in our research, we often forget that there is an excellent resource available on the web..... FamilySearch Research Guidance. If you haven't used the Research Guidance files in the past, take a few minutes and see if they hold the hints or 'guidance' that you need to find your ancestors.

Let's walk through the process.

In our example, lets look for immigrants who entered Nova Scotia, Canada sometime around 1810.

  • 2. Click on the 'Search Tab' and then click on 'Research Guidance' in the blue space below the tab
  • 3. Click on 'Canada'
  • 4. Click on 'Nova Scotia, Canada'
  • 5. Now what? Only Births, Marriages and Deaths are listed.... We are interested in ship passenger records. That's ok... Just click on Births - 1760 - 1811..... Hmmmm... No passenger records are listed here, so let's click on Births 1812 - 1865. Good... there is a link to 'Passenger Lists and Border Crossings'.
  • 6. Click on 'Passenger Lists and Border Crossings.
  • 7. Look at that!.... the top link is 'Nova Scotia Immigrants to 1867'. When we click on that link a list of book numbers for the Family History Library are listed. It looks like it is time to plan a trip to Salt Lake.
  • 8. Also look at the list of other possible research resources on this page! Good stuff!
Again, since most of us haven't used the Research Guidance listings in the past or forget to use them, take a look at them today and see if there are any suggestions to help in your research.

Oral Histories / Interviews

Today is a good time to prepare your oral history interview tools and questions for the
coming summer family reunions and similar gatherings. Many if not most of your grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., that you want to interview will be at these events. If you plan ahead, you can schedule an hour or so in a private setting with them to record the interview.

If the timing for an interview at the reunion doesn't work, then make sure to set a date and time for the interview while talking to them face to face at the reunion. In my personal experience, if you fail to set the interview date never complete the interview this summer, you will probably never have the opportunity again. I don't know the law behind this, but it seems to be 90+ % accurate.

What do you need?

Create a list of questions you want to ask during interviews. You may find large question lists if you search the web for "family history interview questions" if you are momentarily brain dead.

Tape recorder or digital audio recorders. Make sure it is working. Turn it on and record your own voice reading the newspaper if nothing else... although I recommend that you tell some of your own memories, stories, etc., Become familiar with the recorder, its shortcomings and its strengths. If you don't have a directional microphone, BUY one. They are very inexpensive and are an essential tool. If you rely on the microphone built into the recorder, you will no have a good recording. It picks up all the sound in the room. You want a microphone that is directional so you can focus it on the person you are interviewing.

Interview your spouse. Get them to tell stories about their childhood or about funny events in the lives in your children. Use this interview as a learning experience so you will have a more successful recording session when interview your extended family member(s). You'll quickly learn how to position the recorder so you can keep an eye on the amount of tape left, yet not have the recorder as a focus item in the eye the interviewee, etc.

Next, trade places with your spouse and have them interview you. You'll quickly learn what questions and techniques work and don't work from the perspective of the interviewee.

Use this as a Family Home Evening activity... Interview your children. These interviews will literally be priceless as time goes on.

Learn how to position and operate your video camera if you plan to use it. Put the camera just behind you to one side or the other. Set it up so your head isn't in the frame.

It is essential that you practice your interviewing skills and equipment at home before you interview someone else if you hope to have a successful interview experience with your extended family.

Stock extra audio / video tapes, extra batteries, an extension cord, etc., in your interview kits. Put your list of interview questions in a 1/2" binder along with some extra blank lined paper for notes during the interview process. That sounds like a lot of work!

It is a little work, but the rewards are worth more than a fortune over time.

You will be capturing the voice, image, stories and maybe the testimony of a someone that you love. They will thank you for the opportunity when you send them a copy of the interview. Their family and your own family and descendants will be extremely grateful that you took the initiative to interview these loved ones. Plan on transcribing the audio recording to text. You have to do it. It needs to be written and shared with others so that it has a chance to survive over time. Our daughter is transcribing some recordings that I made recently. Her husband called me yesterday and reported on a FREE software tool that slows down digital recordings that you have copied to your computer. The Software is called Express Scribe. Download the installation file and if you don't want to purchase the add on packages, simple DON'T include any checks in the 4 boxes that offer the software during the installation process. It is that simple and the software works!

A good podcast / discussion website about audio histories is located at Family Oral History. The site has all the articles that they have published for the past three years, so you'll have plenty of examples of what works and what doesn't work. Bookmark this site in your web browser.

RootsTV has an excellent video about interviewing. Take 30 minutes out of your day and watch it. I promise that it will help you learn the skills and inspire you to start your own interview project. See it here While you are on this site, search for 'Interview' for additional instructional shows and resources. They are invaluable. I especially enjoyed the short program about Interviewing found here.

It is easy to put this off. You'll always be happy that you did. Guaranteed!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pay It Forward

Most of us are 'beholding' to someone else for some if not much of our ancestral knowledge. Mom, Aunt Fran or Uncle Johnny collected family history information for years and eventually you received a copy of their work. You've added to that 'starter seed' of data, photos, histories, etc., since, but few folks actually start their ancestral quest from 'scratch'.

We are universally grateful to those who collected that family history even if they had some errors in their data. They had the foresight to not throw away their descendants 'seed corn', and from their sometimes meager data, great family history collections have grown.

Genealogy / family history research shouldn't be a solitary activity. Many minds make research easier if they coordinate their research goals and jointly review the results for errors, speculation as well as true facts. It is always good to have one member of the team be slightly skeptical ... the challenger of the accuracy of data. As long as the team understands that they need the alternate view of the data, they will be much more effective in finding their true ancestral lineage. Folks always want to find the connection to someone famous or an ancestral tree the extends far back in time, but before we claim these links, they need to be true.

I've mentioned the website Find-a-grave in earlier notes. I like the site because it is user driven and the users are folks who love family history and helping other people. The active participants of the site are constantly posting burial data and photos of headstones for the use of others. These active site users are a team of typically unrelated people working toward the goal of sharing the burial data that they have in their area. The pay? Nothing monetarily, but their efforts produce good 'karma' if nothing else.

Find-a-grave posters are using the site to 'pay it forward'. Pay what forward? It is the repayment of the debt they owe someone else who collected the 'seed data' and shared it with them. They are paying forward all of the kind genealogy deeds that they have received from others. Other current and future researchers can now benefit from the burial and headstone data found in the cemeteries they have visited when it is posted on the
find-a-grave site.

This past week, my wife and I visited two cemeteries in our
area. I took photos of the headstones while she made sketches of the old markers of our ancestors. I've now posted the photos of almost every headstone in the Alpine, Utah cemetery on find-a-grave as a result of these excursions. It was important to me to do this because I have received photos of family headstones taken by other family history researchers in locations that I can't visit. In their notes to me, these wonderfulfolks have explained that they are just trying to repay the kindnesses they have received in their own research. Although they 'only' shared photos with me, the photos are of 'high value' in my own ancestral quest. Hopefully, the photos I've posted will be of equal high value to other researchers who are trying to find information on their ancestral families.

When you next visit a cemetery, take photos of the headstones surrounding the resting place of your ancestors and family. When you get home, take a few minutes and post them on find-a-grave. It won't take too much time away from other activities and eventually your forward payment will circle round and you'll be the beneficiary of your own kind acts. Guaranteed...