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Monday, November 24, 2014
17 Family History Questions to Ask Your Relatives at Thanksgiving
Posted by Diane
Happy Thanksgiving! Will you be spending part of this
tradition-filled holiday with family? Perhaps you can turn the
occasion to your genealogical advantage. All that nostalgia makes a
great setup for talking about family history.
and Ohio Employees Magazine, 1912, Internet Archive
You can use the holiday and the food as an opener, then delve deeper
into family history. Here are some questions to get (and keep) the
conversational ball rolling:
It might be fun to bring some old photos to spark memories, or even
a family tree if you think people would be interested in seeing how
the folks in the photos fit into your family.
- How did your family celebrate Thanksgiving?
- What was your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal?
- What was your childhood home like?
- How did you get along with your brothers and sisters?
- What did you do for fun as a child?
- Did you have any pets?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- What was your school like?
- What was your favorite subject in school?
- What was your first job? How did you get it?
- How did World War II (or the Great Depression, or another
significant event) affect your family?
- Was your family religious? Where did you go to church (or
- How did your parents meet?
- What do you admire about your parents?
- How did you meet your spouse?
- Tell me about getting your first (insert any technological
innovation—radio, telephone, television, dishwasher, computer).
- Who's the oldest relative you remember (and what do you
remember about him or her)?
Download our Oral
History Made Easy e-book for more questions and prompts to
interview relatives about family history, experts' secrets to
interviewing success, help getting reticent family members to open
up about the past, tips to use the information you learn, and
Be ready for family history interview opportunities with our Instant
Oral History Interview Kit, which contains a digital recorder,
the above ebook and our Family Interview worksheet.
However you're spending Thanksgiving, and especially if you're away
from loved ones, I wish you a day of warmth, contentment and much to
be grateful for.
Oral History | Research Tips | saving and sharing family history
Monday, November 24, 2014 10:16:48 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Thursday, May 08, 2014
We DO Want Mom's Advice—And Her Family History!
Posted by Diane
According to a new survey, nearly two-thirds of adults want to know
more about their family history.
The survey about moms, commissioned by A Place for Mom, asked
adults about topics they'd like to know more about. The top four
It makes me sad that more than a quarter of the adults surveyed said
they don't, or didn't, know their moms as well as they'd like.
- family history (64 percent of the folks surveyed said this)
- Mom's personal history, such as her childhood memories and how she
met Dad (59 percent)
- family medical history (45 percent)
- Mom's life advice (42 percent), a statistic I'll definitely
remember. I'd hate for my children to one day wish for
all the words of wisdom I withheld as unsolicited
know where these survey respondents can find a great
magazine to help them learn more about their family history
and their moms.
When you see your mom this Mother's Day, ask her about her family
history and her life. Here are
some good oral history interviewing questions to start with.
If your mom is no longer with you, write about these topics for your
own children, or for other young people in your family.
can read more about this survey here.
Happy Mother's Day!
Oral History | Research Tips
Thursday, May 08, 2014 1:17:23 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Fluffing Out My Family Tree With Social History
Posted by Diane
Compared to the sprawling family tree on my mom's side, my dad’s paternal side looks like the
Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It goes back only to my
great-grandparents, and has my grandfather and his siblings, and my
dad and his sisters.
I haven’t found any siblings of my great-grandparents, and I’m
not ready to tackle genealogy in the old country, Syria.
I’ve accepted that my paternal tree is going to stay short for the time being. So what I’m focused on now is fluffing out and decorating
this Charlie Brown tree with social history details that
tell me what my relatives’ lives were like.
Here’s one find: I learned from a city directory that in 1924, after
he’d graduated from high school, my
grandfather was a helper at the Collin
Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas.
From Google searching, I learned that the bakery is still in business and
I Googled the bakery name and history, and found a catalog
entry from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History, describing a 1971 interview with owners of the
bakery. A transcript was available. I found a Contact link and
asked about the best way to get a copy on
paper or digitally. Within two days, I had an email with a link to
download a PDF.
Two of the men interviewed had started working at the bakery as
young men, around the time my grandfather did, and they chatted with the interviewer about their work. Here’s a description of wrapping the
The bakery also made fruitcake, which it's now famous for:
I'm not sure Grandpa was around for fruitcake season, since another 1924
city directory for Austin says he was a student at the University
From this and
other records, I know he attended the engineering school then and
again in the 1930s. Searching online
for the history of the school, I turned up a booklet titled:
A history of the department. It looks to be a draft, because it
contains editors' notes. Besides information on the school,
professors and student life, it gives the curriculum my grandfather
Social history is everything that was going on around your ancestor. It could be an acute local event—the county fair,
a new business opening up or a natural disaster—that directly
affected family members. It could be a long-term occurrence, such as a
population migration or war. Or it could be a contemporary issue they shook their heads over.
close to home with my grandfather's school and work, but there's a
lot to explore. These free FamilyTreeMagazine.com articles will help in your
social history search:
out all FamilyTreeMagazine.com's social history articles (both
free and Plus) here.
A fun approach to discovering social history (and reminiscing with Mom and Dad) is our book Remember
That? A Year-by-Year Chronicle of Fun Facts, Headlines, & Your
Memories, which lists
news and facts on politics, fads, sports, music, movies, inventions
and more from 1930 to 2010.
You'll also find places to start in our
Resource Roundup of social history websites.
Also don't miss the History Matters column in every issue of Family Tree Magazine.
Do you have a favorite social history tip or resource? Click Comments below to share it.
Libraries and Archives | Oral History | Research Tips | Social History
Wednesday, August 15, 2012 2:51:56 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Record Relatives' Stories With New, Free iPhone App
Posted by Diane
If you're headed to a family reunion or even just visiting
Grandma's house, here's a free app you might consider downloading
to your iPhone (let's hope there's an Android version out soon):
Memories Forever app lets you record family stories, then
store them on the Saving
Memories Forever website.
The app is free, as is a basic membership on the site. An enhanced
site membership (lets you have unlimited "Story Tellers" and "Story
Listeners," add photos to stories and more) costs $3.99 per month.
You'll find a comparison
between the basic and enhanced memberships here.
From the app's Quick Start guide (download
it from the Saving Memories Forever website), it looks like
the app is designed to record responses to questions, rather than a
freeform oral history interview.
If you don't have an iPhone, you can upload audio files from your
computer to the Saving Memories Forever website, but they must be
mp3 files. Learn
more about how the site works here.
Not sure what to ask Grandma? We list 20
questions to ask your family members on FamilyTreeMagazine.com
And if your interviewee isn't much of a talker, you'll
find our downloadable guide to oral history interviews with
reluctant or reticent relatives on ShopFamilyTree.com.
Become a better genealogist and connect with other
family historians from the convenience of home at Family
Tree University's Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference,
taking place Sept. 14-16. Hurry! Early bird registration ends Friday,
Aug. 10 at 11:59 p.m. Just enter code FTUVCEARLY at
checkout to save $50!
Genealogy Software | Genealogy Web Sites | Oral History
Wednesday, August 08, 2012 3:43:54 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, February 06, 2012
On a Genealogy Roll: My Research Finds
Posted by Diane
This is the year I was expecting to put genealogy aside while I run after a toddler and pry pieces of dog food out of his mouth. But I've been on a lucky streak, genealogically speaking. I made Some finds in January:
To top it all off, my husband asked for help with his family history, which is kind of like getting a present, so we did some genealogy together. Now I just hope I didn't jinx it, and this lucky streak continues.
- Then I tried out the Genealogy Today data service after I saw an announcement the Surname Search was updated. I try out resources on my family names, though I never expect much when I type in Haddad. But this time, the hit I got partially answered a longstanding question. The site has indexes from biennial reports of a Texas orphanage, which list my grandfather and his two siblings as "inmates." I knew my grandfather and his brother were there, but their sister's whereabouts at that time had been a mystery.
Ancestry.com | Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives | Oral History | Research Tips | Social History
Monday, February 06, 2012 11:06:56 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
iPhone App Helps You Record Family Stories
Posted by Diane
Here's a new smartphone app to consider grabbing before holiday gatherings: Record Their Stories for the iPhone has a built-in edit suite (stop, start, join and trim conversations) and more than 100 questions to help you capture relatives' stories. Use it with the phone's built-in audio recording capabilities.
Keep the recording on your phone or computer. You also can upload it to the Record Their Stories website and order a professionally mixed version of the recording, complete with music and sound effects.
You can get the Record Their Stories iPhone app for 99 cents from the iTunes app store. Learn more at the Record Their Stories website.
Get more help preparing for oral history conversations (learn everything from what to ask to what you should bring) with expert articles on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.
The January 2012 Family Tree Magazine has Lisa Louise Cooke's roundup of favorite apps for family history researchers.
Oral History | saving and sharing family history | Tech Advice
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 12:54:07 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Friday, November 04, 2011
Interview a Friend or Relative on the National Day of Listening
Posted by Diane
African-American genealogy website LowCountry Africana is an official partner with StoryCorps in celebrating the National Day of Listening on Nov. 25.
This will be the fourth annual National Day of Listening. Americans are encouraged to observe it by spending an hour on the day after Thanksgiving interviewing a friend, loved one or community member about their lives.
Lowcountry Africana will participate by recording interviews with residents in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. These areas are home to many descendants of enslaved Africans of the Gullah-Geechee culture. The slaves' rice-growing skills were vital to the massive rice plantations of the Colonial and Antebellum Lowcountry.
Visit Lowcountry Africana's National Day of Listening web pages, with suggestions for how to participate and instructional videos.
StoryCorps, an organization that provides people of all backgrounds with opportunities to preserve thier life stories, has a free online Do-It-Yourself interview guide.
You'll also find guidance for participating in the National Day of Listening in these free FamilyTreeMagazine.com articles:
More resources from ShopFamilyTree.com:
African-American roots | Oral History | saving and sharing family history
Friday, November 04, 2011 9:26:22 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Monday, December 13, 2010
12 Days of Genealogy: Questions for Grandma and Grandpa
Posted by Diane
While we love a calling bird and a lord-a-leaping as much as the next person, we’re not sure how those lovely gifts would fit into our family history research. So we’ve come up with our own countdown, 12 Days of Genealogy, that has ideas for genealogy presents you can give family or put on your Christmas list. The countdown commences now!
On the first day of Christmas, my genea-Santa gave to me: a great book called Questions to Bring You Closer to Grandma and Grandpa: 100+ Conversation Starters for Grandchildren and Grandparents.
With questions such as “What is your favorite family memory?” “How did the world you grew up in differ from today's world?” “Is there anything in life you wish you did, but never have?” this book will help grandkids—young ones and grown-ups—start conversations that will bring the generations closer and pass on family lore.
Questions come in nine chapters including “On Our Family History,” “On Children, Parenting and Being a grandparent” and “Grandma and Grandpa’s Favorite Things.” There’s plenty of space to write in the answers, and you’ll also find advice for starting the conversation and using the book.
Learn more about the book Questions to Bring You Closer to Grandma and Grandpa on ShopFamilyTree.com.
A quick reminder: Today, Dec. 13, is the last day to order for ground shipping delivery by Christmas.
Oral History | 12 Days of Genealogy
Monday, December 13, 2010 10:07:41 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Thursday, August 05, 2010
How to Write Your Family's Story
Posted by Grace
In our upcoming August session, Family Tree University will teach you how to write right in the new class Writing Your Family Memoir: Create a Captivating Record of Your Family’s Story. Frequent Family Tree Magazine contributor Sunny McClellan Morton will teach the class, which includes advice like this to get your creative juices flowing:
In personal/family memoir or narrative family history, you, your family, and ancestors are now characters in a story. Obviously, you're not creating characters out of your imagination—you have real-life people to portray. But you can—and should—borrow the characterization techniques fiction writers use. In four weeks, you'll develop a solid outline and structure for your family history book. (And when you've completed the book, check out Nancy Hendrickson's Creating a Family History Book, which goes into the self-publishing process.) The course starts August 16, so sign up today!
One of the first things a fiction writer learns is to reveal characters to the reader bit by bit, not all at once as can be seen in so many family histories:
"Felice Vallarelli was born on 28 March 1880 in Terlizzi, Bari, Italy."When we meet someone in real life, no one stands there and reads us life statistics (or if he did, we would consider him a terrible bore). Why should we meet you or your family that way? Reveal your characters slowly—through their actions, how they dressed, their beliefs, and so on.
Celebrating your heritage | Family Tree University | Oral History
Thursday, August 05, 2010 10:51:58 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, May 21, 2010
Genealogy News Corral: May 17-21
Posted by Diane
I had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago of talking to Vicky and Jen, of the Vicky and Jen podcast, about doing oral history interviews. We talked about questions to ask, tips for drawing out reticent people, ways to get kids involved and more. Listen on iTunes or at VickyandJen.com.
Subscription site GenealogyBank has added newspaper pages from more than 166 titles in 42 states. If you’ve searched the site before, you can use the “Search only New Content” pulldown menu at the bottom of the search form to search only content added in the past one to three months. (Get more tips in our GenealogyBank Web Guide download, available from ShopFamilyTree.com.)
FamilySearch announced the recipients of its 2010 FamilySearch Software Awards, which go to developers whose “products and technologies that integrate with FamilySearch’s emerging suite of products and services.” You can see a full list of the winning companies on Dick Eastman’s blog.
If you have an iPad, first, I’m jealous. Second, I came across a photo-editing app called Photogene for iPad that imports photos and lets you adjust color, contrast and levels, crop and apply special effects. Then you can save it and share via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter, if you choose. Here’s a review.
Have a great weekend!
FamilySearch | Genealogy Web Sites | Newspapers | Oral History | Photos | Podcasts
Friday, May 21, 2010 4:35:06 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
May We Suggest Some Genealogy Resolutions for 2010?
Posted by Diane
Studies show (well, at least one study shows) that 66 percent of adults have ever made a New Year’s resolution.
So maybe I risk losing a third of you when I suggest making a genealogy-oriented resolution or two. But wait! If you stick around for the rest of this post, I’ll give you some ideas and link to articles that might be helpful in achieving your family history goals:
- Back up your digitized photos, too (in the May 2010 Family Tree Magazine, we’ll recommend several photo-sharing websites for backing up family photos).
Resolve to rent one title a month through a nearby Family History Center. You can get more advice on using FamilySearch in our FamilySearch Essentials Webinar recording.
- Go through your attic and closets and catalog your family heirlooms. You can use our heirloom recording forms to note the items' original owner, provenance, and other important information.
- Commit an hour or so a week to volunteering for a records indexing project. Try FamilySearch Indexing or Ancestry.com’s World Archives Project, or see if your local library or historical society could use your indexing assistance.
- If you’re a beginning family historian, resolve to search the 1930 census (the most recent one available) for every relative who was alive at the time. See our census search tips, and visit a large library to use census microfilm, HeritageQuest Online or Ancestry Library Edition.
Family Heirlooms | Oral History | Photos | Research Tips
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 12:29:49 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Recording Memories of Christmases Past
Posted by Diane
It’s easy to get so busy tracing your ancestors’ lives that you forget to leave traces of your own life.
Which is why I think the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories is so neat. It’s a series of daily blogging prompts for Dec. 1 to 24 that GeneaBloggers author Thomas MacEntee set up to encourage participants to write about Christmases past.
Click here to learn how you can participate. Even if you don’t blog, you could use the prompts to start a holiday memory book you can pass on to your kids or grandkids.
MacEntee will link to participants’ posts each morning on his blog. You can read each day’s posts by clicking on the date on this calendar.
Celebrating your heritage | Genealogy fun | Oral History
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 1:03:50 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Monday, November 23, 2009
Easy Ways to Talk Family History Over Turkey
Posted by Diane
Combine nostalgia, holiday traditions, grandma’s pumpkin pie and immediate access to a bunch of relatives, and what do you get?
An atmosphere ripe for talking about family history.
Thanksgiving is a good time to tell and listen to stories, get IDs for mystery faces in photos, and share your genealogy discoveries. It doesn’t have to be weird or forced—don't announce “Time to talk about genealogy!” just as everyone’s settling in to watch football.
Here are a few easy, unobtrusive ways to start family history discussions.
- Identify the "connector" at the gathering—the relative who knows everyone and starts conversations. Get this person curious about your research by sharing a genealogy discovery or a photo related to his or her ancestor.
- Show off a photo of an ancestor who looks remarkably like a relative who'll be there.
- Over dinner, ask about family recipes, for example, “Where did Grandma learn to make pie like this?”
- Bring up a Thanksgiving from your childhood: “Remember the time Aunt June used salt instead of sugar in the sweet potatoes?”
- Mention changes to an old family home you drove past recently—maybe it’s on the market, or someone built an addition.
- You probably have at least one relative who’s interested in your research. Arrange to show that person some genealogy records at the Thanksgiving gathering, and you may arouse others' curiosity (but be prepared for people to ask for copies).
More resources from Family Tree Magazine:
- If your child or grandchild is working on a family history project for school or scouts, let him bring his blank ancestor chart and ask relatives for help filling it in.
Celebrating your heritage | Oral History | Research Tips
Monday, November 23, 2009 8:58:20 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Friday, April 17, 2009
If Books Could Talk...
Posted by Grace
Don't you wish sometimes that you could ask the books you read questions? Well, the Santa Monica Public Library
has a special Living Library program going on tomorrow where you can check out a person.
The offerings include "a Mormon, an animal rights activist, a police detective, a fat
activist, a feminist, a married Jewish lesbian mom, a little person and
an ex-gang member," among others, according to the LA Now blog
. You can borrow one for a half hour conversation, as long as you return the "book" in the same condition you received it in.
Libraries and Archives | Oral History
Friday, April 17, 2009 2:40:24 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Genealogy Conference Underway in Philadelphia
Posted by Diane
The Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Philadelphia got started last night with exhibit hall preview hours. The hall was busy with genealogists; a live events area features product demos and presentations. This morning is the opening session, followed by three days of conferencing—genealogy classes, meetings and exhibit hall shopping.
We'll keep you updated on conference news. Meanwhile, some show-and-tell. I got into Philadelphia early and tooled around to some of the historic sites, including:
… Christ Church Burial Ground, whose walls guard Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite (not in this photo) and those of other founding fathers and Christ Church congregation members. Few of the headstones are still readable, but a church record book has told caretakers the inscriptions many stones used to bear.
… Independence Hall, where the Constitutional Congress debated the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (The chair at the head of the room is the one from which John Hancock presided over Congress; other chairs aren't original.)
… The Liberty Bell (this is the side opposite the famous crack), which used to be in the Pennsylvania State House. I learned it didn’t crack when the Declaration of Independence was signed—no one knows exactly when the large gap formed, but it was some time between 1817 and 1846.
Genealogy Events | Genealogy fun | Oral History
Thursday, September 04, 2008 7:58:58 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, August 04, 2008
Let the Games Begin!
Posted by Grace
Genealogy fun | Oral History | Social History | Videos
Monday, August 04, 2008 1:48:15 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
New Research Helps on FamilyTreeMagazine.com
Posted by Diane
I wanted to let you know about a few goodies we’ve recently added to our Web site.
First is a group of free research guides—let’s call them “kits.” Each kit is a collection of tips, background information, Web sites, books and CDs to help you with these research topics:
At the top of each page in the kit, you’ll see an In This Article list of what’s on that page. At the bottom of each page, use the More on This Topic section to link to other pages in the kit.
For your researching convenience, we’ve also put together a free PDF guide to locations and contact information for FamilySearch’s Family History Centers in the United States and Canada. You can download that from www.familytreemagazine.com/fhcs
Genealogy Web Sites | Genetic Genealogy | Oral History | Research Tips
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 10:12:22 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Monday, October 29, 2007
StoryCorps: Capturing Oral History
Posted by Allison
You've probably heard of StoryCorps
, a national project to record Americans' oral histories for the benefit of future generations. When a StoryCorps MobileBooth
stopped in Indianapolis late this summer, Bryn Mooth, editor of our sister magazine HOW
, took the opportunity to interview her grandmother. Here she reports on her experiences:
When my grandmother asked if I’d interview her for a project that the public radio station was hosting in her hometown of Indianapolis, I knew she meant StoryCorps. Naturally, I said yes.
I routinely linger in my car, listening to the StoryCorps excerpts aired weekly on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition”—day-brightening audio clips of ordinary people reminiscing about their lives. While I’d often thought it would be neat to visit a StoryCorps recording booth with my 86-year-old grandmother, it seemed unlikely we’d get to the permanent studio in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. That is, until a StoryCorps MobileBooth rolled into town.
The gleaming Airstream trailer, one of two that travel the United States, was a surprisingly comfortable spot for our 40-minute conversation about Grandma’s life. We sat at a table with two large microphones in front of us; StoryCorps staffer Yuki Aizawa ran a sound check, and then we began.
As with any oral history project, the key is asking the right questions to engage the storyteller. So before our interview, I consulted StoryCorps’ online Question Generator. I typed in our names and our relationship to each other, and the site produced a list of questions about growing up, marriage and raising children, working, war experiences and more. I checked off a dozen questions, then edited and rearranged them. I shared them with Grandma in advance, so we were both comfortable with the direction of our chat.
We talked about her parents, her upbringing, her marriage, her three children. We talked about how she supported herself after my grandfather died. And we talked about her experiences as a “celebrity”: You may know my grandmother as Dave’s Mom, who puts her son firmly in his place during segments on “Late Show with David Letterman.” She described her trips to the Winter Olympic Games in Norway and Japan as a “Late Show correspondent, and her annual Thanksgiving Day appearances on the program.
Grandma couldn’t have imagined her life would take the unusual turns it has. And this 40-minute capsule hardly seems to capture her 86 years. But our StoryCorps session was an important way for us to connect and share. When our interview ended, we received a CD recording, a copy of which will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. What we really walked away with, though, was another fond memory.
Interested in learning more? The StoryCorps Web site offers great resources for gathering oral histories, including a do-it-yourself guide. The site’s Question Generator is helpful, even if you don’t participate. You also can find dates and locations for both MobileBooths.
Want to hear a snippet of the conversation with Dave's Mom? Bryn shares this clip:story corps piece mengering.mp3 (1.48 MB)
You can hear more of the intriguing, inspiring and often touching interviews captured by StoryCorps on the project Web site or by subscribing to its podcast
. Get more oral history tips at FamilyTreeMagazine.com
and in our March 2008 issue.
Oral History | Social History
Monday, October 29, 2007 9:14:44 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)