07 January 2012

Scrapbook Sunday: If You Can't Interview, Remember!

Four Generations
by Mary Ann Hoberman

Sometimes when we go out for walks,
I listen while my father talks.
The thing he talks of most of all
Is how it was when he was small

And he went walking with his dad
And conversations that they had

About his father and the talks
They had when they went out for walks. [1]


Like many of you, my family history research intensified after the death of my remaining living grandparent, my grandmother, Barbara. While I listened eagerly to her stories of our family's past, I never sat down and interviewed her. This post is not, however, about what could have been. It is about what you can do if you didn't interview your parents, grandparents or other lost loved ones. It is about how to bring the memories hiding in the recesses of your own cobwebbed brain out into the light of day. Let's remember the stories we have heard and write them down.


The assignment for Week 4 [Day 7] of the Family History Album Class is to spend some time answering questions about our parents' or grandparents' lives.  Jessica Sprague asks us to close our eyes, let ourselves travel back in time and be in the moment before we answer them. In effect we are interviewing ourselves about what we have learned about our ancestors.

Remembering was emotionally intense for me. It's one thing to tell the facts, it is quite another to think about what life was like and the emotions our ancestors may have experienced. Three of my grandparents had difficult childhoods. I have heard the stories, but the act of processing it and writing it down was a challenge. After I had written a page, I realized that these stories won't be shared on my blog. It's still too recent, still too fresh. Plus, these are my hazy memories of what I have heard and been told and it is likely that they are not entirely accurate.

Separating Fact from Fiction

The memories I put down today are based on stories I have heard. Are they the truth? Yes. Are they factual? No. In genealogical research family stories are akin to family legends. There may be elements of truth to the memories, but they must be treated as what they are, stories. This applies whether you are directly interviewing your grandmother or you are remembering and putting down on paper the stories she told you. She could get it right or wrong and so could you. Memories are like that.

Here is an example. My mother-in-law told us the story of her father going to visit family in Oklahoma. Through research and a fortuitous connection on JewishGen.org, I discovered that her father had indeed visited family in another state, but it was Iowa, not Oklahoma. There were elements of truth in her story. Her father had traveled across the country to visit family, but some of the details were incorrect. As family historians we need to be open to both the possibility of truth and falsehood in the stories we collect.

Oh, the stories they will tell! 

If you would like more information about conducting family histories, visit Cyndi's List. She has an excellent collection of links for collecting oral history.

Happy Scrapbook Sunday!

Scrappy Gen
Let's Remember!

[1] Mary Ann Hoberman, Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers (New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1993), 5.


  1. OH I love this! Great job! I know just what I'm going to do! When I will do it I'm not sure! :) I need to get PSE on the desktop, it just won't work on my laptop.

  2. Thank you Jenna. PSE requires a lot of processing room (I think that's what it's called.). It seems to be tripping up several of our GeneaScrappers. Looking for an easier or less expensive option.

  3. I love that poem! I have spent some time with my dad lately over lunches. On Thursdays we deliver meals on wheels together and then go to lunch. I have found out a lot of things I never knew about him! It has been enchanting!


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