Remember the old saying “Consider the Source”? Family History and Genealogy “Sourcing” is very important to do. “Sourcing” is required to verify your family’s historical information. There are numerous forms of family history and genealogy “Sources”. In the easiest of terms, genealogy “Sourcing” is the proper notation of who, where and when the information was gathered and proved by and/or what document proved the information to be correct. “Sources” can be verbal or written (documents). Please remember to always track your “Sources” in your Genealogy computer program or in your paperwork. Doing so will decrease the chance of you duplicating your work.
The verbal “Sourcing” of family history and genealogy are verbal conversations/interviews with living relatives or friends that have a recollection of your family’s history. An “Oral History Interview” is definitely the way to go. There are definitely some things for you to consider when you interview someone. One of the most import things that I have learned from personal experience, if at all possible, please try to record the interview. You can use audio and/or video. It’s a lot easier to interview a person if you don’t have to worry about writing everything down. Plus, don’t forget to charge your recording device and/or bring your back-up batteries!
It’s also very important for you to remember that you are there to interview them. You need for them to talk as much as possible so that you’ll get the best information possible. This is where you will need to use your “listening ears” a lot. Whether it is on a phone call or in person, please try to encourage them to talk by asking open-ended questions, such as: Will you please describe the sense of humor that your Mother had? What were a few of the talents that your Father had? These will lead them into giving a more lengthy description. Yes and No questions are closed ended. Sometimes they are necessary but should be kept to a minimum. The more details that they can give, the better. A great source for questions to ask for an “Oral History Interview” can be found at http://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/Quest.html. These questions and “Mind Joggers” are wonderful. Please sit down and try to think up a few custom questions of your own too. Often, there are ethnic, religious, business, and many other questions that you can add into mix in that will help.
Please set up an appointment to interview them. Make sure that neither you or they will not be in a hurry. Timing is very important. Make the interview as relaxing as possible too. Often people mirror your mood so it’s important that you are feeling calm and settled when you do your interview. Also, consider the time of day and the schedule of the person that you are going to interview, as well as your schedule. There is nothing worse than being rushed when you are interviewing someone. Remember too, you can always visit or call at a later time or date.
What was the relationship like between this living person and the person that you are asking for information on? Did they get along? Were they close? If they got along well and were close, people have the tendency to remember information better about those that they are closest too. If they didn’t get along well or were not close to each other prior to death, there could be a chance that the information that you receive may not be correct. As a rule of thumb, I always try to find a paper document/written source that will corroborate with what the living person told me. Please DO NOT argue with a living person or tell them that they are wrong. They may sincerely believe that they are correct and very well might be with certain parts of the information. It’s much better to listen to all of what they have to say, record it and then sort it out later. In the end, you may make or publish a book about your family and they can read the truth about the information then. It’s always best to take the high road and keep the conversation on a very kind and friendly level.
What is the health of the relative or friend that you are interviewing? Sometimes, the person that you’re interviewing might remember information because they were close in age to the deceased relative. If so, that means that they may be suffering from the normal malady’s of old age. So, they might have good days and bad days. Sometimes it’s better to interview an elderly person right before lunch time. Avoiding times that are after meals is a good idea. A full stomach often makes all of us sleepy. The more alert they are, the better. Keep in mind the time of day and the location of the interview. If the person is elderly and lives in a nursing home, they might not have a private room. Some people are more comfortable talking in private or outside if it’s a warm, nice day.
Once you have completed the interview, it’s a must to send a thank you note to the person that you interviewed. I also promise to give them a copy of the genealogy that I put together when I’m done. They usually appreciate that.
When you have used a person as a verbal source, it’s up to you whether or not you want to reflect that in your writing. If the information was correct, after using a document/paper source to verify, then it’s proper to give credit where credit is due.
Written Sourcing for Family History and Genealogy is a very necessary part of your genealogy research. I, as a standard for my work, verify all Verbal Sourcing with a written document, if at all possible. Often, the only way that you can move forward with your family history and genealogy is to use the many written sources that are available. Anyone that is planning on breaking through those walls that we hit when we are researching our ancestors will need to diligently, carefully and intelligently locate and utilize the written sources that are available. Written sources can be found on the computer, in books, in newspapers, on microfilm, on microfiche, on tombstones, in family history’s, in bible records and on maps. Here is a list of the most common sources that we can use:
- Census Sound Indexes and Census Records
- Vital Statistics – Birth, Death and Marriages
- Newspapers – Obituaries, Marriages, Births, & Community Involvements/Events
- County Histories – Biographies
- Cemeteries – Tombstones & Burial Records
- Atlas – Maps, City Directories
- Libraries – Local, Genealogical, Historical, Public
- Church/ Temple Records – Membership, Christening, Baptism, Confirmation, Bat/Bar Mitzvah, Marriage & Death
- Computer Postings – that can be verified w/documents.
- Adjutant General – Grave Registration, Military Records
- Wills and other Probate Records – guardianship, Divorce
- Deeds – Grantor, Grantee Indexes – Land Grants
- National Archives
If you are diligent with doing your verbal and/or written sources, your family history and genealogy will come together nicely. You will find information about your ancestors that you never knew before. I love to find new documents and pull a small piece of information out of it that magnifies that line of my family. I can honestly say that it has happened more than a few times. I hope that it happens for you as well.