The following article was written by my good friend, William Dollarhide. Enjoy…
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 48: If you never ask the question, you’ll never know the answer.
As a follow-up to my earlier article, If You Never Ask the Question, here are some more suggestions for interviewing your family members:
● One technique I use is to ask a question that I’m pretty sure will get a negative response. With some relatives if you just say “Aunt Betty was born around 1930, right?” they will simply agree and not give details. But if you phrase it as “Aunt Betty was a lot younger than you, right?” you may not only get a “No, she was NOT!” but a stream of details supporting this. This is a parallel to the suggestion to ask about a person’s experiences – make it personal. You just have to know which relatives this works with. (from a GenealogyBlog reader)
● My great uncle was a veteran of WWII. His company was at Normandy Beach, not in the first wave, but fairly soon after most of the intense fighting was done on that same day. He has always refused to give much information about that time in his life and when asked to speak at church functions, etc. has always told them “no.” When I interviewed him, I approached many other subjects first to help him feel comfortable and then I led up to that time by showing him pictures of himself before he got on the train to leave his family and a few pictures that I have of him in uniform. I didn’t ask him about his experiences, just about facts. For example, what company was he in? What exactly does the anti-aircraft artillery do? When did he get to Normandy? Each time he answered a factual question he would add some memories with it. Eventually I didn’t have to ask any more questions and I got over an hour of tape with stories from the war. My mother, who was with me, said it was the most she has ever heard him talk about his experiences in the war. My grandmother has lost most of her long-term memory. Sometimes though I just throw out names and places or ask her if she had a playhouse when she was little or a favorite ice cream. Almost always she is able to come back with some memories and I write them down immediately. Usually in the next hour she doesn’t remember it anymore.
(from Stacey Dietiker)
● During WW2 everyone had ration cards and they had to be signed by the person to whom they were issued — I was about 14 years old and just found mine in some papers and I am thrilled to see that my signature shows what my handwriting was at that time, to say nothing of having such an official document represent me. For someone who never had seen one, my own children are thrilled too, just to see what the ration card and stamps looked like. At this point in my life, I have no idea why this was saved and probably wouldn’t have included it in anything I was showing as an artifact of the war days, unless someone specifically asked. (from Betty N. Rhoda)
● Betty’s comment brought back a memory about ration cards in my own family. I recall mother telling me about the war years in Seattle and learned that in 1942 my Dad had gone downtown to get ration stamps. Apparently, he had to fill in an application form and list every member of the family, including their names, ages, heights, and weights. When he came home he had my height listed as “one foot” on the form (I was six months old). Mother thought that was just hysterical — that he thought I was 12 inches long at age of six months. (How long are you at six months, anyway?) But, then, knowing my Dad, he probably just placed his hands apart the way a fisherman would recall the size of a fish he once caught. In any case, that there were some records taken at the time of rationing during WWII with such specific personal information makes one wonder whether such records were ever retained somewhere. They sound like primary genealogical sources. Anyone know? (from Bill Dollarhide)
● I also recall a favorite story of my Dad’s about the rationing era. Before the War, he had a friend who was always kidding him about having so many children – I was the final one, number seven, born four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so the fellow must of thought six kids was too many. But during the rationing era of World War II, the number of ration stamps increased by the number of family members you had. Dad loved telling about the time the same friend asked him for a couple ration stamps so he could buy gas, but Dad told him, “Sorry, buddy, if you just had more children, you wouldn’t need more gas stamps.” (from Bill Dollarhide)
● I have been doing Life’s Reflections (oral histories) for over 20 years and have heard some of the most fascinating stories and recollections over this time period. People kept asking to borrow my questions so I put it in a kit form so folks can do their own interviewing. A fun question I have recently added into the format is “What have you made that other people have enjoyed?”
Also ask for their thoughts on abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide — the answers are awesome, as I get such a wonderful variety of answers. My web site basically deals with my Life’s Reflections Memories kit — though I also offer to do the interviewing myself (for a fee) for two 90-minute tapes in a nice personalized album with a picture of the person taken the day of the interview. I find the best way to market both of these is to be in network groups. Any other suggestions? Check out my website if you so desire at www.lifesreflections.com
(from Jan Lindgren)
See my earlier blog, If you Never Ask the Question.
See Recording Your Family History, by William Fletcher