This 3-step project will help you capture a relative’s life story in plenty of time for the holidays!
Reconstructing the life stories of our ancestors can sometimes feel like squeezing water from a stone. By comparison, gathering the life stories of the living can be like turning on a tap. All you have to do is direct and catch the flow.
Turn your family history interviews into a beautiful book–just in time for holiday sharing–with this three-step project. Simplify it or doll it up, depending on your time, talents and what you have to work with. Just do it! Write your family history! Here’s the basic outline:
1. Record an interview. Invite a relative to chat with you about his or her life stories. Decide together what the relative WANTS to talk about: childhood memories? Stories about a certain loved one or a particular time period? A little of everything? Consider using a list of life story questions or memory prompts like those you can find in my book, My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.
Before you begin, be clear that your goal is to write these stories up for the family. Meet in person, over the phone or by Skype (click here to learn how to record a Skype conversation). With permission, record the conversation. Ask plenty of follow-up questions, but otherwise keep your own comments to a minimum. For more interviewing tips, listen to this free Family History Made Easy podcast episode.
2. Transcribe the interview. After you’ve finished your chat, go back and type up the interview. Give yourself plenty of time: this takes longer than you think. Consider asking a fast-typing relative to help or hire a transcription service (here’s one option). Type things just as you hear them, incomplete sentences and all. Don’t include anything your loved one wants to keep “off the record.”
3. Print the transcript. Save an unedited copy of the typescript in your permanent files. Edit it a little to make it “reader-friendly” if you want to. Print it out. Add any extras, like family tree charts or copies of photos. Bind it however you prefer. (Genealogy Gems Premium website members can check out Lisa’s 3-part Premium podcast series on self-publishing: episodes 52-54). Share copies with loved ones: they make great holiday gifts.
Here’s a page from a sample project I did. It’s a simple stapled book, printed in landscape (sideways) format on regular-sized paper. I left the narrative in the format of a simple Q&A, just like it was spoken. I did edit slightly for clarity and flow. My questions are in italics and the speakers are identified (I was interviewing a husband and wife together). I added a few photos.
I shared copies of this book with every family member as holiday gifts a few years ago. Now everyone has a special legacy gift featuring this couple: their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren.
Now is the time for you to write a portion of your family history, and I’m here to help and support you. I will be conducting a fun and productive one-week workshop called the Genealogist’s Essential Writing Workshop at Family Tree University starting October 19. You can do this and I’m here to help!
Additional Family History Writing Resources from Genealogy Gems
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The Social Security Applications and Claims Index was one of 2015’s most important new online resources for U.S. researchers (keep reading to see the other). No wonder it made the #7 spot on this week’s Top 10 genealogy blog post countdown!
This summer, Ancestry.com quietly released a major addition to its U.S. record resources. We already rely on the Social Security Death Index to help us find 20th-century relatives. But so many of us have lamented at how limited is the info in that index, and how expensive to order the original application when there’s no guarantee we’ll find the person’s parents names (which are requested on the form).
I’m guessing that’s why Lisa’s post on Ancestry’s new Social Security Applications and Claims Index made the #7 spot on our genealogy blog countdown this week! This enriched index adds parents’ names and more to millions of SSDI indexed entries. Click here to read more about it and search the index.
Want to read about another top database for U.S. researchers that was recently released? Click here!
Don’t forget about our countdown prize this week!Click here to see all Top 10 blog posts–and share that post on your Facebook page by THIS Friday (November 20, 2015). Use the hashtag #genealogygems, and you’ll be entered in a contest to win my Pain Free Family History Writing Project video course download, kindly donated by our friends at Family Tree University. You’re welcome to add any comments on your “shared” post, like which Genealogy Gems blog post has most inspired you or helped your research. That feedback helps us bring you more posts you’ll love.
Ready, set, SHARE! And thank YOU for helping us celebrate our 1000th blog post here at Genealogy Gems.
Here’s an innovative way to use Facebook for family history. It comes from my downloadable video class, Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects.
Are you using Facebook to gather family history from your relatives? You can! It’s a version of “crowd-sourcing,” or using the internet to ask lots of people at a time for help. Here are two specific examples:
I posted this first photo in my husband’s family reunion Facebook page, after being given a ton of photos from past reunions. I couldn’t identify anyone in the picture and I couldn’t tell what was happening, but it looked like something special. After I posted it, one person commented, “Boy that’s an old photo of me”–which identified someone in the picture! Then an aunt commented that this was a bridal shower held during the annual family reunion. Yay! The mystery photo was captioned.
In this second example, I asked for more than just a photo caption. I posted a yearbook photo of my grandfather and two newspaper articles about him in our family Facebook group. In the accompanying post I asked, “Does anyone know anything about his time in the military? All I know is his entry/release dates, that he was in the Navy and a radar tech.” I tagged several close relatives so they would see it. (This was in our closed Facebook group. You can tag people by typing the @ sign and then their names in the post or in a comment below it.)
The response was fantastic. My aunt said grandpa served on a ship in the Atlantic and mentioned a rank she thinks he achieved. My uncle said he had some related papers and would send them to me (yay!). Even better, some younger family members commented how much a sibling or son looked like grandpa at that age. A cousin snagged what I’d posted for her daughter’s family history project. So even those younger relatives who couldn’t tell me about grandpa could benefit from the online conversation.
BONUS TIP: I get the best response when I post an image or video along with my questions. Pictures and videos will catch people’s interest, jog their memories and sometimes prompt additional comments. This is a good way to remind people of your interest in the family stories and to share what you already have.
This story collecting tip came from my video class: Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects.
MSN recently reported the surfacing of perhaps the oldest known message in a bottle. If YOU sent one, what would it say? Warning: craft idea ahead!
British scientist George Parker Bidder set afloat a flotilla of 1,000 bottles in 1906. According to MSN, the vessels were “designed to float above the sea floor in attempts to study ocean currents. All of the bottles contained a postcard that listed instructions in English, German and Dutch to return the note to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, England, in exchange for a shilling. When most of the bottles–not all–were found a few months later, Bidder was able to confirm his theory that the deep sea current flowed west in the North Sea, a body of water that borders Great Britain, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.”
Then recently, a newly-discovered bottle came ashore on the beaches of Amrum, a German island in the North Sea. The woman who recovered it did get her shilling–which had to be purchased from eBay.
My Message in a Bottle Experience
A few months ago, I discovered for myself that the tradition of sending out messages in bottles was still alive. While participating in a local Lake Erie beach cleanup near my home on the east side of Cleveland, a member of our group discovered a bottle. Someone buy medicine online japan gave it to me. Inside were several letters written fairly recently. As I scanned them, I gradually realized they were all love letters to a baby who had passed away. We gently put the letters back in the bottle and the bottle back in the water. But I haven’t forgotten it.
Does the idea of sending a message in a bottle appeal to you? It doesn’t have to be a pain-filled message cast on the waters, though that might be a therapeutic way to say goodbye or “I miss you” to loved ones. Another option is a happy letter, placed in a cute bottle and given right to a loved one (I suppose you could float it in their sink at home!).
I found this cute how-to craft on YouTube that could inspire YOUR message in a bottle. What would you say? To whom would you send it? Where would you launch it, and how would you hope it would be found?