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January 26, 2009

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I've been having my own. In a moment of forgetfulness, a couple of weeks ago, I contacted an aged aunt who I'd been warned was too 'frail and sensitive' to be asked questions. Not only did she tell me the name of (and stories of) some-one I've been seeking for YEARS, but she was thrilled to hear from me and wants to continue communicating. So, bah humbug to you 'youngsters' who are trying to nurture the elderly toward their graves when they'd rather be engaged with the living.

We recently found out my mother-in-law had lung cancer and was given only 6-8 weeks to live (She passed away on January 4th...six seeks to the day!). During that time, my husband spent a lot of time just sitting and talking to his Mom. He said the one thing she wanted to do was talk about when he was a child, her life in Japan before she came to the U.S., and to tell him stories about her parents. She spoke to him about the day the Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and how she had felt when she saw the flash of light and the mushroom cloud from her home 75 miles away. She told him about her Aunt dying from radiation poisoning.

He says that what had started out to be a sad, and upsetting time for him became enjoyable hours spent in the company of his mother. He also says he would not trade those hours for anything, because not only was he making her happy by letting her reminisce but it gave him fond memories and understandings about things she had never spoken of before.

We all hope to interview the elders of the family first and often they don't think they have anything worth sharing (actually they may be afraid that they can not recall answers to interview quations or ar afraid that they may be asked about embarassing things.

I notice that even reluctant talkers often "take off" with stories when they look at family photographs. One of the first things I request is to see their own family photos and have a routine set of questions to be used with any photo. Of course, who are those people and how are they related, where and about when would that picture have been taken. What were the special behaviors that people would expect of them. What did the family laugh about of their young years; what did they end up doing for occupations; what about their marriage and family; what special hobbies did they have; etc. Legacy has an extensive list of possible interview ideas, but if we can find family photos to share, the interview tends to just roll out.

Of course, trying to get copies of those photos is a valuable idea, but also take a photo of the folks you interview is building more family history as you get to do an interview (be sure to let them "spruce up" at bit for their photo. Often they would take a photo with the interviewer when reluctant to have a "potrait" photo of just them.

Elders often like to take naps, so scheduling a visit at times of their choosing can be very important, and consider that they often need time for "potty breaks", etc. If there is a common relative that they like, see if they can join in the interview, but prepare them to understand that you need more listening than talking during the precious limited interview time.

My parents and fifteen aunts and uncle are all dead now. I started doing genealogy when my father died five years ago. I did not follow the rule to interview your living relatives first and went ahead and worked on "ancestors". Now when I would dearly love to ask them just a few basic questions they are gone. My advice is interview your living ancestors first.

Dropbox is becoming very popular now as a way to share files and photos. It's the easiest thing I've ever seen for file-sharing, working straight from your hard-drive. Today I sent 80 photos of my aunt (collected from other people) into a private gallery for her to look at. I haven't heard from her for over a week so maybe she's napping. This might perk up her interest again. I hope, since I mentioned I probably have the dates wrong on some and would appreciate her help. Get Dropbox here: http://www.getdropbox.com/

This takes me back to a conversation I remember when I was a little girl. My grandmother casually mentioned to me one Thanksgiving, "Well, you know you're related to William Bradford of the Mayflower and Plymouth Colony." I had not heard that before but because we had just done a social studies unit on the Pilgrims, the Plymouth Colony and the Mayflower, it sparked my interest immediately. I asked her how we were related and she didn't know. THAT was my first brick wall but not for long. Hearing that from my grandmother really sparked my interest in genealogy, a love I have worked on for over 40 years. I love it just as much today as I did when I solved that first brick wall. Every time I find a new line or add just one name to my growing list of descendents, I am just as excited.

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