23 April 2011

Interviewing Family

Time and time again I read that I should start with interviewing my own family. This is one piece of advise I did not heed...at least not right away. I always put it off because I was afraid of prying too much or being a nuisance.

When I finally decided to give it a try, my great uncle was generous enough to spend an hour on the phone with me discussing our family history. I was nervous, but well prepared. Before I called, I printed out his pedigree chart and wrote a list of questions and topics I wanted to cover. Here are a few of the questions I asked:
  • When is your birthday and where were you born?
  • What is the birth order of your siblings? (I got their birth years)
  • Do you know why your grandparents moved from Poland to Baltimore? (He did not)
  • Did your father have any siblings? (I got names of his siblings and some of their children)
  • What were your parents/grandparents like?
  • What was it like growing up with you siblings?
By the end of our conversation, I not only had a page of notes to type, but I also had a few great stories about my ancestors. Talking to someone who knew my ancestors put them into a context I could not have learned from records alone.

But I also got clues that propelled my research. I knew that one of my second great-grandmothers went by Pearl, but since I learned the names of her other children, I was able to locate a census record that identified her given name as Peliagis. My great uncle was able to narrow down my other second great-grandmother's death year for me. This information helped me find both of them in the Maryland Death Index, so I was able to order their Death Certificates, which I hope will include their places of birth in Poland and their maiden names.

I cannot stress enough the importance of interviewing your family members before it is too late. My breakthroughs were possible because of information from my family. I finally stopped spinning my wheels and started asking for what I needed...and I am still thankful that I did.


  1. That is so true. We may start out hesitant because of that 'prying' feeling - but boy, ask the right questions and the great aunts/uncles will give you things that are priceless.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. Thanks, Theresa! I am glad I got over my fears because it certainly paid off. Good to know I am not alone - it sounds like you have had a similar experience.