Finding Your Family History Voice | The Armchair Genealogist
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Finding Your Family History Voice

I remember the day I decided I was going to make family history my mission. Like so many of you, I was excited by this new project. I was eager to get started, to talk to my family and start compiling my family history. 

I was shocked when other family members didn't share in my enthusiasm. There were objections to granting me interviews, my subjects felt they didn't have anything worthy to share. Request for pictures and information were not forthcoming, and some objected to some of the results I had uncovered. The process of updating births, marriages and death dates became a chore. What do you mean my mission wasn't a priority in the lives of my family.

I know I am not alone. Most new family historians are excited when they discover genealogy and begin their search; they eagerly turn to their family for answers. The genealogy world insists upon it. Start with your family, start with the living. However, no one prepares us for the objections we will face. 

When I interviewed John Paul Godges for his family memoir Oh, Beautiful, John eluded that his family was very talkative, and willing share and that made the writing of his book much easier. Oh how I wish we all had that kind of family. We do not.

Many and perhaps yourself included are disappointed when their family doesn't share your enthusiasm and even more particularly when they don't share their knowledge and accessibility to artifacts. When your requests for information are ignored and you find little interest from others, you become frustrated. Perhaps even other fellow family history researchers object to your findings, you may find yourself on a very lonely journey. 

Perhaps you're an introverted genealogist, the thought of interviewing family members scares you. It can be an overwhelming and a completely uncomfortable task for many. 

This is when it's time to take a step back and reconvene. How can you find your family history voice? How can you get others to respond to your requests and gain the respect of your family as the family historian? The one they will immediately think of and share with when they recall their family history memories or the one they'll turn to when they stumble upon and artifact or document or picture. You want to be that person. 

I’ve assembled a few tips to help you find your family history voice.   

1.     Getting The Word Out – A simple email to family members that you are researching the family history and would appreciate any information is the first step. Now, don't expect immediate responses. You are laying the ground work. Let them receive it as information.

2.     Be Patient- it may take some time for you to find your voice and for others to respect and trust your family history mission. Don't bombard them, ease your way into it. I know you’re excited and you want to gather as much information as soon as possible but you must take the time to earn their trust. 

3.     Be Honest About Your Plans – share how you plan to use the information, on a blog, in a book, for your eyes only or to past down to the next generation. It goes a long way to gaining trust and respect from for your family. Help them understand you’re not just being nosy but leaving a legacy and honouring the family name.

4.     Don't Overwhelm - too many requests all at once can shut a family member down. Take baby steps. Ease into it with small questions. One or two questions at a time opposed to a 3-page essay. Becoming the family historian is not meant to be work for them. Make the process as little encroaching on their lives as possible. 

5.     Share Your Findings - to get the conversation flowing share your knowledge before demanding they share their understanding of events. Lead by example. It can often lead to deeper and more insightful information. 

6.     Keep It Informal - Holiday gatherings are perfect time to talk family history. Bring an old picture or artifact to a gathering, pass it around and watch and listen to the information flow. 

7.     Don't Argue - record everyone's point of view, don’t argue over other family members versions of a story or what version of the family tree is correct. Trust that your primary sources will lead you to the truth. 

8.     Treat Every Family Member As Special - be empathetic to their concerns and convey that every piece of information no matter how irrelevant they think it may be is an opportunity to a new discovery.

 Do you struggle with interviewing the living?  

What problems do you face in acquiring information from your family? Do you encounter difficult family members who don't want to share? Intimidated by interviews or never conducted an interview before? Are you asking the right questions in the right manner? Are you asking the difficult questions? 

 Many encounter these difficulties. When it came time to interview my family, I realized I was going to have to turn to the interviewing skills I had acquired through my 20 years as a manager and trainer. 

I want to help new family historians develop those skills as well. Allow me to guide you through the interview process and prepare you to conduct your most rewarding family history interviews. Watch for my free ebook January 2013. 

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