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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters-Tracing Women by Lisa Alzo, M.F.A.. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Family Interviews and Oral History
Whenever possible, interview your older family members. If your female ancestor is deceased, then interview her children, grandchildren, other relatives, friends and/or neighbors.
Interviewing a person on tape is a great way to get a family story in his/her own words. (Always obtain permission first to audio or videotape interview). The interview will usually capture the person’s emotions/feelings. You should transcribe the tape as accurately as possible and make notes about any details you recall from the interview (e.g. the interviewee started to cry or his/her voice cracked at a certain part, etc.).
A great book to consult if you are serious about conducting oral history interviews is Record and Remember: Tracing Your Roots Through Oral History by Ellen Epstein and Rona Mendelsohn. If you find that you do not have any living relatives to interview, don’t despair. If you have an unusual surname you may have luck locating others with the same surname in phone books or city directories (which you can find in most libraries) or check online telephone directories. You may be able to locate interviews with folks who had similar experiences to your ancestors’. Check sites such as StoryCorps for sample clips and History Matters.
Be sure to verify all family stories with the facts. Often there is a “twist” to the story, but pay attention to all potential clues (references to names, dates, places, unusual occurrences, etc.) that could point you in the right direction. Typically, children will have particular insight into their mother because a woman would be primarily responsible for child-rearing.
Detailed tips and techniques for conducting oral history are covered in the National Institute for Genealogical Studies course Writing Your Family History Book.
Five Strategies for Finding Female Ancestors
1. Check all records for her husband, especially tax, property, and naturalization records. Also check records for siblings. Look for clues in photographs, newspapers, yearbooks, bridal books, employment, convent, military, and other records.
2. Consider the possibility of more than one marriage and multiple burial markers.
3. Learn naming practices and patterns and note regional, cultural, and religious influences. For example, Elizabeth (English) vs. Alzebeta (Czech and Slovak) vs. Erzébet (Hungarian). Investigate different endings for female surnames (e.g. in for Slovaks, add an –ova, to a woman’s name when searching databases or European records).
4. Be aware of spelling variations, and handwriting/transcription errors when searching census, immigration or vital records.
5. Create a timeline to place the woman’s life in historical context.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters-Tracing Women offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.