October 5, 2015

How To Do A Genealogical Interview

Get comfortable

If you have made arrangements ahead of time to interview a particular person, try to do it in a quiet setting where there will be little or no interruptions. If you will be tape recording your subject, make sure ahead of time that your recorder is in prime working order (batteries, settings, etc.) and set it close enough to pick up all the dialog, especially if you have a quiet speaking interviewee. Talk about general topics if you will be taking notes, to get them comfortable with the interview setting. Speak slowly and clearly. Tell your subject that you will give them a break when they need one.

Begin with the basics

Depending on what you might already know about your subject’s name and birth dates, you can skip that information and focus on other questions that might give you more background information.

Some questions to ask:

  • Where were you born? (City, state, country)
  • Were you born at home, or in a hospital or nursing home?
  • Do you know what time of day you were born?
  • Was there a world event that took place the same day? (End of a war, weather event, etc.)
  • Were there other siblings? (This could lead to a long answer, so maybe save it to ask in a separate session.)
  • Where do you fall in birth order?
  • Did your parents both work? What were their professions?
  • What do you know about your mother’s/father’s ancestors? (City, state, country)
  • Are there any celebrities in your family tree?
  • Why did they come to the United States from that country?
  • Did they bring any family traditions with them?
  • What important lessons did you learn from your (Mother, father, grandparents, etc.)
  • Who were the best story tellers in your family?
  • What will you always remember about them?
  • Were you taught any special skills? (Cooking, carpentry, sewing, fishing, hunting, etc.)
  • What were the things you did as a child, teen, and adult that have given you the most pleasure?
  • Were you ever in any accidents?
  • What were the newest discoveries during the time you were growing up?
  • How has the world changed since you were a child?
  • In what way was the world better then?
  • What was your favorite subject in school?
  • What did you like to do after school?
  • Did you ride a bike to school, a bus, or walk? Or, were you taken to school by car?
  • Did you get good grades?
  • What was the extent of your formal education?
  • Is there anything that you would like to tell me about that you feel I should know?

Don’t expect to get all of your questions answered in one sitting. Take this list with you and highlight the most important things you want to know. If your subject is willing to answer more questions, then go back and ask your secondary questions.

Depending on your relationship with the subject, keep in mind that your questions could bring up sad or angry memories. If they do, either move on,change the subject or end the interview. This should be a fun exercise, not something unpleasant. Happy interviewing! :)

50 Interview Questions for Family Biographies

I don’t even have to bring it up anymore, the subject of genealogy and family history is always a topic at any family gathering I attend anymore. Last Thursday was no different, and I mentioned to my nephew’s mother-in-law (also named Carol) that I had thought about interviewing my brother.

She is the guilty party person that got me into doing genealogy seriously way back in 1994, so she was all for that idea. But, how do you go about interviewing your sibling, or anyone for that matter? What questions should you ask? I happened upon 50 of them in an article by Kimberly Powell at About.com that I think might just fit the bill.

I copied the questions and sent them to my brother in an email, telling him to take his time answering them so he doesn’t get overwhelmed. I did have to caution him to keep his wicked famous sense of humor in check…but other than that, he shouldn’t have any problems. I told him that I was going to answer the questions too so he wouldn’t feel like he was the only one laboring through 50 questions.

Dual Citizenship Through DNA Results?

DNA Testing

As someone who has elected to have my own DNA tests done, I can see that if the various DNA testing labs keep making it affordable, this is going to be an industry that will keep on growing. I know my Cherokee friend said that her family members are investigating having their’s done too.  Right now, as the article says, the backlog for all of us might be a big problem.

African Americans

More U.S. blacks seek African roots – UPI.com
Right now, the problem I see is that we have a long way to go to get all of us into more definitive family groups. I was surprised at the concept of having a dual citizenship through DNA results for African American people, but it makes sense to me. My own family tree is probably too diluted to apply for the same citizenship for Sweden, even though my Great Grandparents emigrated from there. Truthfully though, I don’t consider myself a Swedish-American. I’m just American citizen of the USA.

Dual Citizenship

Would you seek dual citizenship if it was available to you?

A Tenuous Connection To Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

When we were little kids in grade school each year we would dutifully make profile pictures of Abe Lincoln and proudly take them home to Mom and Dad. It never occurred to me that many years later I would be researching my husband’s family tree and find that there was a “kissin’ cousin” connection to the great man.

I should say, my husband is not directly related to Lincoln, but one of his DeSpain cousins was married into the Hanks family. Here’s how the connection happened:

Descendants of Andrew Jackson Hanks (brother to Nancy Hanks, Lincoln’s mother)

1      [1] HANKS, Andrew Jackson  Source1: 1870 United States Federal Census, Source2: 1880 United States Federal Census, Source3: 1860 United States Federal Census, Source4: 1850 United States Federal Census    b: 1815 in Grayson, KY
.        +PORTER, Melinda          m: 17 Mar 1837 in Illinois      d: 29 Apr 1856 in Pleasant Grove, Des Moines, IA
2      HANKS, Matilda  Source: “Obit for Nancy Hanks DESPAIN”            d: Aft. 1932 in Clovis, Fresno, CA
.        +CARTER, John
2      HANKS, Caroline
.        +HAWKS, William
2      HANKS, Elizabeth              d: 1927
.        +MCNEIL, Jerimiah (Jim)      b: 1838    m: Abt. 1866      d: 1919 in New London, Des Moines County, IA
2      HANKS, Mary Ann
.        +SHEPHERD, A.C.              d: Abt. 1864 in Civil War
2      HANKS, Melinda
.        +EVANS, Milton
2      HANKS, Celia
.        +MATTHEWS, G. W.
2      HANKS, Charles  Source: “Obit for Nancy Hanks DESPAIN”    b: 1841        d: 1937
.        +CARPENTER, Eliza Jane              d: 1914
2      HANKS, Nancy  Source: “Obit for Nancy Hanks DESPAIN”    b: 05 Jul 1848 in Pleasant Grove, Des Moines, IA        d: 04 Jul 1932 in New London, Des Moines, IA  src: “Obit for Nancy Hanks DESPAIN”
.        +DESPAIN, Newton  Source: 1880 United States Federal Census    b: 18 Feb 1851 in Louisville, Jefferson, KY    m: 29 Apr 1869 in New London, Des Moines, IA      d: 08 Mar 1915 in New London, Des Moines, IA
2      HANKS, William Henry  Source: “Obit for Nancy Hanks DESPAIN”    b: 1854 in New London, Des Moines, IA        d: 1933 in New London, Des Moines, IA
.        +MCCUNE, Harriet      b: 1855        d: 1946
*2nd Wife of [1] HANKS, Andrew Jackson:
.        +ROWE, Sophia      b: in New Jersey    m: Aft. 1838      d: 27 Aug 1879 in Pleasant Grove, Des Moines, IA
*3rd Wife of [1] HANKS, Andrew Jackson:
.        +MORAND, Milcah Gardiner          m: 07 Jan 1881

My husband’s connection to Lincoln and the DeSpains:

(1) John DeSpain and Mariah Perkins were parents of

(2) *Mary Elizabeth DeSpain who married **John W. Whittmore 05 Nov 1865

(2) Newton DeSpain who married Nancy Hanks 29 April 1869

*there were other siblings

** John W. Whittmore was a Medal of Honor Recipient in the Civil War

Mary Elizabeth and John Whitmore’s daughter

(3) Mariah M. Whitmore married William Henry Wilkerson 11 March 1896 at Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa

Mariah and William Wilkerson were parents of

(4) Wesley L. Wilkerson who married Amanda Bean 17 November 1923 at Nashua, Iowa

Wesley and Amanda were parents of

Loren Wilkerson, father of my husband Jim




The Home Friend 1909

In the late 1980’s my husband and I owned an old house here in Port Orchard, Washington. It was in dire need of repair, and at one time we were in the process of tearing down a wall separating two rooms on the first floor. As we got one side of the wall boards off my husband noticed a rolled up paper inside which revealed itself to be an old ‘magazine’ called The Home Friend. I have toted that old magazine around for all these years, and just before Christmas I took it to a copier and had the pages scanned, printed and put on disk.  It is now 100 years later and I thought it would be fun to share some of the articles and advertisements contained in that homemade time capsule.  Be looking for them in future posts here on iPentimento. In the mean time, I leave you with one of the articles as a small tribute to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.


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