Helpful hint #4: Interviewing Relatives–Before It’s Too Late

Saturday at a monthly genealogy meeting one of the woman at my table was telling us about how when she was growing up, at family gatherings, the men would go off and do their thing, the children would go play, and the older woman would gather around a table and talk about family and relatives–often those who passed away. At the time, she thought, “Who would want to talk about dead relatives.”

Now that this woman is interested in her family history, and finds herself sitting at the table with the “older” women, she realizes it’s with her cousins. The older generation, who would be able to tell her about her grandparents’ and great grandparents’ and remember stories about them, have all passed away.

Don’t let this happen to you. Below are some helpful suggestions for interviewing relatives:

1) Make sure they feel at ease. This often means interviewing them in their own home so they are sitting in their favorite chair.  Take time to get to get to know the person first if it’s not a relative you know well before you start asking them questions about the family.

2) Ask specific questions that are not too general that they could just answer yes or no to. Do not ask leading questions (i.e. Aunt Ruth had seven sisters, right?). The person you are interviewing may remember something entirely different.

3) Use props if you have them. Having a relative look at a passport, obit, photography, family bible, etc. could bring a lot of memories back to her/him.

4) Don’t believe everything you hear. No one is perfect. If the relative is much older they may mix up names of people or names of cities they lived, etc. Always verify the information you receive after you get back home.

5) If a relative is talking about one specific family and knows a lot about them, but claims not to know anything about one family member, do not force the issue. Perhaps that family member was the black sheep of the family, or moved away at a young age and was never heard from again.  There are other ways to find information on that one family member.

6) Take notes. You can also audio or video tape the interview of the interviewee feels comfortable with it. Write it down even if it doesn’t seem important or you think the person is mistaken. You never know what information will become important in the future.

7) Before leaving try to secure names of other relatives who may know about different relatives or have important family heirlooms they can show you and tell you about.


Helpful Hint #3: Wills are a Great Resource

When I found the Will of Richard Taylor (b. 1750, d.12/23/1827), I could not believe all the new information I learned from it.

  • In parish birth records his wife’s name is “Anne” with an “e” on the end; however, in Richard’s will, he spells his wife’s name with no “e” on the end; I’m assuming he knows how to spell his wife’s name;
  • The names of two children I did not know about;
  • The names of his son Jonathan’s son’s–there were four and one has a strange spelling: Rich’d;
  • The marriage surname of two daughters: Ann [Taylor] BEST and another is RUMSON
  • The name of three of his grandchildren: George Best, Benoni Taylor, and Patience Rumson;
  • The above grandchild Benoni Taylor was listed as child of his daughter Mary; that told me that Mary married a man with the same surname of “Taylor.”

Try finding the will of your relatives and see what new information you can find:

The Wills are listed on the Newfoundland GenWeb site at:

On the Newfoundland Grand Banks web site, go to the “B, D, W, M” tab and scroll down to “Will Indexes”

Helpful Hint #2: Research Log: Keep track of where you “don’t” find information

Over the years, I have found it helpful to keep track of where I “don’t” find information [research log]. Otherwise, I waste a lot of time looking in places that I have looked before (but not recently so I do not remember).  You can keep track of where you look for vital statistics and other family information on the Family Group Sheet or keep a separate sheet for this information.

For example, when I was looking for the marriage record for William Joseph Snow and Suzanna (maiden name unknown), the most logical place to look was in the St. John’s, St. Thomas’ Parish Marriages, 1852-1870, Box #2 but it was not there so I made a note of it.

Then I found out they were originally from Clark’s Beach, NL so I looked at the Clark’s Beach Methodist Marriages, Pre-1891 Registration Records, Vital Statistics, Vol. 39, Port de Grave District, 1837–1890. Interestingly, there was a Joseph Snow who married a Suzannah French on November 10, 1864, however they were from Bay Roberts at the time of marriage.  I don’t believe these are the two people I’m trying to find because 1) “Suzanna” has no “h” on the end of her name (could be a transcription typo); and 2) the children born prior to and after 1864 were born in St. John’s so it’s pretty safe to assume they were living there. [Some couples did marry AFTER a child or children were born so I cannot count this out just because they had a few children before the marriage.] I noted all this on the Family Group Sheet.

Helpful Hint #1: Create A “Family Group Sheet” for each Family

When you do your genealogy research, it is a good idea to create a “Family Group Sheet” for each family. [See the “William Joseph Snow Family Group Sheet” under the “Pages” menu on the right for an example.]

The Family Group Sheet should list all the vital statistics on each family member. Just as important, it should include where you found the information. All vital statistics and other family information should always be re-confirmed by you if you get the information from a third party. That way, if a family member disputes your finding, you will be able to tell them exactly where you found and confirmed the information.

You can also list “notes” on family members as I did. For example, under my first entry on the “William Joseph Snow Family Group Sheet,” under William Joseph Snow, I note that he was known as “Joseph” not “William.” I know this because that is the parent name listed on his children’s church birth records.