I’ve been concentrating on oral history lately, typing up interviews from my endless transcription backlog. As a result, genealogical research has been on the back burner. But when I received an Ancestry.com email advising me of some possible matches in the 1940 census, I was intrigued. So I logged onto Ancestry to see what it had found. Continue reading
Writing family history is first and foremost an exercise in selection. Reviewing that hoard of letters, photographs, diaries, family legends, and oral history from which you compose your account, you must decide continuously which details to include and which to leave out. Continue reading
On March 21, the government of Mali was overthrown, and chaos descended on this West African nation of 15 million people. The origins of the coup lay in interlocking crises of rebellion, drought, famine, and the Arab Spring currently roiling the Mideast. Its resolution, which may depend on the military forces of Mali’s neighbors and those of outside powers, cannot be foreseen at this time. But an Associated Press article on Amadou Haya Sanogo, the obscure Army captain who led the coup, brought the whole affair into sharper focus and showed me how family history can sometimes cast a light on history in general.
Any writer of family history will face many questions of protocol and style. The first and most basic is: Where should I begin? Continue reading
Naturally, I also think about my potential readership, its demographic, and how best to reach it. Yet Kathy and Mandee both allude to one type of audience I’ve never considered at all—the private audience. Continue reading
Last week, I wrote about gender, patriarchy, and related matters as factors in family history. I was interested in how gender roles, power, and authority shape family life, and hence, the history a family leaves behind. I noted that stories about my father, uncles, and grandfathers dominated our family lore, and I wrote about the value I found in stories about my mother, aunt, and grandmothers (along with the archival materials my maternal grandmother left behind).
Well, I wrote all these things and thought I was done with the subject, at least for the moment. Continue reading
Gender, patriarchy, and stuff like that are hugely relevant to family history. These notions have enormous practical and theoretical significance. Continue reading
I was down in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago for another round of spelunking in the family archives. My explorations were extremely successful. I found scads of old letters, notebooks, calendars, and greeting cards. My grandmother was a terrific archivist, and my mother has preserved everything. Continue reading
One of the things that surprised me when I began researching my family history was finding out how much history there is in my family. I don’t mean personal information about my relatives, such as where they lived or what they looked like. I mean public history, the things you can read about in history books. Continue reading
Interviewing your relatives is both a simple task and a complex one. It’s simple in that the activity at the heart of the interview—talking to family members—is something you’ve done all your life. It’s complex in that this conversation is a directed one, which you conduct for the purpose of gaining information.
To make things even more complicated, you must also handle a host of difficult personal matters during this interview. Some of your relatives may be reluctant to speak. Some may speak in a curious, roundabout way, evading the very topics you are most eager to explore. Others may seize on forgotten quarrels, and it will be your job to prevent these conflicts from reigniting and overwhelming your work.