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AfriGeneas Helpdesk
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© 1999-2009
by AfriGeneas.
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#1 (Sample Letter)

Dear Family Members,

Do you know anything about the stories uncle George used to tell about his World War II service in North Africa? Well, I found that some of them are probably true.

Did you know that our Grandpa John and his wife Malinda bought the family land that we now own right after they were freed from slavery?

Did you know that Aunt Gertrude was one of the first country school teachers in Hinds County?

Well, I didnít know any of these things until I started to do a little digging into our own family history. I would like to invite you to join with me in telling our familyís story. This can be done, but I need your blessings, cooperation and support. Here are some things that you can do to help:

  • Volunteer to serve as one of the family historians.
  • Complete and return the family group sheet that is enclosed with this letter, and return it to me as soon as possible.
  • Be prepared for a phone interview in the near future.
  • Try to find old family photos and label them on the back using a pencil.
  • Try to find all of the familyís old documents, especially who has the bible.

I will be calling you in the next month to explain in more detail. In the meantime, work on those forms for me.

Our family history can only be told with the help and support of all family members. This is our story, and we need to tell it.



#2 (Family Records)

These are the records that you should look for among all family members:

  • Family Bibles
  • Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates
  • Divorce Records
  • Wills
  • Deeds to Property
  • Old Letters
  • Photographs
  • Plaques, Awards, Honors and other Memorabilia
  • School Certificates
  • Insurance Papers
  • Funeral Programs
  • Obituaries
  • Funeral Programs
  • Membership Cards
  • Anniversary Programs for Organizations and Churches
  • School and College Yearbooks
  • Military Discharge Papers
  • Any other sources with names and dates

These sources, if they exist, will help you to complete your first charts and guide you to finding additional records. Make sure you make copies of everything that you find, including photographs.


#3 (Your First Interviews)

Listed below are objectives for your first interviews. Know that you should interview family members more than once. In fact, if you donít have a relationship with the family elders, now is the time to establish one. Another necessity is to immediately transcribe recorded interviews. You might not have picked up anything on that tape recorder, heavenís forbid! Another reason is that the transcribed interview forms the basis for the next interview. Your transcription does not have to be a long elegant essay. Simply write down exactly what was said. Finally, no one can tell you exactly how to interview or collect information. Use trial and error until you become comfortable with yourself.

Objectives For Your First Interview:

  • To obtain an overall picture of the personís life story. The simplest way to do a first interview is to give the person the feeling that his or her life is being recorded and that it is important.
  • To complete the family group sheet as the person tells his or her story or as you ask questions using the family group sheet as a guide.Do not press for dates if the person is having trouble remembering. Simply make a note of it, and continue.
  • To identify the personís cousins, especially those who might also need to be interviewed.
  • To focus on at least one to two generations back, getting some information about the parents and grandparents. It is important to get a sense of whether the person knew the grandparents and can remember their own age when each grandparent died etc. This will give you a sense of where the person fits in the larger family. The same thing applies to grand aunts and uncles.
  • To identify any records in the personís possession that will help you to document what was said (the record versus oral statements). A question as simple as, is there a family bible, will open up the conversation about finding family documents.

The object for the first interview is to get a sense of the extended family that surrounded the person being interviewed. This will tell you a lot about the family, at least as the person perceives it.

How to Record Telephone Interviews:

Having two versions of an interview is desirable -- the one from your notes and a recorded version whether done in person or by phone. The important thing to remember is that you should get permission to record the interview and offer to send a copy to the person being interviewed. Make sure that the question requesting permission and the answer giving permission are also recorded. A response to a query about this issue came from one of the members of the list. He advised: Laws vary from state-to-state, but as long as the other party understands that you are recording the conversation, and gives you permission to do so (preferably, so that it can be heard on the recording itself), it is perfectly legal throughout the country.

Note: a local electronics store will have tape recorders with a remote jack and a recording control device. Ask for assistance.


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