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How to ask relatives about your ancestors

The extended Boulden family that I grew up in was close, friendly, Irish.  Storytellers all.  I’d sit at the feet of the Older Generation as they told yarns about  Grandpa Joseph or great-grandma Nancy.  So I grew up thinking this was the way all families were, and believing it would last forever.

Wrong.  And wrong.  Older now, I know that families are not always storytellers.  So if you want to learn about ancestors from living relatives, you have to encourage them to tell you.  And since nothing lasts forever, better do it soon while they are still here to be asked.

I led a discussion on this subject at the recent genealogy conference held at our local FHC where Virginia and I volunteer four days a month.  Called it Conversations With Aunt Ida, and focused on subtopics like  how to ask for information, how to frame questions, how to take notes, and the importance of using modern digital media whenever possible, like Livescribe recorders and Flip Cameras.  I love Flip cameras.

Most important, I emphasized the need to do it now.  Yes, we all know that relatives grow old and pass away.  But sometimes they pass away while still young, like Virginia’s cousin Jim, who died unexpectedly in his 30s.  And many not-really-elderly in my family have been robbed of their precious memories by diseases like Alzheimer’s. I lost my mother to that affliction, and Virginia her stepmother.

I’ll try to post some materials from that discussion on Interviewing Family Members JLB.  Hope it encourages you to call your Aunt Ida — or your mother or father — and start the ball rolling to learn more about your Boulden History.  And when you do, don’t forget to post some of it here for other Bouldens to share.

Larry Boulden, May 2010

Comment from Ron Jones: I appreciate this post, Larry. You’re so right about not all families being storytellers!  Mine is one of them.  I used to think we were.  I think parts of my extended family are (which includes many Boulden descendants, my Uncle Pat Jones is one of them).  However, my immediate family certainly has not been.  Case in point, my father, mother and myself recently visited the Castle Dale cemetery.  We found ourselves standing in front of Joseph Louis Boulden’s headstone where my father posed the question, “Who’s that?”.  I quickly gave him a rundown of how he was related to J.L. Boulden, who he was, etc., also relating a few of the other Boulden graves nearby.  I’m certainly no expert and I’m definitely no story teller, but I am aware of how the situation could have been reversed, with my father telling me about his Great Grandfather instead of the other way around.  Thanks for the post and the link to the software.

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