Talk to your family
Surviving relatives are a veritable goldmine of information on your family’s history. A conversation with an elderly aunt or distant cousin could reveal names, key dates, relationships, occupations – the list is endless.
Take nothing you are told at face value – people’s memories may have become muddled over time, or perhaps a secret they perceive as shameful is stopping them sharing the whole truth with you.
Part of your job is to find the evidence that backs up each new piece of information, separating fact from fiction. Sometimes the discrepancies between different accounts will take you down interesting and unexpected investigative avenues.
Record all you are told in a coherent way; either in written notes or using a recording device such as a dictaphone or camcorder. In any case, note the subject of the interview and the date and time.
Taking along your family tree or significant photos may serve as a useful aide memoire to elderly relatives. Ask whether they have documents, letters or photos that might assist you in your search.
Utilise the many ways in which we communicate with each other. In some cases a telephone call may be most appropriate, but a well-worded letter or email to a distant cousin might prove to be just the thing that makes a connection with one of the family’s other historians, who will be only too glad to pool resources.