Friday, May 29, 2009

Interview Questions To Get You Started

Hello All -

If you are looking to get started into researching your family history, one of the first steps is to interview family members. In the Family Tree Magazine (USA) newsletter, there is a good article on some good questions to ask your relatives to help get you started. There no doubt will be more questions that will come to mind, as well as follow up questions from the ones you have asked. But, here are 20 questions to get you going on the right track.

Here is the excerpt from the magazine article:

"The best tactic for oral history interviews is to ask open-ended questions (rather than ones with yes or no answers), and to focus on people's memories and experiences. It's much more interesting-for you and the interviewee-to talk about the stories and emotions behind the events in your family's past. Use these questions as a springboard for planning your interview:

What's your first memory?

Who's the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?

How did your parents meet?

Tell me about your childhood home.

How did your family celebrate holidays when you were a child?

How did you meet your spouse?

Tell me about your wedding day.

Tell me about the day your first child was born.

What were your favorite school subjects?

Tell me about your favorite teacher.

Tell me about some of your friends.

Describe your first job.

What did you do with your first paycheck?

What was your favorite job and why?

Who are some of your heroes?

Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy was shot? (Add or substitute other important historical events.)

What is your experience with or opinion of computers? (Add or substitute other modern conveniences, such as television, microwaves and cell phones.)

Tell me about some of your favorite songs (also books, movies and television shows).
Tell me about some of the places where you've been happiest.

What haven't we talked about that you'd like to discuss in the time we have left? (This is a good way to begin wrapping up the interview.)"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Gathering 2009 Edinburgh

Hello All -

If you are looking for something to do this summer in July, why not go to Edinburgh to The Gathering 2009 in Edinburgh. It is from the 25th July to the 26th July at various locations throught the city. You will need to view the website for all the details as there is too much to mention here to give it justice. The website is

There will be a genealogy/family history tent there. The programme is called Scotland Lives. Here is an excerpt from the website describing the event.

"Scotland Lives!
There will be book readings and signing sessions by international best-selling authors, talks on heraldry and genealogy, as well as a retail area with fiction and non-fiction titles from Scottish authors published by Birlinn Books. The programme is as follows:

Visitors can find out more about their ancestry through Scotland's People whose experts will be offering advice on how to access one of the largest online sources of Scottish genealogical information and trace their family tree. The Scottish Genealogy Society and Family Tree DNA will also be present.

There will be an opportunity to find out more about heraldry through The Heraldry Society of Scotland and the Scottish Armigers Society who maintain the oldest continuously-maintained official record of Arms in the world.

Part of the Highland Games and Scottish Festival weekend events. Admittance to this event is with a Gathering 2009 Passport or a Highland Games and Scottish Festival ticket only."

It looks like July in Scotland will be a good place to be for Scottish genealogy - you have The Gathering 2009 in Edinburgh and also the International Genealogy Festival in Glasgow. More details on this one can be viewed at their website:

So mark your calendars: International Genealogy Festival 21-24 July in Glasgow
The Gathering 2009 25-26 July in Edinburgh

Friday, May 15, 2009

National Library of Scotland Online (Maps & Books)

Hello All -

I thought I would give a plug for the online digital archives of the National Library of Scotland today. I was having a look at their website and thought their digital library is an excellent tool to be used as a social history resource for anyone who is thinking about writing their family history as a book.

I am very big on maps. I always like to put them in my research reports for my clients. In my opinion, it gives a better picture of an ancestor - where they lived, what was around them at that time in history, etc. It is also interesting to see more modern maps and compare them to the older ones. There are many cases where an ancestors residence is no longer there, or has totally changed in its appearance. For example, a particular family on our side had a farm not far from where we live (you could actually see the area from our back window), but when you see it now, there is nothing but houses there - there is no trace of that farm anymore. But if you saw a map of that area about 100 years ago, you would see the farm plainly with no houses anywhere near it (just open fields).

A great place to find old Scottish maps online is at the National Library of Scotland in their online maps collection. You can view them at this link

The National Library of Scotland also has a digital library. It can be viewed here The digital library has quite a good number of online publications from their collection. It can be good social history resource for looking more in depth at Scottish history and life. A good family history should have elements of social history to make your ancestors "come alive." Ancestors should be more than just a name and a date and a location - how did they live, what was it like in their town or village at that time, etc.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Some Genealogical Humor on a Saturday

Hello All -

Thought this was quite funny - a bit too real as well.

Murphy's Law of Genealogy

The records you need for your family history were in the courthouse that burned.

John, son of Thomas, the immigrant whom your relatives claim as immigrant ancestor, died on board ship at the age of twelve.

The public ceremony in which your distinguished ancestor participated when the platform collapsed turned out to be a hanging.

Records show that the grandfather, whom the family boasted, "He read the Bible at four years and graduated from college at sixteen," was at the foot of his class.

Your grandmother's maiden name for which you've searched for years was on an old letter in a box in the attic all the time.

When at last you have solved the mystery of the skeleton in the closet the tight-lipped spinster aunt claimed, "I could have told you that all the time."

You never asked your father about his family because you weren't interested in genealogy while he was alive.

The family story your grandmother wrote for the family never got past the typist. She packed it away "somewhere" and promised to send you a copy, but never did.

The relative who had all the family photographs gave them to her daughter who had no interest in genealogy and no inclination to share.

A great-uncle changed his surname because he was teased in school. He moved away, left no address, and was never heard from again.

Brittle old newspapers containing the information you desired have fallen apart on the names and dates and places.

The only record you find for your great-grandfather is that his property was sold at a sheriff's sale for insolvency.

The portion of the index you need is continued in the next issue, only the publisher died prior to publication.

When you find the obituary for your grandmother, the information is garbled. Her name is exchanged with her daughter's, the whereabouts of her sons is unknown, the date for her father's birth indicates he was younger than she was.

The only surname not found among the three billion in the Mormon Archives is yours.

The vital records director sends you a negative reply, having just been insulted by a creep calling himself a genealogist.

The 4 volume, 4,800 page history of the county where your great-grandfather lived is not indexed.


The document containing evidence of the missing link in your research invariably will be lost due to fire, flood, or war.

Your great, great, grandfather's obituary states the he died, leaving no issue of record.

The town clerk you wrote to in desperation, and finally convinced to give you the information you need, can't write legibly and doesn't have a copying machine.

The will you need is in the safe on board the "Titanic."

The spelling of your European ancestor's name bears no relationship to its current spelling or pronunciation.

That ancient photograph of four relatives, one of whom is your progenitor, carries the names of the other three.

Copies of old newspapers have holes which occur only on last names.

No one in your family tree ever did anything noteworthy, always rented property, was not sued, and was never named in wills.

You learned that great aunt Matilda's executor just sold her life's collection of family genealogical materials to a flea market dealer "somewhere in New York City."

Ink fades and paper deteriorates at a rate inversely proportional to the value of the data recorded.

The 37-volume, sixteen-thousand-page history of your country of origin ISN'T INDEXED.

The critical link in your family tree is named "Smith."- - - - - - - -

Copyright 1983 Gibbs Publishing Co., P.O. Box 112, Napoleon, OH 43545

The Scotsman Online Archive

Hello All -

The Scotsman newspaper online now has a searchable database for their newspaper archives.
They offer every issue from 1817 to 1950. To access this archive please view here:

Another good source for your Scottish research available online.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Interview with Cyndi Howells on Roots TV

Hello All -

Another good interview by Dick Eastman on Roots TV with Cyndi Howells - the woman behind the list. See the interview here:

If you are new to genealogical research (even if you are not and are a more seasoned pro), Cyndislist is the place to go ( This website is in my guess the main website that most all folks who are interested in family history have saved on their favorites list, and with good reason. Cyndi Howells has done a great service for the genealogical community - she has created a website that is possibly the main portal for almost all websites involving family history. This such a great tool to use when wanting to locate websites for almost anything you can think of - countries, organizations, computers, researchers, web blogs, booksellers, the list goes on and on.

Also, there is always something new to find on the list. It is always worth a look to see what new links there are. If you haven't viewed cyndislist, please do - you will be using it constantly.

John Grenham Interview on Roots TV

Hello All -

I recently briefly talked about Irish ancestry in my St. Patrick's Day post. On that theme, there is a great interview by Dick Eastman who is interviewing John Grenham.
Please view the interview here:

John Grenham is one of the top experts in Irish genealogy and family history. His book "Tracing Your Irish Ancestors" is in my opinion the bible of Irish family history publications. He also writes extensively for the Irish Times - at

One of the main reasons why as a Scottish genealogist it is of interest to know about John and his work is because of the vast amount of Scottish ancestors that came from Ireland (mainly what is now Northern Ireland). His book(s) are extensive in their knowledge and material content - each edition of his book Tracing Your Irish Ancestors gets bigger every time with new pages.

If you don't have a copy of John's book or any of his other publications, go out and get them. It is one definitely for your bookshelf - help beat the credit crunch and buy genealogy books.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Improvements For Genealogy Software

Hello All -

You probably have guessed that I am big on genealogy software - I tend to talk about it quite a bit. On Roots Television there is a good presentation by Mark Tucker of

It can be viewed here

Mark has 10 good ideas about how genealogy software can be improved. I agree wholeheartedly on his "wishlist."

Just as an aside - Mark has a brilliant Genealogical Proof Standard map on his website. You can see it here

This GPS map is worth printing out and keeping near you when you are doing your research.
Mark also has a slideshow about working with the GPS, which can be viewed here

Mark has done a good job of offering important resources on his website. In my view it would be voted as my website of the month -