The first time I interviewed a family member came at Easter 1969 in New Jersey. It was the first time I had ever met my great-aunt Mamie. She was 90 at the time, and I was 14. I was astonished to learn that she was the sister of the grandmother I had never met. “Was she nice?” I asked bug-eyed. “Yes,” she replied, “very nice!” End of interview! Noting my interest, a short time later Mamie mailed us several handwritten pages of her family’s genealogy, including some brief stories. It was the true beginning of my lifelong passion for family history.
My wife, Julie, and I caught fire in family research as newlyweds in our 20s. Both of us had lost our fathers when we were 17 years old, which certainly added to our early interest. We simply wanted to know more about those we had lost and their ancestors. In the 1980s, rarely did a family vacation not include a visit to a cemetery or a recorded interview with a great aunt or uncle. It was typical that we would interview one of these marvelous relatives and they were gone within a year or two. It started to go around the family that it might not be such a good idea to talk to Scott and Julie!
Those tapes are now some 30 years old. And in some cases, they are the only recordings of the voices of these special family members. I can’t help but think, what if we had waited to begin our family history journey until later in life? What experiences we would have missed!
In part 2 I’ll tell you some things you can do now with your greatest research assets—your older loved ones!