Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

The Sides We Don’t See (or Commit a Small Act of Family History this Season)

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

The holiday season provides excellent opportunities to commit small acts of family history. With just a little effort, we can learn new things about people in our family trees.

People we know, even family members with whom we’ve lived, have sides we may not see or consider. These are facets of their personalities or experience which enrich our sense of who they are or were, if we can discover them through some act of family history.

Consider, for example, my first grade teacher, Miss Keller. (The name is changed to protect her, in case she’s more innocent than we thought at the time.) Miss Keller was mean. She yelled at us. She punished the whole class for the minor offenses of one or two students, which is as quick a way to pique a child’s sense of injustice as any. She also taught us to count in German.


Preserving My Grandfather’s Voice

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
Noah and Shirl Rodeback

My grandpa and his first son, Shirl

For more than 30 years, a certain cassette tape has moved with me to dormitories, apartments, and homes in two different time zones. It contains the original copy of an interview with a long-deceased ancestor, which makes it precious. For decades I have procrastinated doing anything useful with it, which makes me . . . well, human, I suppose. In case you are human in the same way, I am documenting the recent end of my procrastination in some technical detail.

My paternal grandfather, Noah Rodeback, passed away in May 1983. A year or two before that — no one remembers exactly which year — he visited my family in Moreland, Idaho. I don’t remember whose idea it was to sit him down with a tape recorder, but that’s what we did. I supplied the tape recorder and the tape — nothing fancy in either case — and the tape remained in my possession, so it may have been my idea. In any case, he was a good sport about it, and we got him talking about his childhood, his memories of my father and the rest of the family, and other topics for more than an hour.

We never planned to distribute the tape, just transcribe it. I started that once but never finished. It was slow work, because the recording is of fairly low quality,  like the recorder itself, the microphone, and the cassette — which, just to make things worse, I was reusing. I’ve been careful not to lose the tape through several moves, but that’s about all the good I can say.


Participate in National Day of Listening – November 28th

Friday, November 28th, 2008

November 28th, the day after Thanksgiving, has been declared National Day of Listeningby StoryCorps in partnership with NPR and the Library of Congress. On this day, individuals are invited to have a meaningful conversation with someone they care about (essentially a short interview to hear stories from this special individual). This individual could be a family member, friend, co-worker, someone who has touched your life, or anyone whose story you would like to hear. There isn’t a set agenda on the questions to ask, nor on the procedure to take. For those looking for ideas, however, StoryCorps created a Do-It-Yourself-Guide to help those who want to participate in the National Day of Listening. Here are the basic steps they suggest:

1.    Download the Do-It-Yourself Guide
2.    Select your interview partner
3.    Create a question list, using their online custom Question Generator
4.    Record your conversation.
5.    Save and share your conversation.

Participating in the National Day of Listening is a great way to preserve your loved one’s experiences-experiences may be heard generations from now. The interviews could be recorded and saved on your computer, or any place that works best with the recording equipment you are using. Be sure to label the interview with the individual’s name and the date.

November 28th was selected as National Day of Listening because it is typically a time when individuals are home with their families. This is a simple way to connect with your family and friends and create a meaningful holiday tradition.

We, at, would also love to hear your stories. If you have a great experience and want to share it with the readers our newsletter, please send a copy of your recording to StoryCorps also invites you to submit your stories on their site as well:

Happy National Day of Listening!

About StoryCorps

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Since 2003, tens of thousands of Americans have shared their stories and life experiences in our StoryBooths. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share and is preserved at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is the largest oral history project of its kind, and millions listen to our broadcasts on public radio and the web.

Get That Interview In While Gathering With Friends and Family For the Holidays

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

By Whitney Ransom McGowan,, Inc.

For many, holidays are a great time for families to gather and spend time together. If your Thanksgiving holiday isn’t too filled with cranberry sauce and turkey, you may be able to take the time to talk with your family members about family history. If you are not celebrating Thanksgiving, take time to talk with your family members anyway!

I love talking with my grandparents. When I was 15 years old, I wrote my grandfather’s life history. I was eight years old when he died, and he was only in his fifties when he passed away. I really wanted to know more about what he was like. My grandfather had seven children. So, I first went to all of his children and interviewed them. I also interviewed all of his siblings who were alive at the time. I gathered photos along the way as well. When I recorded the interviews, I just listened and wrote down important points. I asked them to tell me memories they had of my grandfather (what he was like, their favorite memory of him, etc.). Unfortunately, about 20 pages into the writing, I somehow deleted the file on my computer and had to start all over again! Of course, the second time around, I gained an even greater appreciation and love for my grandfather and really embedded the details of his life into my own. When the writing was finished, I made copies of the pictures I had gathered, and put it all in a book. I gave a copy to each of my family members as a Christmas gift.

Although my family members were very appreciative of the book, if I were to do it again, I would do some things differently. First, I would get an audio recording, as well as a video recording of the people whom I interviewed. I would scan all of the photos. I would ask more questions while I was interviewing my family members. I would even interview some of them on more than one occasion to get additional information. Doing several interviews would give them time to think about the questions I asked and also give them time to see if they had anything else they wanted to add. I would also create a copy of the book in digital format and provide a digital copy, as well as a hard copy to all of my family members. I would also put together a video to go with the book. I would keep several backup copies of the file I was working on… just in case I somehow deleted one of them.

If you want to interview some of your family members, or if you want them to interview you, here are a few questions you might use…

  • When and where were you born?
  • Describe the house you lived in growing up.
  • What is your favorite hobby?
  • How did you meet your spouse? Describe the proposal.
  • What is your favorite memory of your wedding day?
  • Do you have any children? If so, what are their names?
  • What do you know about your family surname?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What was the best advice your parents gave to you?
  • What was your favorite childhood toy?
  • Did any world events have a particularly strong impact on your life? If so, which ones?
  • Tell me about your childhood?
  • What did you do for work? What do you currently do for employment?
  • Tell me a memory from one of your favorite holidays.
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • Do you have any special traditions?
  • What did you do together as a family?
  • If you could be remembered for one characteristic or attribute, what would it be and why?

The interviews don’t have to take a long time and can also be extended to include several short interviews. Have fun with them and enjoy getting to know better the person you interview. Don’t forget to record these interviews as well if you have access to an audio recorder or video camera (remember to ask for permission from the interviewee prior to recording).

If you want to get serious about your family history while doing the interviews, I invite you to check out You may just find a photo of your ancestor along with important birth, marriage, and death dates, certificates, and variety of other information about your ancestors. If the individual mentions a name of one of his or her siblings or grandparents, or other relatives, take the time to look them up on and see if you can gather even more information about your family members!