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June 19, 2009

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This is especially poignant for me. My dad has Alzheimer's disease, and is slipping. I've got to talk to him as much as I can so our history isn't lost. The Legacy 7 interview questions are a fantastic tool for spurring conversation.

Do not forget to bring a tape recorder or, better yet, a video camera. Seeing the as well as hearing the words spoken adds to the stories. Moreover, a recording retells a story better than even the best memory.

Ask questions more than once, rewording as you go. I asked my mother questions about her father and one day hit on the right wording. She told me specific events that she remembered and she was 3 yrs old when he died. Try not to let them feel pestered, though, or they will completely close up shop.

A word of caution: I know that it would be nice to have that extra hour with a relative to be able to ask all those lingering questions BUT be careful. Cousins in my family were lucky enough (or wise enough) to sit with an elderly relative and proceeded to ask those questions and record them. The trouble is, that at the time the old dear was demented and the answers they got were less than useful. She unloaded "the goods" on many of her ancestors and immediate family, darkening their names for ever. Several person were rolled into one identity, and any gaps in her knowledge were filled in by what she thought was the best answer to give- a classic case of confabulation. She was such a lovely old lady that people swallowed her stories (not recognising her demented state) an denigrated others from her accounts by publishing them.

Mother may not remember well! In an additional example, mine told me that my gt-grandmother worked as a Nanny for a particular, unrelated family named Tatchell! As it turns out, gt-grandmother was orphaned when she was a child newly arrived in the colony of South Australia. The family for whom she was supposedly a 'Nanny" had fostered her and was otherwise childless. To add to the genealogical problems, Gt-grandma's name was also changed from Bawden to Bowden-Tatchell (I guess it sounded about right), making research difficult until it was discovered that the Tatchell's were her foster parents. The clue to solving that mystery came from mining records! A Mr William Jones worked alongside of a Mr William Tatchell in the Victorian goldfields. They were good friends. Jones' son, another William, married Gt-grandma. No living relative knew of the connection between Jones and Tatchell.

Might I suggest that genealogists share some of their interview information with the local museum. Local history knowledge grows and folks can more readily relate to community history when it comes from a 'real person'. Remember 'history is what is written but the past is what really happened'.

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