February 2011

The Spiker Family History Interview

Why it's so important to talk to our families before they leave us. Includes easy ways to interview them.

By Bobbi Spiker-Conley

Last month we encouraged everyone to start scanning, organizing and sharing those old family photos we’ve been storing.  There’s a power in pictures that invites interest, curiosity and interaction.  As such, they are perfect props for inspiring a family history interview.

Melanie Fouse tells us it’s important to interview family members.  “We NEED to record these memories before we are unable to remember or relate them,” she said.  “I counted seven of our immediate relatives…aunts, uncles, parents, grandfather and cousin…who died between November and February.  I don’t know about you, but Dad (Bob Spiker) and Tom (Miller) have been on my mind a lot this month.  And since Uncle Brad (Spiker) died January 20th, it’s probably been on the minds of his kids.  Uncle Lynn (Spiker) died in April, so it will be on his children’s minds soon as well.

“These people are gone and can no longer tell us their personal memories.  WHY didn’t we talk to them before they left us?  Our generation needs to get started on this now.  Do you realize that if I die as young as my father was, I only have about 20 years left?  That might sound like a lot of time to a 20-year-old, but it’s the same amount of time it took me to grow from a child to a graduate…or the time it took to raise my children.  It’s coming sooner than I like to think about.

“I remember Dad trying to get these stories from his brothers and sisters, but he waited too long for some.  That’s why I made that family history scrapbook (located at the Spiker farm) and why it’s so important that the next generation continue to add to it.”

Interviewing family members helps us learn more about our history, culture and traditions.  The resulting stories can offer details about personal relationships, insight into personalities, and even provide potential corrections to official records.  The easiest way to get started is to interview yourself.  That’s right.  Tell your own story.  Consider creating a heritage scrapbook.

Begin by jotting down a few basic questions such as when and where you were born, your full name, how your name was chosen, etc.  Then make a list of detailed questions organized into categories such as:

Home & Community Life (What do you remember about the houses you lived in?  Did you have electricity, indoor plumbing?  Were there any special items in the home that you remember?  Where did you go to school?,  Did you have pets?)

Personalities & Relationships (What was your relationship like with your mother/father/brother/sister?  What were your favorite things to do for fun?  Did you have family chores?  Of all the things you learned from your parents, which do you feel was the most valuable?)       

Economic Conditions (How did the family earn money?  Who worked?  What world events had an impact on you growing up?)

Family Facts (Are there any special heirlooms that have been passed down in your family?  What was your profession & how did you choose it?  When & where did you get married?  How did you learn you were about to become a parent?)

Save your list of questions as a “master file” then make copies of it that you can distribute to other family members.  Encourage everyone to record their answers, then compile the response sheets into your heritage scrapbook. 

Even better…use your list to conduct an oral interview with your relatives.  Many people will scoff at having to write down their answers, while most people (at least the Spiker clan) enjoy voicing their stories to any captive audience.  Using a voice recorder and/or video recorder will enable you to capture more of the emotion and personality of the interviewee. 

Of course, we hope you’ll share your stories with the rest of us.  We can include your submissions in the Family History Scrapbook at the farm and add them to our collection on this website (be sure to visit our Library for stories we’ve previously published, written by and about our family.) 

Keep in mind the other benefits of this project.  The results of a personal interview provide more than just family history data.  It can help strengthen familial bonds and bridge the generational gap – most elders welcome the opportunity to share their stories with younger generations, and the youth usually enjoy hearing them.  Reminiscing is healthy for people as they age – it provides an opportunity to reflect on one’s life, make sense of the past and can awaken long-forgotten memories.  And in the end, by learning about your family, you’re likely to learn a little more about yourself, too.      

Click on any of these links for sample interview questions.