Aaron Holt, archives technician at the National Archives Fort Worth, said it is not unusual for genealogists today to have conflicting stories about an ancestor if oral history was not passed down in a deliberate way through the generations.
“I tell people all the time that it only takes three generations to lose a piece of oral family history,” Holt said. “It must be purposely and accurately repeated over and over again through the generations to be preserved for a genealogist today.”
If that piece of oral history is about an ancestor’s death, Holt said the chance of the truth being lost is even greater.
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Focus on one family line (either your maternal side or your paternal side) until you can fill in everything you can going back at least 3 generations or until you reach a real dead-end. Start interviewing the oldest living relatives on the family line you are working on. Your next step would be to then switch line and research the other side as far back as you can go.
It can also be somewhat discouraging. You may find that two stories are so different you don’t know which to believe. But what you will have is a lot of clues to help you on your way.
When interviewing, remember to ask politely for dates of when and where relatives were born, when and where they passed away, when and where they were married. Ask specific details associated with these life events and about other family members that may have been present. Ask about holiday celebrations, birthday parties, schooling, graduations, etc. Try to ascertain where people were working, whether they were involved in any local groups, churches or clubs, and what they liked to do in their spare time.
When you are comfortable with a good set of questions and some way to record the answers, do a test first to be sure your recording equipment is working properly. Remember don’t hurry when interviewing older relatives. The more time they have, the more they will remember.
Remember don’t forget to pass on the oral history!