Research for the LifeStory

Now that you've found your "why", completed your pre-interview questionnaire (PIQ) work, and gathered photos, it's time to do a bit of research before you formulate the questions you will bring to the LifeStory interview. The first thing you must answer is how you want to structure the interview. There are a number of ways to do this. Two popular ways are to do it by subject matter (family, education, military experience, work life, etc.) or chronologically (using a time frame in order of occurrence). I prefer to conduct my interviews chronologically. Most people remember stories if they are asked in order of occurrence. In fact, the older we get, the more we seem to remember what happened many years ago, but can't remember what we had for lunch yesterday! Before I write down my first question to ask the interviewee, I arrange the photos and documents that I gathered in chronologic order. This begins with the photos of the interviewee's oldest ancestors on both their paternal and maternal sides. Continue with grandparents and parents. Helpful Hint #1 - If you have digitized the photos and documents by scanning them, organizing them will be much easier in a folder on your computer. Labeling each photo with a number (of occurrence in questions asked), then with the description of what's in the photo helps to arrange and rearrange the order as you formulate your questions. Next, take the earliest baby photo of the interviewee and continue through their life in chronologic order.

With the PIQ form in front of you, page through the filled in facts and make notes of dates and other facts still unclear or not answered at all. This might typically include dates of birth or death of ancestors and parents. It could include dates of service and places stationed in military service. If I am unfamiliar with the exact geographic location of places they've lived, I'll use Mapquest to help locate those areas. Questions will arise due to locations of places they called home. For example, I recently interviewed a lady who grew up in Queens Village, New York just a few blocks from the Belmont Park Race Track. So naturally I asked if she remembered anything about horse racing at Belmont when she was a little girl. Did her family go to the races? Without that geographic research, I would not have known to ask about Belmont Park. Geographic research is especially meaningful when covering war stories. Many LifeStory interviewees will share with me stories from wartime experiences that they've never told anyone before. If I am not familiar with the geographic journey they took during the war, I would not be able to follow the story well.

Don't forget to ask other familial members of the interviewee questions during this period of research. They are usually able to provide additional stories and facts that will help you in your research. While much of what they supply you is only from stories they "heard" and are not necessarily fact, they are still important to include. Family members can also add contradicting "facts" about the interviewee's history that will, for purposes of the interview, add some wonderfully thought-provoking questions.

As you use Google and all the other incredible web-based research tools, don't forget to use some of the old-fashioned going to the public library or your local history center. The people working will there provide professional help in your quest for research. Think of it as a treasure hunt. What you end up finding is sometimes a treasure you weren't searching for when you began your quest.

In my next blog post, we will begin our journey in formulating the questions for your LifeStory interview. Stay tuned. The fun is just beginning!