Opportunity Knocks During The Holiday Season

    By on December 23, 2015

    Dear Editor,

    One thing almost all Americans share is regret that when we were children, we did not listen better when our parents, grandparents, older relatives or friends told stories about people and places alive only in their memories.

    In my own family, both my wife and I frequently wish we had asked critical questions of our parents about their life when they were young that we have no clue about. I remember that I was around 30 years old when, one day quite by chance, I learned that my mother’s brother, Uncle Herb, had been married before he married my Aunt Harriet … what a total shocker. That is all I know, nothing about the circumstances, her name, where was she from, where is she now … what did she look like? So many questions, just around that one little family fact. These questions come up today usually from our children or grandchildren … our inability to make any meaningful answer fills us with regret.

    Forget the nonsense surrounding the Buffalo Bills missed opportunities once again and plan some specific time with family during your gatherings to capture family stories. You know, those stories you’ve heard a 1000 times but never paid any attention to. This time, plan ahead a little, prime people to think about questions they’d like to ask or stories they’d like to hear again. Have note pads available with plenty of sharp pencils. Also, have old family picture albums handy, they often act as great memory joggers. I recommend a good quality digital recording device (they aren’t expensive) … your iPhone or iPad just might not have enough battery life to record a whole session and the sound quality isn’t always the greatest when attempting to cover a whole room of people. When you finish, plan to transcribe the session and next year give everyone a printed copy plus a copy of the digital recording.

    If you want to do an even better job, go on line and visit the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University or the University of Connecticut Oral History Department. They have great tutorials that are really helpful. I know that the University of Connecticut has a list of transcribing services if you don’t want to tackle it yourself.

    Remember, there may be subjects or situations that are still too sensitive to acknowledge or talk about. Reassure the person being interviewed that it is OK to skip that time, place or situation but to think about it for a future discussion. I know firsthand that a number of people we have interviewed in Williamson still won’t talk about the bootlegging and smuggling along the lakeshore during prohibition. Too many people who were directly involved are still alive.

    If you need more advice, don’t hesitate to contact your local genealogy club or society. Here in Wayne County that would be the Wayne County New York Genealogical Society which can be contacted through their website at www.wcnygs.org. Please remember to share your finished work with me at the County Archives and with your local historical society and Town Historian.

    Have a great “not regrettable” holiday.

    — Peter Evans, Wayne County Historian

    Historian@co.wayne.ny.us or (315) 946-5470

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