- Only touch old photographs on the edges.
- Handle old books very gently; their pages may crack or the spines may break if you are too rough with them.
If the owners of these things are nervous about your examination, suggest that they turn the pages or handle the items while you just look. Write down any significant dates you find, noting where you found the information.
Before about 1920, taking pictures was considered a great occasion and people often wore their best outfits. How someone is dressed can speak volumes. What were your ancestors wearing? Are they serious or lively, worn or new, dressy or everyday?
Gently look underneath and behind pieces of furniture. Ask if you can look at the backs of paintings. Sometimes you may find notes or inscriptions on these, too.
You may find hundreds of other fascinating items in family collections: Crocheted tablecloths or handmade dolls, a hat with a funny history, a portrait of a parent left behind in another country, a book brought across the sea by a young woman who loved to read. The possibilities are endless! Be sure to enter in your notebook any information you find.
Begin by interviewing your mom or dad, then move on to other relatives you know well. When you feel like you are an experienced interviewer, you'll want to talk with your oldest relatives. They know the most about the earliest days of your family. They are, in fact, a precious link to the past. Someone born in 1920 can not only give you clear memories of the 1930s, but he or she may have heard firsthand tales of the 1880s from someone who was 70 years old in 1930. You may connect 100 years in one conversation!
However you do it, conducting a successful oral history interview isn't always easy. Some of it depends on your relatives: What they know, what they are willing to talk about, and how much they remember.
But with a little effort, you can piece together a fascinating story about your family and ancestors.