Tips from the Pros: Digging up Memories, from Michael John Neill

When interviewing family members, names of relatives and former neighbors can help jog the memory. The difficulty in some cases lies in knowing those names. There are some sources that can assist the family historian in obtaining names that may serve as the key to a floodgate of memories.

Consider finding the interviewee (or his or her parents) in the 1930 and other censuses. Ask the person about some of the family names on the same and nearby pages. Some of the families might have been neighbors for years. This approach can also be an excellent one when trying to obtain information for a neighborhood or township history.
County plat maps can also serve a similar purpose, but their limitation is that they only show landowners.

For those with more urban ancestors, city directories may serve a similar purpose. Just remember that some families lived in neighborhoods with a highly transient population, or may have been transient themselves. Be certain to determine if the city directory has a reverse directory (listing names by the order of their house number). This directory will make the obtaining of neighbors names significantly easier.

Church directories, yearbooks, and other similar publications may also provide names (or even pictures) to help jog your relative’s memory.

Who knows, these materials may even bring some of your own memories to the forefront.

2 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Digging up Memories, from Michael John Neill

  1. Just prior to seeing your article I rec’d an email from someone from Random Acts of who lived in the area my great grandparents lived and led me to neighbors who lived across the street and they remembered all the details of our family and the grieving when death occurred of the daughter in the family who just graduated Radcliffe now part of Harvard and she had contracted TB from one of her first patients. She died at home shortly after. I had not idea and she nor any member of her family is listed in the social security death index for some reason. This neighbor is 88 now but remembers clearly how close they were to my family members and gave me details to add to the family bios. I had no idea neighbors would still be around the area since 1930 but they were although they had moved to another town someone looked up and found them at the library.

  2. I am continually amazed at the wonderful results most people seem to uncover or run across. I sure wish it was me. But, let me tell you how impossible it is if only 2 older relatives remain with us,and no one with any first-hand knowledge of my parents or other family members remains alive. Don’t know where to turn, who to ask, or where to look. Going in circles is an understatement!
    There has to be a paper trail somewhere local. Can’t just pick up and go to Utah. Sorry for being negative. Answers have to be somewhere. And with eastern Europe changing country borders every 10 yrs in the late 1800’s, I’m not even sure of my ethnicity.
    Meanwhile, I admire the rest of you and your research.

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