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For the purpose of genealogy research, a clear photocopy will be just as useful as having the original document, so don’t be shy about asking extended family members to send you a photocopy of important documents.

• Be careful to record the source of all your information. Writing down pertinent information about the source of each piece of information can seem tedious and an unnecessary waste of time, but it will pay off in the future. As people inevitably discover, there will be times when you will have to refer back to the source document. For example, conflicting facts is a common occurrence in family history research. Referring to the source documents will help you check facts and resolve discrepancies. Source documents also provides an obvious starting point for future detective work when you decide to dig deeper looking for further clues about the origins of various family members.

• Interview family members. Most people start with themselves and then work backwards through parents, grandparents, etc. Don’t forget to include siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Sometimes a longtime family friend can also be a valuable source of information.

• Interviews can be an excellent source of information provided that family members are given a full opportunity to speak. You need to decide in advance how much structure you want to your interviews. Some people prefer a methodical and consistent approach with a script of questions (‘tell me about the hobbies you had as a child’). Others prefer a more open approach (‘tell me about your childhood’). A structured approach is helpful for checking specific facts (‘where were you born’), but it can limit the kind of free discussion that can bring to light interesting facts and issues about your family. We prefer to ask both kinds of questions: those that generate specific fact answers, and those that provide more open-ended answers.

• A couple of things can help make the interview process easier. First, explain to the person you are interviewing what are trying to achieve (a better understanding of the family). Give people plenty of time to answer questions. For some, this may mean having a follow-up session at a later date to give people more time to think about issues and events that occurred long ago. Also, try not to ask leading questions (ask ‘Where were you born?’ not ‘Were you born on a farm?’). Finally take careful notes, either with a tape recorder or on a pad of paper.

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