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Picking the Brains of My Aunts

Picking the Brains of My Aunts

January 20, 2021

For many years, my mother’s four sisters lived in Des Moines, Iowa, their hometown. At some point in her later years, I drove my mom up there to visit. On one of the days during this trip, when the sisters had gathered for a meal, I began to ask them about the family and had the foresight to take notes about their replies.

It was pretty amazing how much they knew, especially since some parts of the family had scattered to the West Coast. I learned through this experience that our elders may know much more about the family than we might think. My aunts, especially as they brainstormed to give me information, came to many unified answers as they put their minds together. And what one didn’t know, another did. I also learned the incredible value of doing this while our elders are still with us. 

Those precious notes eventually became gold to me as I began to research the family names they had given me to further understand where life’s paths had led their aunts and uncles. I have been able to connect with some of the extended family, and they have contributed even more to family details and research. I found that each part of the family has their own passed-down stories, and these have led to seeing photos that I may have never seen had I not had the names, places, and dates my aunts gave me. I continue to connect with newly found extended cousins through social media and FindAGrave postings. 

 All of this, because of a few notes! So, if you want to do this, prepare by looking at the blog post What’s Your Story? Conducting Interviews for Genealogical Research or by reviewing a book about interviewing techniques, such as Talking About the Past or Touching Tomorrow. Here’s another hint: feed them first, so they are as relaxed as possible! Take along some printed copies of forms to record information, such as a Generation (pedigree) Chart or Family Unit Chart, to help you organize the name, date, and place details that are given to you. The Midwest Genealogy Center has a variety of these charts available online that you can print out. Or, you can just start asking questions off the cuff like I did. Just be sure to write it down! 

We are always happy to hear about your experiences of how “picking the brains” of your people helped you to further your family tree treasure chest and open the door to more genealogical riches. 

Twila R. 
Midwest Genealogy Center 


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