Are You Being Stealthy In Learning Your Family History?

Ever wish you could capture genealogical information from your relatives without them knowing, being bored, or frightening them? Be a little more stealthy, without crossing the line of being illegal, and you’ll gather your family heritage and find joy along the way.

Have a Plan:

It’s easier to obtain information when you have a plan. Are you having a family gathering? Will there be downtime when relatives will relax and chat up and tell tales? Will you be at a home that has a collection of family photos and memorabilia? Know who and what will be available before you gather with your relative, then make plans to obtain stories and documentation.

Practice With Your Technology:

At a bare minimum, you need a cell phone with a voice recording app and a camera app. Most cell phones and even tablets have these apps as standard features. Practice with your tools and your apps before you visit with a relative.

  1. What are the range and quality of your audio recording devices?
  2. Do you need an external microphone?
  3. What lighting do you need to photograph family photos and documents?
  4. What will you do about glare?
  5. If your phone or tablet makes poor visual or audio recordings, do you have a scanning device, DSLR camera, or audio recorder?

Gain Permission:

It’s illegal to record someone without their knowledge in most US states. As such, ask your relatives if they don’t mind you recording family stories they share during your visits. Let them know the purpose of your story gathering project and respect anyone who does not want to be recorded.

Enjoy The Moment and Gather Without Distraction:

The best thing you can do with your relatives is to be in the moment. If you’re together for Christmas, don’t focus on just gathering genealogy information the entire visit. Relax. Reconnect. Relish in the fun times. When the storytelling begins or your family members are relaxed, you’ll have more success asking them about your genealogical research.

Don’t Fill the Silence and Nod Often:

When you have a relative willingly participating in sharing the family stories and facts, shut up! The key to being a stealthy information gatherer is to be quiet. When there is a long pause, let it go until your relative fills the space. If they indicate that they’ve answered a question fully, move on to the next topic or question. When your relative is responding, make eye contact and nod. Nod often. According to the Science of People, people will talk three times more if you nod! The added benefit of being silent and nodding is that you don’t interfere with a sound recording!

While I hooked you with the visions of being a shadow agent to gather your family history, that’s not really the case. I don’t want you to get into legal trouble or anger your relations. I do want you to enlist their help by being less aggressive in your question to learn more about genealogy. When you’re with family, socialize and build relationships. If you can also spend time during holiday gatherings stockpiling documents and photos for your genealogy research in the process, then all the better.

For more tips on improving the information you gather from family members, check out these videos:

Interviewing Relatives About Family History - Don't Make These 2 Big Mistakes
Watch this video on YouTube.
Tips for Interviewing Relatives About Family History - How to Get the Best Stories
Watch this video on YouTube.
Sometimes you have to be a little sneaky to get your relatives to open up about genealogy details when they don't think they like family history. #genealogy #familyhistory

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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