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13 Steps to Preserve Your Family History

by LeAnn R. Ralph

Although the phrase, “everybody has a story to tell” may sound like a cliche, it’s true.

And after working as a newspaper reporter for nine years, I know that everyone does, indeed, have a story to tell, including your family members.

Think about it.

Do your grandmother and grandfather — mother and father — aunts and uncles — tell stories about the “good old days?”

Do they talk about going to school? The fun they had with friends? Family celebrations and holidays? Picnics on the Fourth of July? Snow that was so deep it covered fences? Pets that were so smart they belonged in the Guinness Book of World Records? Making ice cream? Their parents? Their grandparents?

Have you wanted to write down those stories to share them with other family members and to preserve them for generations to come but don’t how to go about it?

Guess what? You don’t need “literary talent,” special training or special equipment. All you need to preserve those stories is a list of people to interview, a willingness to listen, a set of questions to ask, a tape recorder and a computer (or even a typewriter would work!).

Here are the steps for gathering and writing your family stories:

  1. Decide which people you would like to interview and make a list. 
  2. Ask for permission to conduct an interview. 
  3. Set a formal date and time for the interview. 
  4. Provide a list of questions several days or weeks before the interview. 
  5. Focus on a single subject or event in each list of questions. 
  6. Use the “who, what, where, when, how, and why” strategy when formulating your questions. 
  7. Ask open-ended questions and not “yes or no” or “one word answer” questions. 
  8. Use a tape recorder to record the interview. 
  9. Chat about something else for a while if the person you are interviewing seems nervous at the prospect of being tape-recorded. 
  10. Transcribe the tape and write up your notes after you have finished the interview. 
  11. Edit the manuscript. 
  12. Spread out your interviews. 
  13. Print the stories from your computer or publish them in another way.

From the e-book: Preserve Your Family History (A Step-by-Step Guide for Writing Oral Histories) (66 pages; April 2004; $7.95) Click Here To see the table of contents and several sets of sample questions. Preserve Your Family History* includes step-by-step instructions for conducting interviews as well as 30 sets of questions (more than 400 questions in all) on 30 different topics that you can print out to use “as is” or that you can use to generate your own questions.

About The Author
© LeAnn R. Ralph 2004
LeAnn R. Ralph is the author of the book, *Christmas in Dairyland (True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm)* (trade paperback; August 2003). For more information, visit

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