The only reason I know my grandfather’s mon (family crest) is because it is on his grave marker. He died when I was very young, and I only have memories of him walking me to the park and picking flowers with me on the road home. Now that I only have one living grandparent left, I feel the regret of not asking more questions about my heritage and family history.
Many frustrations arise when trying to piece together family history. For some, it is being scared of what you’ll find, for others too much time or energy is required, and sometimes we do not know where to begin. There is no better time to start than now, no matter your age or your situation.
If not for the sentiment, there are many practical reasons to research your genealogy. First, it may help to trace medical conditions and assess the risk of inheriting certain medical conditions that are genetic. Second, research may help you find and reconnect with relatives. Third, it may help your children get to know grandparents who have passed, who are not mentally aware or who may have limited physically abilities. Lastly, genealogies can provide proof of lineage to qualify for a heritage society or for land rights.
Test how well you know your family history:
- Do you know what your dad’s first car was? Y N
- Do you know where your parents went to elementary school? Y N
- Do you know where your grandparents were married? Y N
- Do you know the names of all your grandparent’s siblings? Y N
- Do you know what awards your parents and grandparents received growing up? Y N
If you can’t answer at least four questions, it’s time to start your genealogy project! I hope that you take the time to look back and appreciate your family’s journey.
To prepare you on your journey, following are a few helpful tips and tools.
When interviewing elders, make sure to set up a time with them that’s convenient beforehand. Let them know what you want to do and prepare your questions in advance.
Help jog their memory with pictures or heirlooms. It may be helpful to bring a sibling, cousin or parent along with you to help with dates and timelines.
Make it a party! Don’t forget to put the group photo in your archives.
Be creative! You don’t have to do a paper-and-pen-type interview. Break out your camera or even your GoPro. Make it exciting, memorable and fun. Don’t forget to charge the batteries and make sure digital devices have memory available.
Tell your family members you love them along the way. Write thank-you cards always. Did they mention that they loved a food or activity in their interview? Go a step beyond and bring them something next time you visit.
Visit this link for a great list of questions to start your family interview provided by the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research.
Rhianna Taniguchi is an aspiring social engineer in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was the 2014 JACL Norman Y. Mineta Fellow.