NaDean was in the 5th grade. School had just started. NaDean and her friends, Velma and Mary, welcomed some new students – Mary Mae, Clorene and Inez. The three sisters spoke fondly of their older brother, Sonny Boy.
Sonny Boy or William, as he was later called, was 12 years old and would not be going to school that year. His daddy had broken his foot and would not be able to farm. Young William would be staying out of school to put in the crops. He used a mule and a plow to put in, as he later described, the crookedest corn rows ever, since he wasn’t big enough to keep the mule in a straight line.
Mary Mae’s stories of William intrigued the 10-year-old NaDean, who had never laid eyes on him. She turned to her friends and declared, “He’s mine.”
After she actually met William, NaDean stayed sweet on him all through school. When she was 15, William would ride his horse, Dixie, the five miles down to her house. They would sit on the front porch and talk, with her little brother making faces at them through the screened window. Sometimes, on Sunday afternoons they, with other friends, would ride double on horses two miles further south to swim in the Red River.
After finishing high school, William graduating the year after NaDean, they married in 1952, ten years after NaDean told her friends, “He’s mine.”
In 2012, they celebrated 60 years of marriage, along with their 5 children, 5 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
William and NaDean are my parents, but I never heard this charming story growing up. After I became interested in genealogy, all the books recommended conducting family interviews. While I couldn’t imagine learning any new family stories, I’m the kind of person that follows the rules. So I gathered some sample questions from a popular genealogy book, bought a tape recorder and scheduled an interview.
This story is just one reason I’m still conducting family interviews.
Like most things, preparing for your family interviews creates better results. Decide your focus; realizing most interviews should last no longer than an hour. Interviews can be tiring for both the interviewee and for you! Think about who else you want to interview and consider starting with the least involved person. That person could give you some insights for questions for your more significant interviews, especially if you get only one chance for that significant interview.
Write out your questions ahead of time or use a script of questions from a genealogy book. The library can be a good source for genealogy books. Your topics could start with the basics asking for birth day, date of marriage and where they lived. You could then ask the same information about their children, parents and grandparents, including any death dates and locations.
Other interview topics could be questions about cultural customs like how birthdays and holidays were celebrated; what churches were attended and how often; types of clothing worn as teenagers; what did they do for fun when they were kids; describe their first job, their first memory, their first house or how they met their spouse.
As you can, see the list is endless. Limit the use of questions requiring just a “yes” or “no” answer. You’re looking for family stories, so don’t be in a rush to finish your list of questions. If you keep the interview pleasant and under one hour, hopefully, you can schedule a second interview.
At the start of the interview, ask permission to use a digital recorder. Start the recording with the name of the person being interviewed, your name, the date and place. Just keep the recorder running, even if the person is stopping to think. You want to focus on the interviewee, not the technology.
Remember, if you transcribe the interview, to plan on three to four hours of transcription time for every hour of interview. If anyone has any ideas on how to transcribe faster, let me know. I’ve tried some voice recognition software, but with our Southern accents, the software was not very useful.
As a result of your efforts, future generations will be introduced to the stories and the voices knowing “He (and She are) Mine.”
Andrea Musgrove Perisho is a retired health care managing director and a member of the Lee County Genealogical Society Writer’s Group. Copyright 2013 by Andrea Musgrove Perisho.