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Family Interview PacketWhen I was a middle school teacher a few years go, I ran a Family History Club for students. The club met once a week and had 5-10 enthusiastic students show up any given week. The first week of the club I introduced the process of family history research. We got to know each other with some pair share questions and I assigned them to interview a relative over the upcoming holiday break. Students also signed up for a Family Search account at home with parent permission.

We started by discussing why interviews were an important place to start, how to select an interviewee, and good interview techniques. At the end of the meeting students spent some time selecting interview questions from the packet I handed out. Following the break students shared what they learned from the interview and used the information they gathered to identify facts that could be supported with documentary evidence.

The interviews were the jumping off point for a year’s worth of research! I was happy to let the students research independently with me there for support. As a sponsor it was an easy club to manage, I was there as a guide while students worked. Beyond the first week I didn’t plan many activities or structure the time too much because my members were eager to have time for research. Over the next few months we would occasionally pause our work to talk about census records, newspapers, maps, etc.  The students helped each other with their work and together we celebrated our accomplishments. Many continued working at home with the help of parents and grandparents.

It is important to note that, due to the age of the students, my focus was on getting them interested in their family stories and excited about new discoveries. I want them to go to family gatherings and talk to their relatives, ask about family photos, and know that they can use documents to find new information. While we did talk briefly about citing sources and weighing evidence, I chose not to overwhelm students with this aspect of genealogy. I believe that if they truly take an interest in the subject beyond the few meetings of our club, they will arrive at this information on their own very quickly.

In preparing to lead this club, I was inspired by the A.B.G.S. Middle School Genealogy Club. I recommend checking out this article about the club if you want to lead one of your own!

Below you can download a PDF of the interview packet I handed out to students at the first meeting. Feel free to use and adapt the packet for your own needs. Please share the link to this post with others!

Download the Family Interview Packet


2017-02-11-10-50-21How do I begin to summarize the incredible weekend that was RootsTech?? I had a wonderful time meeting new people, learning new research strategies, hearing fantastic speakers and enjoying the gorgeous city of Salt Lake. I am so appreciative of the RootsTech organizers for offering the student discount that made my trip feasible on a grad school budget. I haven’t even left for the airport yet, but I’m going to summarize my favorite parts of the weekend with The RootsTech Awards 2017!

trophyBest Keynote Speech

While all the speakers were fabulous and touching, I thought Drew and Jonathan Scott of The Property Brothers were the most entertaining. They had interesting stories, great visuals and the best stage presence. I loved hearing the story of how their parents met, their own childhoods and their careers. Of course, I could relate to their Scottish roots and their obsession with Scottish history! I am really looking forward to seeing what speakers RootsTech 2018 will have in store.

Honorable mention goes to LaVar Burton for bringing to life my childhood memories of Reading Rainbow, his touching stories about his mother and his joyful reaction to receiving his family tree.

trophyBest Session Speaker

I attended two of Judy G. Russell’s (aka The Legal Genealogist) presentations this weekend and she was wonderful, as always. I attended both “When Worlds Collide” about resolving conflicting evidence and “Copyright Law for Genealogists” about, well, copyright law obviously. Although both topics had the potential for dry, boring presentations, Judy was lively and entertaining. I came away from both feeling more knowledgeable about the subjects and familiar with new resources. I would highly recommend anyone take advantage of an opportunity to hear her speak in person or via webinar!

trophyBest Session

Of all the interesting sessions I attended, the one that stands out the most is a presentation that Dr. Bruce Durie gave about Scottish records. Several of my lines have ended at Scottish immigrants and I’ve been unsure how to proceed. Bruce provided some excellent explanations of the websites available for Scottish records and their contents. Now I feel confident moving forward with my research knowing I won’t be throwing away money on websites I don’t understand. I hope to see more presentations by him next year.

trophyBest Expo Hall Findimg_20170213_110928

Via a promoted tweet I learned a company was at RootsTech called Living Tags. The tweet said they were giving away their $100 product for FREE during the weekend, so of course I made a beeline for their booth not even knowing what they sold! The fantastic guys at the booth explained Living Tags makes metal QR codes that can be permanently attached to headstones (or anything else you can imagine) and when visitors scan the codes they will be taken to a memorial page you have created for the person buried there. You could also create a page for a building, monument, headstone…anything you can think of! We also got a sneak peek of a project they are working on where web pages could be linked to headstones via geotags rather than QR codes. That means you wouldn’t need to physically attach anything to the place for the memorial page to be located, just scanning the vicinity with the app would bring up the page! I think this is a really exciting concept and I’m eager to see where they take it. Please go check them out and give them your support!

trophyBest Purchase

Can you believe Ancestry was giving away DNA kits for only $49??? I was floored when I saw that! I was one of the first people in the expo hall because I left the opening session a little early. I hopped right to the front of the line and picked up the maximum 5 kits. I am so excited to use them for both my parents’ siblings! Throughout the weekend there was a constant line, sometimes of 50+ people waiting to buy DNA tests at the 2 registers they had. Of course since the limit was only 5 per transaction plenty of people got back in line and walked away with 20+ kits! Insanity!

trophy2017-02-09-19-01-28Best Extra-Curricular Event

I attended all the evening events (at least for a few minutes) as well as a sponsored lunch, lab session and a quick visit to the Family History Library. Without a doubt the best event was the concert, “Music: It Runs in the Family,” featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Oscar “Andy” Hammerstein III. As someone who was a “theatre kid” in high school I was thrilled to hear an evening of show tunes from musicals I worked on or watched. Even better were the stories and videos that wove together the story of Andy’s ancestors and brought the entire event to life. It was truly a fantastic event in a gorgeous building.

All-in-all this was an unforgettable weekend. I am already eager to book my travel arrangements for next year’s conference, which will be held February 28th – March 3rd. I hope if you haven’t been able to attend RootsTech before you will find a way to attend next year’s event. It certainly will be hard to live up to this year, but I have no doubt the organizers will manage to exceed the new standard they have set.

See you next time Salt Lake City!

I love participating in Randy Seaver’s SNGF series! You can find a link to the original post here if you want to participate. This week’s prompt is:

What goals do you have for your genealogy research, education and writing during 2017?


  • Complete the entire 2017 Genealogy Do Over program from Thomas MacEntee. As I have indicated in a few posts I am participating in the do-over as a way to clean up my genealogical research and get back on the right track. I have already completed months 1 & 2, now I need to keep it up!
  • Visit the National Archives and scan a few pension files. I have a spring break trip planned in that direction to visit family and I really want to visit NARA while I’m there!
  • Administer more DNA tests. On the same trip I will be taking along 3 DNA kits to administer to family members. My mom, while not a genealogist, seems already eager to purchase even more kits for other family members to take the tests! I am hoping to get some relatives on my dad’s side to test as well but that will require getting in touch with people that haven’t been in contact in 30+ years.
  • Put DNA results to use! I had my parents and grandfather complete DNA tests in the last 18 months but I have not really pursued the matches. After joining the Central Indiana DNA Group I think I have gathered most of the necessary skills to follow up on the matches and learn from them. I have already begin doing so a little and I plan to do more this year.


  • Attend RootsTech 2017 in February to learn even more techniques I can apply to my research. I am so beyond excited and grateful that Roots Tech offered a student discount that made it feasible for me to attend the conference. I can’t wait to get on that plane in 3 weeks!
  • Stay up to date on podcasts and videos I subscribe to.
  • Pay attention to opportunities for free webinars.
  • Join #genchat on twitter! I have been so bad about remembering to log in for these. And if I don’t forget then I’m busy that night. I need to add these to my calendar so I remember to participate!
  • Attend as many local events as possible. In 2016 I was able to attend 2 one-day conferences at local societies and I hope to attend more this year. I have joined my local genealogy society and I’m trying to attend events as often as I can but most fall during the week when I have classes. I am also attending the local Central Indiana DNA Group when I am able.
  • For Christmas I received a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I look forward to familiarizing myself with citation formats so I can write better citations for my sources as I’m researching this year.


  • My goal this year is to publish at least one blog post a week. I didn’t do very well at that last year, but it’s a new year, time to start fresh!
  • I am really interested in learning how to write my ancestors’ stories this year. To that end I have signed up for a lab at Roots Tech and for Christmas I received a copy of Personal Historian 2. I hope to put these two opportunities to use this year. I have a few ancestors in mind that I would like to start with and I hope to accomplished at least one ancestor’s personal history this year.

I didn’t realize I had so many goals until I started typing them! Hopefully I am able to accomplish some of these. I don’t have a good track record with genealogy goals, but that might be a side effect of attending graduate school full time.

I hope you accomplish your goals in 2017!

This year I am planning to participate in Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over! I have purchased the fantastic workbook and I am starting with Month 1!

do-over-folderMonth 1 is all about setting aside research and preparing for a do-over. Since 95% of my genealogy is digital, this is an easy task for me. I have created a new folder in my genealogy files for all my do-over research. Since my paper files are already scattered among boxes and not organized there’s nothing really to do there.

Month 1: check!

I’m going to skip ahead to month 2 since I’ve got a few more days before classes start.

The Accidental Genealogist is running her annual “Fearless Females” month of March. I’m so happy to be joining in, although admittedly a little late. I will attempt to catch up before the end of the month. If you want to see her blog and prompts you can look here:

The prompt for March 10:

“What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?”

My maternal grandmother, Peggy Barbour Straughen, was very active in the church until she died. After she married my grandfather she left nursing and when they moved to Dayton she joined Normandy United Methodist Church, the same church my mother and I each grew up in. In 1973 she went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in theology, even though she had three kids at home she graduated with departmental honors and summa cum laude! She was a steadfast member of the choir and served as a layperson on occasion as well as attending and leading numerous other events. I wasn’t even called by name at church growing up! I was “Peggy’s granddaughter”.


Anderson, Bell, McKee, Hartzell, Cather, Straughen/Straughn, Barbour, Coleman, Fisher, Leppert, Shimp

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