Here's how to proceed to gather all the necessary elements to complete your own biography or that of an earlier generation.
When families of the same name can, with the help of a genealogy dictionary, quickly trace all the links which connect them to their respective ancestor, it is their duty to have the earlier generations known starting from:
family oral tradition, "before it's too late".
documents still available more likely within the family.
interviews of senior citizens who were closely related.
documents found in parishes (archives), legal papers, notary acts, census, list of church warrant, brotherhoods, etc.
When considering all that can be captured by oral tradition, many people think that everyone's story is identical, wrong, as it was said so well by Alexis Carrel, " Each person has an history which is not identical to any other". Similarities can be found but there are always fundamental differences which create the variety and the beauty of a nation or of a family.
To facilitate the task of those wanting to write the biography of an older person or even your own, here's a few points that will help.
Consultation of elderly persons
If you first want to consult elderly people within your family, certain methods and precautions are conditional to success.
Keep in mind the age of the person and the basic requirements; do not influence the conversations, let them have confidence in you, respect the precision and clearness of the facts, do not project the image that you are conducting an enquiry on their life but rather that you want to let them to tell facts related to their times to ensure their children and grand children will remember them and speak of their times with respect.
Preferably start the conversation with a fact for which you are certain that the person will have something to say of course by using simplicity. No direct questions, no discussion, let them speak out without interrupting. It's better to be two, one asking the questions and the other taking notes. Better still use a tape recorder, which allows to tell the facts using the language of the senior person "I've seen it with my own eyes... My father use to say... etc." It's better to make several interviews rather than stretch it. In some cases it is better to interview at the same time more than one senior person having lived the same period.
Various subjects for biographies
A. The family
Name, age, spouse (name, age, place birth date) of the old man.
Father and mother (names, ages, places, birth dates, marriage date, location of burial). List of brothers and sisters in proper order, of their husbands and wives, location where they settled, where their descendants went to.
Grand-parents (paternal and maternal) names locations birth dates, marriages, deaths. List of their brothers and sisters, etc
Beyond if at all possible (in the same fashion).
Brothers and sisters, in order of age, wives and husbands, etc,
Children in the proper order (wives and husbands where they live.
Family of the husband or wife if at all possible, where they come from.
B. Personal history
Birth: place, date, circumstance. (Godfather, priest, names)
Childhood: place (neighbourhood), conditions, schools (classmates), childhood friends, what became of them. First communion (location, priest, (circumstances).. .Confirmation.
Youth: work, adventures, girl friends, worthwhile memories.
Marriage: location, date, priest, reasons, circumstances, the reception, location of residence.
-Career: trade, jobs, each location (why), incidents, friends (love ones or occasional ones), enemies.
-Public life: functions, difficulties, successes or failures, etc.
Events I took part of (elections, enterprises, accidents).
Events I witnessed.
Events I heard of (source of information).
My parish, parish priests, constructions, etc. (All developments, when the parish was created).
Notary acts when they were involved, names of notaries and dates.
Concerning elections, speeches; parish priests and their way of doing things; personal lectures; difference in generations; sense of economy.
Manners and habits of the time: courtship, weddings, burials, religious offices., preaching, morals.
Work and salary: work conditions, exact salary, in proportion with the cost of living, etc.
Housing: inside and outside description, furniture, comfort, fuel lamps and stove, electricity, etc.
Dressing: male and female, fabrics, prices (elegant people of the time).
The pleasure in life: amusements, society, advantages inconveniences (Drinking, dancing, games played, etc.)
Health: physical strength, meals (menu). Etc.
F. Various memories
Spanish flu, parish celebrations, traditions, forest fires, smuggling, etc.
G. Physical and moral description
Were they tall or short, (hair colour, dyed)?
Were they rich or poor, active, workers or easy-going? What was their profession or trade?
Were they happy or sad?
Did they play an important role in their village?
Did they hold a mayor or alderman position, a church warrant, road inspector, railway man, political organizer?
Houses they lived in are they still existing? If not, do you have pictures?
Were they strong and healthy body and mind?
Did they live old? Were they sick often?
Number of children? Did they loose children at young age?
Did they like living, in pleasant company... good food.
Were they sober, strict, severe, serious or party type? -What were their "good words"? (Songs, dances, tap dancing).
What were their hobbies? (pottering, sports, collecting, etc.)
Was gardening a preference, hunting, fishing, travelling?
Were they involved in court cases? Did they always win? Were they juryman?
Were they involved in some incidents?
Where did they spend the last few years of their lives? Last illness?
Where did they died? Places, circumstances of their death?
Their goods went to whom?
The funeral took place in what church and in what cemetery are they buried?
H. The pictures
- It is very important to save old family pictures from destruction. They are the important witnesses of family history or of a parish. Make sure they are properly identified by people who knew the people the things or the places represented. Write on the back or at the bottom the names, the places, the dates and the relations, etc.
Suggest to people who do not wish to keep same to give them rather than destroy to their family association or to a local history society, or Quebec National Archives, where they will be classified and saved in good conditions.
Writing your own biography can be a very pleasant task when done with simplicity. We recommend using a tape recorder for those having difficulty writing to dictate the story of your life as if you would be telling a story to a good friend or a parent that you have not seen since childhood. Then all you have to do is write the events in the proper order and add if needed.
To finish the subjects :
Birth: Day, date, place of birth.
Names of parents, godfather, godmother, priest at christening. Circumstances
Childhood: Residences, Houses, farm, village, province. Parents: occupation of the Father, financial conditions: Day to day life: dressing, preferred menus. Friends: neighbours, friends to play. Personal incidents: accidents, illnesses, tricks.
Travels: How long, frequency. Visits: made to whom, received whom, preferred visitors.
Family: Birth anniversaries, wedding anniversaries of brothers and sisters along with that of their children.
Trades. Professions. Successive residences and actual addresses.
School: Names of schools attended, teachers, associations, funny situations, evaluation of education at that time, prizes and school rewards, influence on further studies, career.
Activities: During school years, organization of spare time, sports, vacation, clubs.
Youth: First friends, meeting husband/wife, marriage project (B), engagement, reception, gifts, honeymoon. How they met, choosing husband/wife circumstances (B).
Marriage: Life in the first few years, happy moments, sorrows, misfortune, houses occupied successively, trips to visit relatives, to foreign countries, occupations.
Jobs: temporary employments, regular, promotions, employee appreciation by the employer, by colleagues, working conditions, salaries, happy or sad anecdotes.
Children: First names, date, location, place of birth, circumstances, events, illnesses, incidents, characters, habits, accidents. Family life in general.
Relations: political and civic activities. Elections, clubs, associations, unions, receptions, volunteer work. K. Sports: sport activities, recreational, music, choir, movie, books, collections, painting, poems, hobbies.
Festivities: Celebration of family anniversaries, Christmas holidays, silver and gold anniversaries, centennial, etc,
We hope this document will assist you and will produce result for at least short biographies.