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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 5, Number 3
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
January 30, 2013


Author's Notes

In this article we discuss some tips for oral history. Learning about the family from the older generations is a great way to get some insight. Even after collecting information for 50 years, I am always amazed at the stories that they tell.

We have listed one new Virginia book as well as several Tennessee/Virginia maps to the right. Of particular note is the Tazewell County Birth Records Part 1 1853-1860. Keep in mind that during this time Tazewell County covered more territory than it does today. From 1837 until 1858, it included Buchanan parts of Bland, as well as McDowell and parts of Mercer in what was to become West Virginia after 1863. We will be working on Part 2 later this year, but it will be a large undertaking. You can view all our additions at the New Book/Map Page .

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at jimd@mountainpress.com. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.

Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press




How many of us have had an opportunity to sit down with an older member of the family and get the straight information about our ancestors? How many times with this situation have we walked away feeling frustrated that we did not receive all of the answers that we wanted from that conversation? The real problem, in most cases, is that we walked into the situation unprepared and with mixed agendas. Frequently, we ask the wrong questions. We want to lead the conversation and not follow where it is going.

Having talked with hundreds of people through fifty plus years of research, I have found a few things are useful in these conversations. First, we frequently ask questions that are too broad in scope like “Grandpaw, tell me about when you were growing up.” This question covers a broad scope of items like school, church, family life, brothers and sisters, the death of older family members. The list could go on and on. Sometimes, it is difficult for older people to focus on one or more subjects when the list is open ended like this one.

You also want to be prepared with background information that you have picked up already from other members of the family. Know as much about the subject as you can before you question them. Take one subject at a time like “school”. Ask about the school days, books they used, tools they had, friends in the class, and teachers. One of the more interesting documents in my files is a teacher’s schedule. I would love to know what he meant by the word “charting” which was done twice a day, the last thing before lunch and last bell. I have thought that it meant “penmanship” or something like that, but no one is old enough to give me the clue. This came from about the turn of the last century. In the materials passed on to me from this teacher were his teaching aids, like flash cards found in Arbuckle’s Coffee, grease paint for plays and marbles probably taken from the boys who played with them during class.

You can then go to one of the other subjects, but keep in mind that you want to keep all of this short and to the point. Older folks never tire of talking about the past, but they do grow weary from all the conversation. A good rule of thumb is “never more than one hour”, especially if the one being interviewed is weak or sick or just giving out with the conversation.

One of the rules of thumb before the interview is ask yourself the same questions. How hard are these to answer for yourself just as if your great-grandchild is asking you that question fifty years from now. If you feel that you have to rephrase the questions, don’t be afraid to change and make the question easier to answer. The person being interviewed will likely know the answers and will give them to you without reservation, if they feel that what they are saying is going to add to the accumulation of knowledge into the family. They really want the story told.

Don’t dwell on the specific dates for things as the exact date of an event may have been forgotten long ago, but the memories of that event can never be forgotten. Only my father-in-law could give exact dates for events with time and place. He had been a bookkeeper for two different railroads his entire working career and at the age of 95, he could give you almost any date in his history. He had little or no interest in his family history, however. This made for very frustrating conversations. I have had to dig up the facts for myself.

When you go for an interview with an older person, keep the mechanics of the event down to a minimum. Never give an elderly person a tape recorder that they can record when they remember something. I have seen this to be a disaster far too many times. The tape is erased, or the machine could not be turned on correctly and especially if they had to push “two” buttons at the same time. Some type of recorder should be used, but be in control yourself and don’t make it so obvious to the responder. They should know that it is present, but it should not be in the way of the “talking”.

Once you have recorded the conversation, make duplicate copies of the time together and let the respondent know that copies will be made available to others if they request them.

One word of real caution - never try to talk with two people at one time. This sounds like a dream situation, but in the final analysis it will be a disaster, especially if you are trying to get this on tape. You might try this sometime just for fun and then try to listen to it later. The voices overlap and they talk over each other and the end results are a jumbled mess. I have a tape of three local historians talking together about local history and it is almost impossible to know who is saying what. Thank goodness, a secretary was seated next to the tape recorder and was talking the conversation down in shorthand. She then typed this up immediately and identified each side of the conversation so that now with all three historians gone, you can read their thoughts. I have listened to the tape with the script and it makes sense, but without the script it is mish-mash.

Interviews are extremely important to our understanding of the family at the time they were living. Just take a few minutes to plan out this time with some older person and lay out the questions for which you want to find answers. Don’t rush the process, but enjoy the time spent with the elders. They really do want to pass on their knowledge.

Happy Hunting!



Tazewell County, VA Birth Records



These Tazewell County, Virginia birth records are full of information giving the name of the child, birth date, sex and race as well as the location of the birth. In addition the names of the parent and/or owner in the case of slaves is given with the addition of who informed the clerk of the birth. Since the recording of the births at this time was volunteer in nature, this latter is important. The location of the birth is important as to the creeks, mountains, etc.

See Surnames and More Details



Matthew Rhea's Map of Tennessee 1832


This is the first full map of Tennessee with great details on communities, road, counties, etc.

Click here for bigger picture.


Matthew Rhea's Original Maps for Alabama and Tennessee


This is a 48 page collection of some of the original drawings of Matthew Rhea's survey drawings for northern Alabama and counties in East Tennessee.

Click here to see bigger picture.

Map of Rutherford County, TN 1878


Map shows the Civil Districts in 1878 with a listing of the major land owners in each District and an insert of Murfreesboro with additional information.

Click here for bigger picture.


Map of Anderson County, TN


Matthew Rhea's original drawing of the county giving details of the area as to the georgraphic features making up the county.

Click here to see bigger picture.

Map of Virginia (and West Virginia) 1848


The details of each county are shown in color with the mountain ranges given.

Click here to see bigger picture.


If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.