Many people start their family history work on the computer. I did. But that's not really where it should start, and it's definitely not where it should end. Talking to relatives is so key. Even if they are not involved in genealogy, they usually have information that is very relevant to your research.
If you're lucky they will naturally volunteer some of this information. All you have to do is pay attention and find some way to record their memories. For example, last time we visited my husband's grandma she shared a story about how particular her great-grandmother was about her tea. My brother-in-law was listening. He quickly realized that the person she was talking about must have been born in the 1800s. He was excited to know personal information about someone born in 1863. When he got home he blogged about his experience, recording it so that he won't forget.
Some of your relatives won't be as forthcoming. Maybe your whole family won't be as forthcoming. Some families just don't talk about the past. You may have be sensitive about bringing it up.
Photos are a great place to start, if you can. My grandma has a few photos of her parents and other relatives on display at her house. One day I asked to see them. As she showed me the pictures she explained who each person was. Then, naturally, she shared personal stories about them. I made one crucial mistake, though! I didn't write any of it down and I've forgotten everything she told me. Recording memories is more important than any other family history work you can do. My grandma is still alive, but if she doesn't feel like sharing those memories again, they are lost.
|My daughter "interviewing" my grandma|
You can also grab the opportunities that come. What I mean is, someone in your family may say something like, "Grandpa used to love this kind of cake." Grab it! That information is worth recording, but think of how much more information you could have if you asked a follow-up question. "What else did Grandpa like?" "Did you ever make this cake for him? Who did?" "When was the last (or most memorable) time you saw Grandpa eat this kind of cake?" Those kinds of questions can start a natural conversation that will lead you to information that you can't get anywhere else. But don't forget to record those memories as soon as you can!
Lastly, don't forget that your living relatives are part of your family history too. Their memories about themselves and your memories about them matter. Record them!
What kind of family history gems has your family shared? Does your family talk about their memories or do you have to encourage them to share? Where do you like to record their memories and yours?