Saturday Evening Post: Interviewing Family During Holidays

Cover of the November/December 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post Whee! I’m in America’s oldest magazine. The cover story of the November/December 2010 issue of The Saturday Evening Post is about finding out more about your family’s history over holiday visits.

The five pages of the magazine covers ways to explore your family’s history, from asking questions of family members to genealogical research, in an article by Doug Donaldson, and one by Stephen C. George.

Plus there’s helpful advice. In a sidebar. I’m quoted there. About avoiding “Why?” when talking to family (more on Why Not Why here) and your seating arrangements when asking questions about pictures in photo albums. (More on that here and [new!] here.)

Cover story, first spread of the Saturday Evening Post's story Some fun stuff: Donaldson’s article and sidebar highlights family gatherings recorded using the built-in video camera on a laptop—that’s a new one on me! Among the experts interviewed is oral historian Stephen M. Sloan, a fellow member of the Oral History Association (too, I read his emails from time to time on the Oral History email list). Two fellow members of the Association of Personal Historians, Jennifer Sauers, and Barbara Tabach, were also interviewed for this story.

More than one person interviewed for the article were glad they did this process, since the person they interviewed has since passed away. I’ve said it before and will say it again, interviewing family is a gratifying act. It leads to a life of Glad I Got To rather than Wish I Woulda.

Stephen C. George writes a related article. He numbers himself among the “I never took the time…it’s too late” people, but he found a digitized document on—his 7th great-grandfather’s request for a veteran’s pension for his service in the Revolutionary War, complete with multiple pages of description of those events. That’s a story that was found in documents but not a part of spoken memories about the family.

Cover and all the spreads of the Saturday Evening Post's cover story for the November/December 2010 issue. The Sidebar (in which I am quoted) is shown in detail

Stephen C. George, it turns out, is the Post’s Editor-in-Chief, and he also writes the introductory comment in the front of the magazine that introduces the theme of this The Saturday Evening Post issue. I appreciate his words: He reacts to the deluge of how to survive your dysfunctional family at holiday time articles that come out this time of year (depending on the family, the how-to-survive articles are totally deserved). Stephen C. George came from a dysfunctional family. His own childhood Thanksgivings were “like waiting for World War III to start.” Despite the fracas and the four-way fight that caused a table collapse (the kids’ table), and the I’m never going to come back again recriminations, he says:

But here’s the thing: We always did return.

[…] Even the disagreements … were entertaining, a part of the holidays, strands of the bond that made us, all evidence to the contrary, a strong, loving family.

In this issue, we’re focusing on that bond, the one that exists—and is renewed—when generations come together to pass on family traditions and capture family stories.

Why do I appreciate this? People, I have issues. Family issues. Right now. (Or maybe I should say we have issues. Cause I’m not the only one.)

Detail of the Sidebar (in which I am quoted, and in which my words come back to me with a little extra punch) It’s affecting how I approach this particular Thanksgiving. You’ll learn no details about those issues on this website, other than that, well, I (we) have them. I’ve been feeling consternation. Anguish. OMG. Mega-OMG. This should be enough to help paint the following picture: Last weekend, while roiled in anguish and OMG, I went to Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena to see whether any of my interview made it into the magazine. I found the magazine, and checked the Table of Contents. Page 36, okay. Flipped the pages. Beheld the page. Skimmed the article for my name. (Yes, I fully admit it.) Turned the page. Skimmed some more.

Found it! There.

Ban “why.” In a family setting, sometimes asking “why” can seem like an accusation and judgment, according to Susan Kitchens. … “Why” may cause an interview subject to shut down.

I read all that with those family issues foremost in my mind.


Ban “why.”

I am so busted. By my own words. In print. In a national magazine. Founded by Ben Franklin, whose face adorns the 100-dollar bill.

Yeah, sure, I was trying to get perspective on these issues. I got it. From myself. All right, Susan, do NOT ask why. Y’hear? (I also got quite a laugh from all this.)

Um, I never said this was easy.

I’ve joked with people that the process of conducting family interviews helps a person to learn “what happened.” Or, in some cases, “what the hell happened.”

So, there it is: The Saturday Evening Post. With my advice, which I also need to take. I’m benefiting from this reminder. And the cosmic joke manner in which it’s been delivered.

And here’s a thank you to Doug Donaldson, for getting in touch with me for an interview, and a thank you to Stephen C. George, who states that the we-have-family-issues is also part of the inexorable family bond.

Update: Since I posted this, I’ve started a 2-part series to talk about interviewing using photo albums. Go to Part 1

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 17, 2010 in • Do it: YourselfOral history in the newsPersonal
6 CommentsPermalink

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Congratulations Susan!  I very much enjoyed your presentations at Jamboree and I’m glad they featured your wise words in The Saturday Evening Post.  Great post today.  Hope you have a good thanksgiving despite the ‘issues’.

Joan Miller (Luxegen)  on 11/17  at  04:59 PM


How absolutely fantastic! Old magazine, new technology.

Off to buy my copy.



Congratulations on being quoted, Susan! I’ll be sending positive vibes in your general direction on Thanksgiving, and keeping my fingers crossed for all of us whose families can’t seem to put the “fun” in “dysfunctional” during the holiday season.

Madaleine J. Laird  on 11/17  at  05:37 PM

Terrific, Susan. Seems like every life lesson has to be learned more than once. But you’re such a good teacher!

Petrea Burchard  on 11/17  at  07:15 PM

Hey, Susan, congratulations! Isn’t it amazing how our own words can come back and bite us in the ass? Grit your teeth and keep your chin up and your head down. Remember, with family it’s all about contortions!

Kathryn Doyle  on 11/17  at  10:27 PM

Joan, fM, Madaleine, Petrea, Kathryn—

Thanks for your comments and your good cheer on my behalf.

Madaleine, we do fun pretty well. Srsly. Just wishing for that functional part. Ah, me.

I gotta say, tho, Kathryn, your words are the ones I’ll hold close to me next week when the going gets downright weird.

Susan A. Kitchens  on 11/17  at  10:37 PM

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