10 Tips for Family History Interviews
With the holidays just around the corner, chances are you will be getting together with your relatives to celebrate. It may also present a great opportunity to catch a few relatives for an interview about your family history!
Before seeing your relatives this holiday season, here are some tips to help prepare for an interview with your relatives.
1. Plan ahead
First, take a look at what information you have and what you may still be missing or unsure about. You’ll want to be prepared and know what information you hope to get from the interview.
2. Set objectives
With that in mind, be sure to set an objective for the interview. Is there specific information you are looking for? A family story? Perhaps clarification about a sudden relative in a census record? The interview will go a lot smoother if you have a clear objective in mind and know what information you hope to gather.
3. Have a call beforehand
Don’t ambush your visiting relatives during the holiday. Call your relative ahead of time to ask if you can interview them. Remember that they are doing you a favor, so you will want to try to set up a time that is convenient for them too. This is also a good opportunity to ask them if they can bring any old family photos, documents or heirlooms to share. Don’t forget to ask if they can provide you with copies of any old photos or records.
4. Get the right equipment
Once you have your interview set up, you’ll want to be sure you have all the necessary equipment ready. Have a recording device on hand and make sure you know how to use it before the interview. You may also want to keep a pen and notebook handy so you can jot down any notes during the interview. If you decide to use your phone, tablet or computer, make sure you will have your charging cables nearby just in case. Don’t forget to let your relative know that they will be recorded during the interview.
If you have a portable scanner, bring it along with you so you can scan photos yourself.
5. Prepare your questions
You should have a list of questions prepared in advance. This will help guide the interview along and ensure that you will meet your interview objectives. Create open-ended questions to encourage your relative to share stories and more details that may not come to mind with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions. See our list of family history questions you may not think to ask.
Don’t keep your questioning too rigid either. Often a story about one thing may lead to a revelation about another. Try to throw in some follow-up questions during the conversation too.
6. Bring family history items
If you have questions about an old photograph, document or heirloom, bring it with you to the interview. Your relative may be able to help identify a mystery photo or share a story about an old family heirloom. Props are always a great way to spark some memories. If they brought an item, give them the opportunity to share their story with you.
7. Don’t be pushy
If you find that a question has made your relative uncomfortable, don’t be too pushy to get answers. Find a way to move on to the next topic. Your relative may have their own reasons for not wanting to share something. Also, be mindful not to interrupt answers. Listen attentively and engage in dialog, but let them answer the questions fully. Nothing will cut an interview short faster than frequent interruptions and attempts at correcting a relative.
8. Share the family tree
The interview also presents an opportunity for you to briefly share the progress you have made on the family tree. You can pull up the tree on Geni to share what you have discovered so far and perhaps even invite them to join so they can contribute their knowledge of your family’s history themselves.
9. Transcribe it
After the interview, transcribe your recording so that you can have it as a reference later. While it’s great to have their stories preserved in a recording, a transcription will give you easy access to the information later. This will also help you organize what new information was shared and make note of what areas that will need further research.
10. Say thank you
Be sure to thank your relative for letting you interview them. After you have gathered and reviewed your notes, it would be nice to send a note back to your relative along with a transcript or short summary of the interview. It’s a nice little gift to let them know how they have helped contribute to the preservation of your family history.