GenTips: Back to Basics: After the Interview

Posted October 8, 2008 by Geni | No Comment

In this post, Geni guest blogger and avid genealogist Lisa Alzo
explains the steps you should take after you interview family members.
If you missed Lisa’s first two posts in this series, Interview Your Relatives and Oral History Obstacles, you may want to read those first.


You’ve just returned from a visit with your Aunt Betty where you recorded several hours of video (or audio) tape of her telling you about her childhood, your maternal grandparents, and other family stories just bursting with key details.  Before you left, you thanked her for her time, confirmed that you could follow up with any further questions, and checked that she signed all of the appropriate release forms (if you’re planning to share the information outside the family with others either in print or digital format).

Now the real work begins.

As soon as you can after the interview (when you get home) you should label your cassettes or videotapes:  “Interview# ___ with _______ on _______(date) for _________ (purpose).”

Another essential task is to make duplicate copies of each audio or video file for safekeeping.  Tapes age and often break and digital files can be accidentally erased or recorder over.  You can also convert any old audiotapes and videotapes to digital files (if you have the appropriate transfer devices for your computer available at office supply or computer stores).  With software (either that comes with your computer or available at retail stores or online), you can edit these files and burn them onto CD or DVD or post to a Web site. provides a private way to share this video/audio with other family members online (make sure you have the person’s permission first before posting).

Soon after completing the interview—while the conversation is still fresh in your mind—you’ll want to transcribe the tapes.  Use this written account as a backup of the interview in case the tapes/audio files are ever damaged.  You can choose to perform the transcription task yourself—if you’re a good typist and have the right equipment (a transcriber machine, or computer transcription software). The advantage to your completing the transcription is that you are with the material, and can make notes about facial expressions or body language of the interviewee, telling quotes, descriptions, etc.

On the other hand, if you don’t type well, or have a physical disability that would keep you from doing the transcription yourself, then you should consider hiring someone to assist with this task.  You can find a list of individuals who do this type of work and their fees in newspapers, magazine classifieds, in the telephone directory, or on the Internet. 

How much should you edit the material? You should feel free to edit the material (no need to include every “um” or “uh”), as long as the edits don’t detract from what the interviewee said or won’t substantially change the narrative. 

Once you have a complete transcript, you can draw from it to create a Table of Contents, index, and glossary for names and key terms for your family history project.  You’ll also want to read through the transcript completely and make notes in the margins, writing down questions or inconsistencies that may require clarification during a follow-up interview.

Never underestimate the value of recorded oral history. Seven of the 40+ individuals I interviewed for my own family history projects have since passed away (including my mother and father, and one of my uncles).  Genealogical value aside, having their voices preserved for playback whenever I choose is priceless.

If you enjoyed this Genealogy Tip by Lisa please join us again in a couple weeks for more. In the meantime, get out there and interview your family members and preserve your family history on Geni.


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