January 30th, 2009 at 4:58 pm (Articles)
Interviewing family can be a tedious task, but it can also be inspiring and totally enjoyable. If you have never done an interview, start with someone you are comfortable with, move on to others.
Make a list of questions that you would like to ask. Start with simple questions. Example: “Tell me about grandpa and where he was born.” Usually the person you are interviewing will give a basic answer, and at that point start adding more in-depth questions. Example: “Did he always live there and where did he go to school?” The big thing is to get people talking.
Whenever possible, use a camcorder or tape/digital recorder to record the interview. This can be very helpful later on. Many times when you are interviewing, you may think you wrote everything down, but unless you have a recorded interview, things can be missed. Remember, there is no law that says you can only interview each person once.
Most people are slow to start. They are uncomfortable talking into a machine or on tape. Try to make them comfortable. Don’t push too hard, especially with older people. Older people sometimes have to talk a bit and get their mind on the subject. It’s ok to let them ramble a little about things that do not pertain to family history, but try not to let them get far off track. Gently mention a question to help them back to the key subject. Example: You asked your grandmother about growing up in
One helpful hint is to make it fun as you can. Get them to tell funny stories. This is a great ice breaker too. Once they get going, it is amazing how many times you will hear “Did I tell about the time…..” Family stories are not always 100% true, but they can give you hints into the past and how your family lived.
When I have worked with family members from other states or even countries, I have asked over the phone or by email for them to write about their lives and about their parents. Most people have been very helpful and very warm and loving about this project. My mother has a cousin Bill in
About 2 weeks later a package was delivered. In it were several pictures, dated around 1900(?) There were two pictures included of two women that we think are my great-grandmother and her mother. I was thrilled! He said he was fairly sure that is who they were. Also included in the packet were pictures of my grandfather and his two brothers, pictures that we had never seen. I copied them and sent them right back to him. He later wrote how impressed he was at how fast I took care of the copying and returning of the photos. He said he knew that I was serious about my work by how I treated in information and photos. Not only did it make me feel good to know I had taken care of this well, but that he would be willing to share anything else he might think of or find later. That is very important.
Just keep the lines of communication open.
You never know when someone will find that key piece of the puzzle.