So what do you need to keep in mind when interviewing a relative? Let’s go through a quick checklist that I used when I started to trace my family tree. Obviously this is just a recommendation and interviews show flow and not stick to a specific format. Every person is different and you should try to read your subject and see what they are more comfortable talking about.
1. Don’t surprise your relatives. Plan the interview in advance.
2. It’s always a good idea to prepare a list of questions and let your relative know what you’re going to ask ahead of time.
3. I don’t like to take notes because I always miss something and it slows down the interview. Get a small digital voice recorder and make sure it is charged and ready to go. Don’t let technology mess you up!
4. Don’t forget to make note of the time and place where the interview took place.
5. Start with an easy question, but try to stay away from yes/no questions. Strive for details.
6. Be a good listener and try to stay engaged in the conversation without taking over the interview.
7. Use family photos to jog the memory.
8. Don’t force an issue. Sometimes you might hit a nerve and that can cause someone to shut down. Move on.
9. Be creative and let the conversation flow. Don’t stick to your prepared questions if the interview heads down a different path.
10. Don’t correct your relative’s answers and always thank them for sharing their stories with you.
See that wasn’t too hard. The interview can be a great way to gather a lot of information. Just be natural and prepare in advance and you should be fine. Don’t drag the interview on for hours. If you need to come back several times – do it. Sometimes your relatives will want to see what you are going to write after the interview so assure them that you will not publish or share anything before they approve it.
OK, what are you waiting for? Get to it!