23 August 2010 ~ 6 Comments

Trace My Family Tree – How to Interview a Relative

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!

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  • http://www.ancestry.com/florange00 Terri Williams

    What great advice!! Unfortunately, when you are young, you might be somewhat indifferent to those boring old family stories the “old folks” are always telling. I WOULD GIVE ANYTHING TO HAVE PAID ATTENTION! I missed out on so much family history because in my teens I resented having to go visit relatives instead of hanging out with my friends. Such self-absorption, grrrrrrr.
    Now (in my mid-50s) I am kicking myself for lacking the maturity and family pride by NOT finding out about my kin when I had the opportunity.
    If anyone does read this, please take some hard-earned advice. Use the recommendations on this website and find out about where you came from. It really has a lot to do with WHO YOU ARE. Don’t have those sad regrets later in your life.

    Terri Williams

  • http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/ Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith

    Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  • Abba-Dad

    Thank you Dr. Bill – I love the Geneabloggers community and look forward to many more wonderful interactions with the members.

  • Abba-Dad

    Thank you Terri! It is indeed sad to think that we let so many memories and great stories go to waste. I kick myself on a daily basis.

  • Raja Sohaib

    Let’s go through a quick checklist that I used when I started to trace my Family Tree

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