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Interviewing a Relative. 11 Key Questions to Ask.

One of the best sources for information and especially family stories are living relatives. Once you have created your basic pedigree chart, time should be spent interviewing relatives who might be able to add a significant amount of details to your chart. The following is suggestions on how to approach the interview and what questions may possibly be asked.

An interview can be conducted several ways. One is in-person, face-to-face meeting with the relative, which is the best method. If that is not possible, a telephone interview can be set up where you just talk, but are unable to view any photos or documents the relative may have.

The third method is by written correspondence. It can be in the traditional typed or handwritten postal mail letters sent back and forth to each person. There is also email correspondence if the relative is familiar with using Internet email. To get quicker responses when using the traditional delivered post office mail, include an SASE with your interview questions. You will get the answers back much sooner.

The key element for any of the methods of interviewing is to be prepared. First, make the arrangements by contacting the relative and see which method they prefer. If you know the only way to contact that person is through the home mailing address, go ahead and prepare your questions, the SASE and send it off to them.

In preparing questions, never overload an individual. Plan for a maximum length of about 1 to 2 hours. If the interview is by phone, you may want to break the interview into two to four phone calls, ranging in half-hour to hour lengths.

The questions, to the best of your knowledge, should be of the individual, ancestors and family members that the interviewed relative would be familiar with. If you find they do know some in-laws of your great aunt, you can pursue that information in addition.

When asking a question and the relative states they don’t remember, move on to the next question and possibility come back to the missed question and rephrase it. Their memory may be sparked by then.

There is always the case where a relative just doesn’t want to discuss a certain topic. Respect their wishes; it may have been a painful period in the family’s life.

The interview can center on just that relative’s own life, their education, occupations, children, hobbies, etc. They may be interested in discussing their parents or siblings. Take in all information and stories offered. You never know where one bit of details can lead to more factual data on other ancestors.

Some examples of interesting questions to ask the relative about themselves and others:

* Ask the relative their full name, birth date and place of birth?

* Were they named for another relative and famous person?

* If the relative was born in a different country and moved to the present country, have them tell about how and why the family moved?

* Ask about siblings of the relative? What are their full names, birth dates and where they were born? If any have passed away, what did they die of?

* What type of education did the relative have growing up?

* Tell about your first love? Was that the person they married? If not, why?

* What types of jobs did the relative have over the years, any require special training?

* During World War Two, Korean War or Vietnam War, were they directly or indirectly involved?

* Who was the oldest family member the relative knew? What was their relationship in the family? Was there anything special or interesting about them?

* Does the relative have family keepsakes or heirlooms (furniture, jewelry, glasses, books, etc) that can be viewed? (NOTE: bring a camera to take photos)

* What collection of photos does the relative have that they would be willing to share?

When interviewing an individual, make them comfortable; explain why you are gathering the information. One very good opening comment would be to point out how wonderful it might have been if such an interview had been done with their great grandmother; wouldn’t that be a treasure now?

As you are interviewing, write now some notes to their responses, but also have a tape recorder running. Then, you have every word.

Remember to offer to share with the relative the family history you have gathered. There is a very rich source of stories, photos and remembrances to be gathered and saved for the upcoming generations.

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