Holiday Interviewing of Relatives

interview grandma

Don’t miss the opportunity during the holidays to pull aside one or two relatives at a time to begin asking questions about them or ancestors on the family tree. You might only meet with your aunt once or twice a year, use the time when you are together.

Some ideas to help with your interviewing:

Have a prepared list of questions. Be very specific with each question. For example, ask this relative’s complete names for each of their parents. Now you may already know the names, but ask, there could be a middle name or a nickname you didn’t have.

Be prepared with a notebook and pen to write down the answers or a tape recorder. Do ask the relative if it is OK to record their answers. Do one person at a time, one on one works bests. Two or more may contradict each other and make it difficult to continue.

If the relative is hesitate in answering a question, do not press them. Maybe rephrase the question, or just say OK and they may just answer that one later.

Label your notes (or say on the tape recorder) with the full name fo the person being interviewed, include the date and location. When asking questions do start with the most important ones you need answers for. That way if the relative becomes tired after a half hour, you have the essential information.

Careful not to talk while the relative is telling a story, especially if you are taping. With two voices it is hard to transcript.

Ask about their fondest memories, either about a specific ancestor, or a life event (military, school, marriage, etc). There can be some rich materials coming forward.

Always thank the relative for being helpful in preserving the family history. Make sure you have asked if they have any photos, family mementos, journals, letters, documents or vital records that you scan. If they say they have items, make arrangements to borrow or come to their place to get the items scanned or photographed.

Related genealogical blogs:

How to Ask the Right Questions

Gather and Share Family Stories


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