Are you overwhelmed with the idea of preparing to interview your relative or ancestor? Up to this point, this series about how to start your family history has covered the ways that you can identify what you already know about your ancestor. This article will help you identify the things that will help you to have a successful interview.
You may already know bits and pieces of the family folklore. You should identify members of your family who can recall stories and details about your ancestors. Remember that information given to you should be verified using historical documentation if possible. Memories fade over time, and sometimes parts of the story are withheld or forgotten.
Before the interview
Set the appointment ahead of time, and be prompt. Make arrangements to spend no longer than the time that is comfortable for your relative.
Decide the method you will use to record the interview:
- digital recorder
- video camera
You will need to select the best method that is most comfortable for you and your relative. Test the technology ahead of time to make sure everything works properly.
Don’t neglect to leave your story for future generations as well:
“You can fill your StoryPress Library with audio books that inspire you in different ways: a collection of family stories, or even an audio diary. Make StoryPress interactive: create guided interviews directed by you, with the spoken anecdotes contributed by a mentor, a friend, or a family member, near or far.” Learn more about StoryPress here: StoryPress Spoken History Recording Application.
Before your visit, ask your relative to gather family photos and make a list of family heirlooms. Also ask about newspaper clippings, obituaries, old letters and address books. Ask for permission to take photos of these items with a mobile device or a digital camera. Find out how family heirlooms were acquired.
Before you begin the interview, you need to draft a set of questions that will help you find answers that lead to resources. Take another look at the blank spaces on your family tree and on your family group record for clues to what you should ask.
What questions will best bring out these details? Ask for details about your ancestor that will help you learn:
- birth order of siblings and children
- spouse’s names
- places where your ancestor may have lived
Find out who your relative remembers seeing as a child and people they would go to visit. Also ask about family cemeteries, the old homestead, churches, and schools your family attended.
During the interview
At the start of the interview, record your name, the date, the interviewee’s name and residence. Sometimes when you interview someone, it takes a little while for them to warm up and to remember the past. Try not to startle them with your enthusiasm, and meet them in a place where they feel comfortable opening up to you. Ask for permission to share the recording with other family members.
Your composure is important too. Sit attentively and allow your interviewee to finish telling his or her story without being rushed to get to the next question. If people or situations are mentioned that you did not know before, do not interrupt. Jot down the questions that you have, and ask for clarification after they finish talking.
After the interview
Allow the opportunity for your relative to share information that he or she did not have a chance to share. Ask for suggestions of other family members to interview and the questions that would be best to ask them.
Take the time to transcribe the interview. Put a hard copy with your research notes so that you can refer to it easily. Hopefully, you now have enough information to have more research success. Use the knowledge you gained to locate your family on the census. Find birth, marriage and death records from the details you were given. Visit the family cemetery to locate graves for family members. This applies not only to ancestors, but to your extended family as well. You will not be able to predict who will lead you to discover more about your family.
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