Tips for a Successful Family Interview

family food kitchen

With so many family gatherings within the next few weeks, this is the perfect time to gather information for your family’s story. I’m not saying you need to corner great Aunt Sylvia and hammer her with questions until her eyes glaze over. Please don’t do this; you would give family historians a bad name.

I prefer informally interviewing vs. formal interviewing of family members. But what are the differences? 

Formal interviews are well, formal. You have faithfully reviewed your research and  carefully selected the questions. You have triple checked to ensure your equipment is in working order and you have confirmed and re-confirmed that your relative is prepared.

An informal interview is spontaneous and perfect for Family gatherings. Keep a general list of photos or questions that you want more information about on your phone. Then when the time is right ask away. But do make sure you have permission to video or voice record. 

Below are some tips for a successful interview. 

Timing is everything. Be observant and listen. Wait for opportunities to present itself. There is nothing worse than starting a weighty conversation when too many conversations are going on at once. When the time is right, start a conversation. Have a copy of your tree on your cell phone or carry a paper copy with you. It helps to have this information near by as a reference.  For example, you might ask how great grandma and grandpa met. Aim your question at one or two people to get their perspective but also open the question to other relatives. Multiple perspectives will add depth to your history. 

Access family photos over your cell phone. In the midst of talking about specific people, it would be great to refer to them in photos. Keep copies of your photos in cloud storage such as Google Photos. You can create shared photo albums so that everyone has access. What’s great about this is that you don’t have to worry about loaning out photos to family members (and hoping you will get them back) or spending the time and money to make copies. Again, record or make a note information that helps to support that picture.

Contact information. Make sure you have relatives’ latest contact information: cell number, email, Facebook etc… You never know, you may have follow up questions to ask!

Add to your research. Add the conversations, or comments to the note section of your genealogy database. Note the person who gave you the information, the date and any other information that may be relevant.

That’s it! Easy as pie!

Enjoy learning more about your family this holiday season.

4 thoughts on “Tips for a Successful Family Interview

  1. Great suggestions. With the call for social distancing as a health protection this holiday season, it might also be worth taking advantage of the “record” function on some of the digital meeting platforms. That way, even if you are interviewing family members remotely, you can record the interview for posterity.


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