Interviewing Tips for Genealogy

Talk to family members

My grandmother would tell stories about her family. As a conscientious budding family historian, I decided to interview her. I was 17, cell phones didn’t exist and we were too poor to own a tape recorder, so with a pen and paper in hand I listened to her stories and took notes. That was my first opportunity to interview a family member. It was not a disaster. My grandmother was very tolerant and quite willing to tell me everything she remembered.

Next I wrote – yes, years ago we wrote letters for genealogy – to two of my great aunts asking them for information. Each of them sent back names, dates, and places of what they knew about their family. These letters were invaluable. They were the starting point for my research on them.

Then I “borrowed” from my dad the family history booklet created by Roy Miller in 1973. He had interviewed and sent letters to many family members to research his family, who were also my family. Once again, I had basic information that was a starting point for my research.

One of the first thing that beginner genealogists can do is talk to family members. Names, birth, marriage, and death dates and places are important but what you will treasure are the stories you hear. You do not have to to in blind. There a hundreds of websites with suggestions for questions to ask for family history – just google it.

Tips for interviewing family

When I first interviewed my grandmother, there were two things I did right. First she was the oldest member of her family. The other thing I did right was set up a date and time to talk to her about her memories. Setting up a time gave my grandmother time to think about her memories and to gather pictures or documents to show me.

Here are some tips for talking to your family.

  1. Set up a time and place for the interview.
  2. Record or video it on your phone.
  3. Use a virtual app such as zoom to interview long distance.
  4. Set a time limit. Don’t spend hours – this is for you so you do not get glassy eyed and them so they do not get tired.
  5. Make them comfortable – start with easier questions to relax them. Being recorded is scary for most people.
  6. Make sure your technology works before you begin.