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How to Successfully Conduct a Genealogy Interview



This came from "My Best Genealogy Tips: Quick Keys to Research Ancestry, Book 2" on Robin R. Foster - Books2Read. Are you overwhelmed with the idea of preparing to interview your relative or ancestor? We will help you identify the things that will ensure a successful interview. You may already know bits and pieces of 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 by using historical documentation (Research Wiki) of if possible. Memories fade over time, and sometimes parts of the story are withheld or forgotten (Memories).


Before the interview


Set the appointment ahead of time and be prompt. Decide to spend no longer than the time that is comfortable for your relative. Decide the method you would use to record the interview:

  • Zoom

  • Video camera

  • Skype

  • Phone

You will need to select the best method that is most comfortable for you and your relative. Then, test the technology ahead of time to make sure everything works properly. Do not neglect to leave your story for your future generations as well.


Before your visit, ask your relatives to gather their families’ photos and make a list of family heirlooms. Also, ask for permission to take photos of these items with a mobile device or a digital camera.


Find out how many heirlooms were acquired. Before you begin the interview, you will need to draft a set of questions to 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 more information about your ancestors 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 that they would go to visit. Also, ask about family members, 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 to warm up and 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 essential too. Sit attentively and allow your interviewees to finish telling his or her story without being rushed to get to the next question. If the interviewee mentions people or situations you did not know before, do not interrupt. Instead, 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 questions 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.


Anything that you get while doing oral history interviews can be used to prove or disprove whether you have got the right historical record. You also must be advised that your oral history must be proven if it is accurate because inaccurate details can lead you down a rabbit hole.


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