• Interviewing Living Relatives

    Before starting to dig in all the interesting resources on the Internet you should consider getting as much as possible documented of the information you can gather from your living relatives. The databases and archives probably will be there for you also later on, but the family stories your relative or family friend has and remembers can be gone tomorrow.

    Of course it is not that easy to get people to share their stories. It is as difficult to give advice how to best succeed in this venture. In the following some ideas for a successful family history interview!
    • Schedule a time in advance. This gives everyone a chance to prepare. Old picture albums may be tucked away somewhere...
    • Prepare a list of questions beforehand and give your object an idea of what you want to cover.
    • Bring several notepads and pens to the interview. If you plan to make a recording, be sure to have a tape player, microphone, extra tapes and batteries. Newer mobilephones, type iPhone, are also an option since they often have a good microphone and recording capability. The recorded material can easily be transferred to your laptop. A mobile phone without a visible microphone doesn't feel as dangerous as a traditional microphone..
    • bring a digital camera if possible. It is quite easy to copy the pictures using your digital camera and its macro functionality. You might want to bring a tripod since it is not recommended to use flash when taking photos of pictures in an album and enough light may be a problem.
    • Take good notes and make sure you record your name, the date, the place the interview is being conducted and the interviewee. If you are taking pictures remember to indicate what picture you are discussing for the recording. You might consider using a numbering system for the pictures where you simply refer to digital picture #NN
    • Start with a question or topic that you know will be interesting to the interviewee, such as a story you have heard her tell in the past.
    • Ask questions which encourage more than simple 'yes' or 'no' answers. Try to elicit facts, feelings, stories and descriptions.
    • Show interest. Take an active part in the dialogue without dominating it. Learn to be a creative listener.
    • Use props whenever possible. Old photographs, favorite old songs and treasured items may bring memories flooding back.
    • Don't push for answers. Your relative may not wish to speak ill of the dead or may have other reasons for not wanting to share.
    • Use your prepared questions as a guideline, but don't be afraid to let your relative go off on a tangent. They may have many things to say that you never thought to ask!
    • Don't interrupt or attempt to correct your relative; this can end an interview in a hurry!
    • When you are done, be sure to thank your relative for her time.
    Consider preparing a transcript or written report as a thank you to your relative for her participation. The report might bring memories back that again may be of interest.

    Additional reading and references: