Steps to a Successful Family Interview
As a family history researcher we spend much of our time at a computer screen, in archives or in cemeteries not deemed the most social of places.
However, if you want to be a genealogist, a keeper of the family’s stories, then you need to interview the living. In order to achieve this successfully, you need to address your social skills particularly your interviewing skills. I am not suggesting that genealogists are anti-social but when interviewing relatives we need to have an awareness of our relative, the conditions of the interview, and the skills to get the most out of our subject.
1. Put your subjects at ease from the top of the interview, keep things relaxed and informal. The less your meeting appears as an interview the more likely your conversation will flow freely and the information will be generous.
2. Ask opened ended questions. An interview filled with questions that require a yes or no answer will end very quickly, with very little being revealed.
3. Have a prepared list of questions, but be flexible, don’t stick to a script. Allow the subject to wander from your questions. Your relative may offer information that you haven’t considered in your list of questions.
4. Be a good listener, let them talk. However, if your relative gets too far off topic, interject with a new question.
5. Do not push too hard on a sensitive subject; you will not be invited back. If there is reluctance or some sensitivity to answering a question, back off. Some memories can be very painful to discuss. Respect their decision not to discuss them.
6. You may not get everything you want. Some relatives may feel if you are younger, they may not want to confide in you data that they believe to be too sensitive for tender ears. Sometimes having another relative with you, whom they are close to will help bridge some trust.
7. Plan your timing and the atomsphere of the interview. Allow for plenty of time so you not rushed, and your relative is not rushed. In addition, keep in mind the time of day, your elderly relative may tire easily. Make sure the environment will be void of all distractions like telephones, the tv and visitors.
8. Don’t be afraid to schedule your interview in two sessions, especially if there is a lot of ground to cover. If your interview lasts too long answers may become brief. Allowing time in between interviews gives the relative an opportunity to draw up some old memories in time for the second interview.
9. Protect the privacy and rights of your relatives. If you choose to tape-record your interview, never tape record secretly. Always be open about the process. Be forthcoming about how you intend to use the information you acquire in the interview.
Finally, understand that great interviews come from behind the scenes preparation while the interview itself should feel comfortable and effortless. This can only come from practice.
Related Reading in this Series
How to Unlock the Facts and Folklore through Interviews- Part 1
Family History Interview Questions
Writing your Family History – Your How to Guide Starts Here
Step One in Creating Your Family History Book
How to Determine the Size and Scope of Your Family History Booking
Determining a Budget for Your Family History Book