google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html Tuesday's Tip - Rate Your Interview Skills | The Armchair Genealogist

Tuesday's Tip - Rate Your Interview Skills

Step one in beginning any genealogy research is to interview the living. Just talk to anyone, they will tell you it is the single most important thing you can do before anything else.  It provides the greatest opportunity to collect the facts and stories while your family is still with you. From the horse’s mouth is far better than from a second or third party, and certainly better then reading between the lines of a document after your relative is gone.

However, having access to living relatives with valuable information does not guarantee success. Great information just doesn’t magically flow from an interview.  It is critical to have good interviewing skills to achieve these results. The better your skills the greater chance you have to draw out some significant information from your relatives. Enhancing your interview techniques improves your chances of your subject opening up and offering you the real juicy stuff.

Rate Yourself – Are you getting the most out of your family interviews?

Answer yes or no to the following 10 questions. 

Do You Prepare for the Interview? 

  1.  Have you done your homework, obtaining as much details and facts in advance to confirm or deny your research during the interview process?
  2. Do you have a prepared list of questions? 
  3.  Are you flexible, do you adjust your list as needed based on your subject's answers, and expanding on their answers and injecting new questions where appropriate?
  4. Do you bring a proper indiscreet recording device, allowing you to focus on your relative’s answers rather than madly writing? 
  5. Do you allow for an appropriate amount of time, making sure both you and your subject have allotted time avoiding a rushed Q & A that will reveal little?



Do You Put Your Subject at Ease?

     1.  Do you create an intimate and informal setting putting your relative at ease?

     2.  Do you start with small talk to break the ice?

    3.  Do you start with easy answer factual questions leading up to more emotional and sensitive questions               once your subject has gained your trust? 

   4. Do you ask opened questions allowing for detailed in-depth information rather then closed questions requiring only yes or no answers? 

    5. Do you keep your relatives on task; gently guiding him or her back to the questions should they wander?


IF you answered yes to all of the above congratulations, you are a great interviewer enabling you to get the most out of every family interview.

If you answered no to 1-4 of these questions, your skills could use some practice.  Try paying particular attention to the questions you answered no; maximize your skills to their fullest potential.

If you answered no to 5 or more of these questions, you need to take some time to practice your interviewing techniques, try interviewing with friends and family members to help improve your technique and follow the tips above to get the most out of every family interview.

Practice, Practice, practice, interviewing is a learned skill that takes practice. The more you interview the more relaxed and easy the interview will flow, the more stories and facts you will obtain as a result.

A Complete List of  Family History Interview Questions 

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