From the Archives: Unlocking the Facts and Folklore through Interviews- Part 1 | The Armchair Genealogist
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From the Archives: Unlocking the Facts and Folklore through Interviews- Part 1

In my past life, I was a manager and a trainer. Part of my job was interviewing potential employees and training other managers to do the same. It did not take me long to realize that I was using these same skills in my family history interviews that I had used as a manager. For sure, it was far less stressful interviewing complete strangers than it was interviewing family members, however, the same skills none the less.

In Part 1 of this series we will look at PREPARING FOR THE INTERVIEW and as promised, I will post a list of possible interview questions to get you started. Part 2 of this series, STEPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEW will follow same time, same place next week.

1. Whom Should You Start With?

If you are new to interviewing then I would suggest starting with a relative, one you feel the most comfortable with such as a parent, sibling or grandparent. Good interviewing takes practice and does not come without being prepared. The more prepared you are the more relaxed you will be. As you become more comfortable with interviewing you can progress to more difficult family members, non-relatives such as best friends and long-time neighbours. Other possible subjects include employers, household boarders and nannies.

At some point, you may want to try a group interview. Group interviews can be successful because they can spark memories encouraging one story to lead to another. However, group interviews can be hard to control, so I would suggest an individual interview to start.

Regardless of whomever you start with, you should ultimately try to start with the eldest of your ancestors. I am not trying to be insensitive, but you want to capture their memories before they pass. It is the reality of genealogy.

2. Meeting with Objections

Some of your relatives will meet with objections to the interview process. Often ancestors do not feel like they have anything to offer, or cannot contribute to your goal. Put their mind at ease that you simply want to reminisce about their childhood, parents, and grandparents. If they provide resistance make the interview low key, distract from the fact that he or she is being interviewed.

3. Do Your Research

Research your subject in advance. Ensure you have a timeline of their life’s events laid out, with any missing information you are seeking. Attempt to get these facts first, then you can focus on stories, childhood memories etc. Bring items such as pictures and documents to the interview that will help stimulate memories.

4. Bring the Proper Tools

Come prepared with your questions laid out ahead of time, along with a method of recording the answers. You can take notes or you can use a tape recorder. I prefer a tape recorder, it allows you to be present at the interview, and the presence of a tape recorder seems less intimidating then you with pen and paper in hand waiting to bounce on the answers. Subjects often forget about thetape recorder  very quickly. Test your tape recorder  in advance, no how it works, you don’t want any surprises at the end of a two hour interview.

Regardless of whether you are creating a family history book or interviewing family members to fill in some blanks in your pedigree chart the same process applies. Just as organization is key to genealogy, preparation is key to interviewing.

Related Reading
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 Book
A Lesson in Writing a Narrative Family History
Determing a Budget for Your Family History Book
Preserving Your Family History- The Options
Family History Interview Questions