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How To Interview Relatives

Written by  Kimberley Powell
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Getting people to share their stories isn't always easy.
Follow these step-by-step ideas for a successful family history interview!


Difficulty: Average 
Time Required: 1-2 hours


Here's How:

  1. Schedule a time in advance. This gives everyone a chance to prepare.
  2. Prepare a list of questions beforehand and either share them with your relative, or give them an idea of what you want to cover.
  3. 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.
  4. Take good notes and make sure you record your name, the date, the place the interview is being conducted and the interviewee.
  5. Start with a question or topic that you know will elicit a reply, such as a story you have heard her tell in the past.
  6. Ask questions which encourage more than simple 'yes' or 'no' answers. Try to elicit facts, feelings, stories and descriptions.
  7. Show interest. Take an active part in the dialogue without dominating it. Learn to be a creative listener.
  8. Use props whenever possible. Old photographs, favorite old songs and treasured items may bring memories flooding back.
  9. 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. Move on to something else.
  10. Use your prepared questions as a guideline, but don't be afraid to let your relative go off on a tangent.
  11. They may have many things to say that you never thought to ask!
  12. Don't interrupt or attempt to correct your relative; this can end an interview in a hurry!
  13. When you are done, be sure to thank your relative for her time.



  1. Put your relative at ease by telling them that they will have a chance to see and approve of anything that you write before you share it with others.
  2. Keep the interview length to no more than 1-2 hours at a stretch. It's tiring for you and for the person being interviewed. This is supposed to be fun!
  3. Consider preparing a transcript or written report as a tangible thank you to your relative for her participation.



By Kimberly Powell, Guide
Last modified on Wednesday, 29 June 2011 23:33

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