Interviews with family members can reveal information not found anywhere else, but the amount of information you obtain depends on both the subject and your approach. Here are some tips for getting the most from your interview:
- Prepare questions ahead of time. If you go in with only â€œTell me everything you know about our family history,â€ youâ€™re likely to be met with a blank stare. Ask more pointed questions like, â€œWhat kinds of things remind you of your mother?â€ or â€œWhat kind of neighborhood did you grow up in?â€ â€œWere there other relatives living nearby when you were young?â€ â€œWhat did your father do for a living?â€ Questions that generate fond memories and personal stories are more likely to be productive and will make your subject feel at ease.Â
- Ask permission if you plan on audio- or video-taping the interview. If your subject feels uncomfortable with either, be prepared with a pen and paper to take notes. Then transcribe those notes as quickly as possible after the interview. Send a copy of the transcription to the interviewee to make sure you have all the facts correct and ask them to add any additional memories in writing.Â
- Let the interview subject talk. Start with a question and see where it leads. Sometimes one question will prompt memories on another topic that you hadnâ€™t thought to include in your list. It also makes the interview more enjoyable for the interviewee.Â
- Bring things to the interview that will stimulate memories, such as a collection of photographs and records youâ€™ve found in your searches. Ask what your interview subject knows about them. He or she may have memories of the day their father was naturalized, or you may find out at last who those people are in that previously unidentified photographâ€”and where and when it was taken.Â
- If you run out of time, ask if you can phone them later with questions. Or send them home with some written questions that they can answer and mail back.Â
- Be sensitive. If you come to a subject that seems to be causing discomfort for your relative, change to a new topic, otherwise your interview may come to an early end.