Posted by Jessica Latinović on October 16, 2014 in Family History Month, Website

Sharing your family’s legacy is so important for strengthening family bonds and reliving traditions that will make memories for every generation. This Family History Month, take the time to sit down with your living relatives to record important family history and maybe you’ll make some new family history research discoveries.

To start, download our handy PDF here with interview questions you can use in your interviews.

Here are a few tips to make the interview experience easier.

1. Start with the Oldest Family Members (and Friends)

Our oldest generations have stories that you may have never heard and are the most likely to be lost if not captured now. Don’t wait on sharing some one-on-one time with your older relatives as you may not have many more opportunities to do so in the future.

Also, if your family is anything like mine, you have “grandmas” and “aunts” who you’re not actually related to, but they’re considered family. Don’t rule them out when capturing family history. They were often involved in stories or may share a different perspective that might bring more color to your family history.

2. Use Photos to Trigger Memories

Especially with your aging relatives, they may not recall the exact day, month or year so warm them up by sharing old family photographs and asking them to describe who they see, what memories they have of that person and what their life was like in those days. This approach is much softer than reading off a list of questions which may have them jumping around to different time periods in their lives and create frustration.

3. Go Off Topic

Don’t be afraid to let them go off topic. It’s these moments you might learn something new or hear their perspective which may be different from what you knew. And for that matter, if there are questions in the prompt that aren’t relevant to your family, disregard them and use the interview questions as a guide.

4. Get It on Video

Ask your relative if they mind you recording the interview. Some will feel put on the spot and others won’t mind at all. I recorded a few videos of my great Jessica and Bruce uncle Bruce [pictured on the right at his WWII Veteran’s Reunion in 2009], just a year before his passing and now watching the videos are part of our family reunion tradition. Although they were short videos — 3-5 minutes each — hearing the story from him and seeing him smile makes it so much more meaningful to our family.

There’s something really special when you have your family member sharing family stories first-hand vs. having it recorded on notepads. The later isn’t bad, but if we could go back and record each one of our ancestors to understand their perspective, who would say no?

If you don’t live close to relatives, use the upcoming holidays as an opportunity to sit down with them. For those who can’t see them this holiday season, there are easy to download mobile apps that allow you to record telephone conversations or even third-party software that allow you to record Skype videos. Another alternative is using Google+ Hangouts, which are free. You can make them private and select the “On Air” feature so it will automatically record and publish to “private” on your personal YouTube page.

Do you have tips for conducting family interviews? If so, share them with us!

Jessica Latinović

Jessica serves as U.S. Social Media Manager for Ancestry.

3 Comments

  1. connie

    was wondering how or if i can put all my family tree information into ancestry without it going on the web until i have it all in place.

  2. Joe

    Very good article, but I did do a second take at the qualifier “living” since I don’t know the “non-living” relatives could be interviewed

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