Procrastination is family history’s worst nightmare.
For example with the names and dates – If they are talking about their parent’s marriage ask them if they remember his mother’s maiden name or when they were married.
Interviewing Family Members
Tewksbury Public Library
Genealogy Support Group
November 20, 2013
• Personal interviews may be the best way to obtain family
history information and to build relationships with family
• Don’t just look at the interview as a opportunity to do
genealogical research. Use this as an opportunity to
spend time with a family member and let him or her share
Who Should You Interview?
• Make a list of who you want to interview.
• Include both sides of your family.
• They may be older or younger than you. Different family members
may have different stories that were handed down. Second
cousins are a good example.
• They may be family members that you know or have never met.
• Take a look at what information you are trying to learn and
reach out to the family members that you think may have
• Have questions prepared ahead of time there are many websites that list
• Decide if it will be a formal or informal interview.
• Will you do a one on one interview or interview multiple people at the
• With multiple people you may get different points of view and they can spark each
• Where will the interview take place?
• Can you meet in-person? If not phone, email, Skype or letters also work.
• Think about how you want to record the interview.
• Digital audio
• Video recording (either in person or through Skype)
• Pen and paper
• Bring memory joggers such as documents and photos that might interest
or inspire the family member. You can also mention national or local
history events “Where were you when JFK was shot?”
• Bring family your forms so that you can reference them as needed.
Contacting the Family Member
• Tell the person who you are and how you are related to him or
• Explain that you are doing family history or genealogical
research. Give the family member some idea of what you are
hoping to learn.
• Allow the family member plenty of time to prepare (this gives
them the opportunity to find photos or documents).
• Ask permission to record the interview.
• If they say no ask them if you can take notes.
• Bring the recording equipment anyway incase they change their
• Recording the interview captures their image and voice for
posterity’s sake. It also helps to cut back on possible note
During the Interview
• Verify your permission to record the interview.
• Be sensitive to their comfort level and any health issues
they may have.
• Potty breaks
• Be sensitive about family stories and rumors. Avoid
contradicting or correcting them. For example if you great
aunt believes that you are a descendant of Abraham
Lincoln or a Cherokee princess do not go into all your
evidence that proves her wrong.
• Take lots of notes, even if you are recording the interview.
• Ask open ended questions. Avoid yes or no questions.
During the Interview Continued
• Let them lead the conversation if they want to, you could
be taken down a wonderful unknown direction.
Do not interrogate them for names and dates. Ask them
as part of the natural conversation.
If they mention things (affairs, prison time, etc.) and later
feel uncomfortable sharing them respect their feelings by
keeping this confidential.
Ask permission to follow up with any additional questions.
Schedule the next interview right away.
After the Interview
• Make copies of notes and recordings, keep them in safe
• Extract pertinent family history information while the interview is
still fresh in your mind.
• Cite your information from the interview in the correct format.
Title: Oral interview with Jane Smith (Jones) of Tewksbury, MA
20 Nov. 2013
Author: Cindy Grove, Interviewer
Publisher: Notes by Cindy Grove
Location: Cindy Grove, Tewksbury, MA
• Send a thank you note.
• Make a transcript of the interview, ask the family member to
read it and make corrections. Ask permission to copy the
report and distribute it to family members. Give a copy to the
person you interviewed.
• Contact other relatives you learned about.