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Interviewing relatives to acquire family information

Start interviewing living ancestors, both direct and indirect, as soon as possible.  Interview everyone !   Interview yourself too.  The lament of every genealogist - "If I had only started a few years sooner, when I could have interviewed _____ before they passed away..."

Suggestions - Combine questions (see list of questions) if you wish, and skip those that do not seem to apply.  Answer any additional questions that occur to you.

Do not start out trying to produce a finished product or composition, just let the memories flow naturally.  The information can be edited later. 

Interviews don't always have to be formal occasions.  They can be telephone calls, or conducted during other family get-togethers.  Go prepared with charts, group sheets, etc.  Review your material and acquaint yourself with how this person fits into the tree.  Use a tape recorder if possible - ask permission to record first.  If you detect some reluctance about a certain person or subject, back off.

Telephone interviews:   If you are conducting a long distance telephone interview - you pay for it!  If the call may be long, you may want to call in advance and arrange a good time for a long telephone interview.

Correspondence:   In some cases, correspondence may be necessary for relatives who live too far away.  Be short, simple and direct in your questions, limit the number of questions to only a handful at most.  A few questions are more likely to get answered.  A letter requesting a lot of information will likely never be answered.  An exception would be if someone has indicated they are interested in the family history, and appear willing to answer a more extensive set of questions.  Always include a large, self-addressed stamped envelope.  Ask if there is anyone else who might have some information on the family.  Offer to share your results.  Keep a copy of the letter you send. 


Send a Thank You note afterwards.

After the interview:

  • Transcribe the tape/notes immediately while the interview is still fresh in your mind.  Be sure to include the name of the interviewer, interviewee and date of interview is included in your notes.

  • Always check information from interviews against other sources. 

  • Start developing a list of questions for the next interview with that person.

  • In some cases, it may be best to conduct several short interviews over a period of time rather than one very long session.  Some folks tire or get confused easily, it may be best not to overwhelm them as they may be reluctant to conduct future interviews.

Interview Question Page 3
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