01 December 2022
Getting together with relatives in the coming weeks? Follow our handy checklist to make the most of a family history interview.
Older members of the family, and those from other branches, can be a mine of information, memories and colourful clues to the past, so don’t miss the chance to ask some useful questions.
Top 10 family history interview tips
- Download the Family interview sheet to help you think of useful questions for your relatives.
- Be prepared – make sure your biros work, your video camera is fully charged, and the tea and biscuits are to hand (and tissues too – it can be emotional!).
- Start with simple questions, to put your sitter at their ease.
- Use props to help – old photos can bring memories flooding back, as can songs, home movies, family treasures and collectables.
- Be tactful – your sitter may not wish to chat about certain topics.
- Get others involved – children and adults, they may enjoy listening to your sitter’s reminiscences too.
- Don’t worry if you don’t stick to your pre-prepared questions – you are likely to learn a lot more just by listening and you’ll get wonderful insights to your family you’ll never find in official documents.
- Don’t hurry – allow your sitter time to ponder; but equally don’t wear them out. If they enjoy the interview experience, they’re more likely to let you ask further questions in the future.
- Try to write up your notes fairly soon afterwards while it’s all fresh in your mind. You may wish to sketch out a family tree, too.
- Remember, it’s an interview not an interrogation, so have fun and enjoy the stories that emerge and the chance to revel in times gone by.
Originally published December 2021. Reviewed December 2022.
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