How to interview your relatives


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

  1. Download the Family interview sheet to help you think of useful questions for your relatives.
  2. 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!).
  3. Start with simple questions, to put your sitter at their ease.
  4. Use props to help – old photos can bring memories flooding back, as can songs, home movies, family treasures and collectables.
  5. Be tactful – your sitter may not wish to chat about certain topics.
  6. Get others involved – children and adults, they may enjoy listening to your sitter’s reminiscences too.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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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