Three things to consider before carrying out a family history interview


09 November 2023
Professional audio engineer Thomas Blakemore shares his top tips on how to make sure your meeting allows the interviewee to tell their stories with enjoyment, enhancing your family history.

Interviewing someone to gather recollections and stories doesn’t have to be complex and overly involved; the point is to do it, while these memories are still available.

Read on for three things to consider before you go ahead:

1 Set a goal

The first step in any successful interview is to have a plan. Ask yourself, “Why am I speaking to this person and what do I hope to learn?” Make notes of the major topics you would like to discuss.

Try to not make this list of topics too broad; having someone tell the story of their entire life in one sitting is asking a lot. It’s much better to discuss one or two topics in greater detail per interview session than it is to get a more generalised idea of a wide range of topics.

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2 Select your kit

The choice of recording equipment is up to you and your budget, and before setting your strategy for the interview you’ll have to make the decision if the interview will be videotaped or recorded on audio only.

Don’t get too distracted by choosing what gear you’re going to need to start this process; for both video and audio you can use your smartphone, tablet or other device you may already have. 

3 Be prepared

Arrange to do the interview in a comfortable environment that is free of excess noise and distractions and at a time of your subject’s choosing. Before the interview, make sure you are familiar with your recording device and that it is fully charged (if it is battery operated, have spare batteries with you). And record at the highest quality you can; you can always compress the audio files at a later date for sharing with others. 

Text extracted from an in-depth series on preserving your family's oral history. Read the full article in December 2023 Family Tree, available to order here.

About the author

Thomas Blakemore has worked for more than 40 years as an audio engineer, supervising sound editor, educator and author. He has specialized in sound for film and television, and his editing and mixing work has appeared on virtually all of the major US broadcast outlets, as well as a large number of feature films and documentaries. He is a past member of the Motion Picture Sound Editors guild and the Audio Engineering Society. Thomas lives in Chicago, Illinois.