By Dottie Malone Hamilton
Interviewing relatives and collecting memories is an excellent method of discovering your family heritage. Most families have memories that extend three to five generations. One important objective is to uncover information that may lead to other persons or sources of information. You may want to begin interviewing some of your older relatives as soon as possible. If they pass before you interview them, you will have missed an opportunity to learn more about their personal experiences and knowledge of previous generation.
Before starting the interview put him at ease, tell him that he will have a chance to see and approve of anything that you write before you share it with others. Be sensitive to his feelings and flexible enough to allow the interviewee to take the conversation where he wants to go. Start with a topic or a question that you know will elicit a reply, such as a story you have heard him tell in the past. Knowing what you want to achieve during the discussion helps you get started and keeps the interview focused.
An audio cassette recorder or video camera can be important to the interview. Before you start the interview ask permission to use it. In an interview you are trying to learn your relative’s story. Give your interviewee some advance notice about what you want to know. If you have them, you can take photos, heirlooms or documents to jump start their memory.
Don’t tire your subject, one to two hours is best. Be sure you aren’t doing all the talking. Don’t interrupt or attempt to correct your relative, this can end an interview in a hurry. Allow the memories to flow in natural progression. It’s better to ask leading, open-ended questions and gently guide the conversation toward your research objective.
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What is your full name, and do you know why you were named that?
- Where were you born and when?
- What do you remember about your childhood?
- Where did you go to school? Did you finish school? If not why?
- How many brothers and sisters did you have?
- What were their names?
- What were they like?
- Where and when were your parent born?
- What did they look like?
- What were their occupations?
- Did your parents tell you how or where they met?
- Do you remember your grandparents?
- Do you recall any stories about them?
- What did they look like?
- Did you hear any stories about your great-grandparents?
- Did you ever meet your great-grandparents?
- When you were a child, who was the oldest person in your family?
- Did any relatives (other than your immediate family) live with you?
- Did your family have any traditions or celebrate any special holidays?
- Have any items (stories, traditions, or physical items) been handed down through several generations of the family?
- When did you leave home?
- What occupations have you had?
- How did you meet your spouse?
- When did you get married?
- Did you go on a honeymoon? Where?
- When were your children born?
- Do you have any stories about their births?
- Do you know who in the family originally immigrated to this country?
- Where did they come from?
- Why did they leave their native land?