Family Trees That Talk
Interviewing Relatives by Wayne Thomas
As a means of researching
trees, interviewing relatives
can be a really enjoyable experience for both parties, BUT there are some
rules that need to be obeyed. As with anything worthwhile, genealogy does
have guidelines that must be followed if you are at all serious about
5 Simple Rules
- Contact them first
- DON'T just turn up on their doorstep, cassette recorder in hand. Get
their permission to do the interview and be honest about why you would
like to speak to them.
- Be careful not to
offend them by asking questions that maybe too personal or of a very
sensitive nature. Some people will answer any question you throw at them
whereas others will be more guarded. Obviously if you already have a
close relationship with Uncle George, he will be quite relaxed in
talking to you. Aunty Madge however, who you wouldn't know if you fell
over her, is not as likely to be so forthcoming in laying out the
laundry, clean or otherwise, of the family!
- It's important to
have a list of questions ready. You may not ask them all or you may need
to alter the focus of some during the interview, but you should have a
list of core questions ready. Why? Because this will ensure that you
don't forget anything important and secondly it gives the impression
that you actually know what you are doing. Dithering and looking up at
the ceiling every 5 minutes trying to remember what to ask next does not
confidence and will likely
make the interviewee uncomfortable.
- DON'T outstay your
welcome. You are the only one that can judge when that might be.
- Show your
appreciation for their time by either presenting them with a small gift
or simply saying those magic words, "thank you".
Verify Or Else
Family interviews are a fantastic way to fill in the gaps in your family
trees, and will provide far more information than you could ever glean
certificate. The quality and
detail can be extraordinary and enlightening, BUT don't accept everything
Uncle George says as being entirely accurate. His "true story" may not be
true at all. THE FIRST RULE IN GENEALOGY IS VERIFY - wherever possible.
The truth can be stretched, twisted, bent and made to disappear
altogether. That doesn't mean Uncle George is lying, he may just be
repeating what he was told by someone else or may have forgotten the
details over time.
Handy Interviewing Questions
Okay, so here are some sample questions to get your family trees talking.
These are in addition to the mandatory ones such as names, dates of birth,
marriage death etc.
- Describe your
- The greatest joy of
your childhood was .......?
- As a child, what
was your worst fear?
- What was your
- What was the
quality of your life like as a child?
- How would you
describe your parents physical characteristics and qualities?
- What is the most
pleasant memory you have of your parents?
- What was the
dumbest thing you ever did as a child?
- What was your most
- What was one thing
that attracted you to your spouse? Why?
- What was the most
difficult moment for you as a parent?
- What one thing
would you change in your role as a parent?
- What would you like
your children to most remember about you?
- What was your
greatest fear as a parent?
- What activities do
- What do you find
really annoying in other peoples actions or characteristics?
Play with the questions. Add to them if you wish. They are just to get
you thinking. Good hunting!
Wayne Thomas has been
involved in genealogy for over 25 years. His website has loads of
resources for the beginner and beyond, plus a free eBook.