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How to Get Started on your Family History – Interviewing Family


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We’ve all seen great interviews, some people are just born questioners. They put their subject at ease, and make getting information look so easy. When you start out researching your family history, one of the first things you’ll need to do is to interview your family members to find out what they know and remember about their family, growing up, the relatives, etc. But, this can be an intimidating step for some because it’s hard to know where to start.

The first thing I would like to suggest is using an audio recording device like the Zoom H4, admittedly this device might be overkill for interviewing your family, but it’s flexible and offers a lot of easy to use options for recording directly to mp3 or wav (great for archiving to cd.) I know some will use a camcorder to record their interviews, this is yet another great idea.

Before you show up on someone’s doorstep with a camcorder or audio recorder and say I’m here to ask questions about the family history… you need to think things out first. First off, make a list of your older relatives that you know of and think would be able to talk with you about your family history. Then call the first one on the list and ask if they would mind chatting some time about the family history. Tell them that you’d like to record it so you don’t have to sit writing the whole time and set a date.

Before you go make a good list of questions that you want to work through. Have the questions handy “Just in case”, but let the conversation flow, I certainly wouldn’t force myself to keep to a script if you start uncovering neat stories about someone you didn’t expect to ask about. I think one of the most important ideas here is to set a time limit for yourself. It’s too easy when we’re excited about something to dive in and immerse ourselves in it for hours on end. Try not to inflict this on your relatives :-) …. Set a reasonable time limit and ask if you can revisit sometime to talk more. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll appreciate the chance to look through or listen through the interview and come up with other ideas for the follow up visit.

In some cases, you may be lucky enough to be able to make several visits and glean a good amount of information.

While most family trees are lists of names, dates and places, try to focus in on some of the more interesting details, those stories…. what did he/she do? why did they move here, where did they live? What do you remember about your parents, what were their favorite songs, what was a typical day like? Were there any special traditions that you observed? etc.

Hopefully that will be a good starting point for your first interviews of family members about the family history. Good luck.

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