interviewing relatives. Photo: Thinkstock
Preparation of questions
You should do some work in advance of the interview to prepare the types of questions you want to discuss. However, no one likes to feel interrogated, so the meeting with your relative should be more of a friendly discussion than a question and answer session.
It is important to make your relative feel comfortable and at ease. By reminiscing about family stories you will often discover lots of details and facts along the way which a series of direct questions might not have uncovered.
Similarly, some of your questions should also be about the life of your relative. People love talking about themselves and family history is all about discovering how people lived, what they did, why they did it and so much more than just bare names, dates and places. Recording this sort of information now will ensure that it is not lost to future generations.
You may wish to make notes on a notepad or perhaps record the meeting on tape or even on video. Recording the proceedings will allow you to review the information at your leisure later – although it could also be a little off-putting for your subject.
Types of questions to ask
Older people are especially fond of correcting younger members of the family. A direct question such as ,“What was the name of your grandfather?” may be met with an uncertain answer; whereas one such as, “Your grandfather was named George, wasn’t he?” may elicit a response along the lines of, “No, that was his brother. Granddad was called Thomas after his father.”
Similarly, when asking about dates it is often a good tactic to give some sort of reference point – “Was it before the war that he was born?” or “Did the family move here after the depression?” Old photographs can be very useful as an aid for getting further details. For example, “Is this your mother at the house in Newcastle?” could bring up the entirely unknown detail that the family once lived in Melbourne.
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