Interviewing Relatives for Family History

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, so time to think about interviewing relatives for family history.

Will you have the opportunity to talk to some relatives during Thanksgiving weekend?

If some of those stories you’ve heard more than once or the family member says they can’t remember, then ask about historical events.

One of the best ways to prompt memories in an interviewee is to ask where they were during historical events. I remember asking my grandmother about living in Chicago when she was first married. She was convinced she didn’t have any interesting stories, couldn’t remember what neighborhood or address they lived in, nothing.

But then I asked her where she was when she’d heard Lindbergh had landed in Paris. Her face lighted up and she told me her downstairs neighbor, Mrs. S——, came out of her apartment banging a saucepan with a spoon and soon all the neighbors had gathered to cheer and listen to the radio together. With that memory came wonderful details: the address she hadn’t been able to remember moments before, the different countries her immigrant neighbors came from, where my grandfather was working, lovely details.

I like to think that it gave her pleasure to go back to that happy memory and at the same time gave me an indelible memory of talking with her.

So if you’re interested in the stories that will help you put leaves and branches on your family tree, ask about historical events. (And before you are interviewing relatives for family history, have a few ideas of what those historical events might be in the proper time frame!)

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”

One Comment

  1. Andrea Kelleher 25 November 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Great tip! I will use this the next time I interview someone.

Comments are closed.