How to interview your relatives – Part II

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Here’s Part II of my article on how to get gold out of your older relatives.

Follow these simple tips to make your interview a worthwhile experience for both of you. On one hand, the stories and memories they share could be the key to unlocking real family history treasure and on the other, you can make them feel like VIPs and let them know how much you value what they have to say. Click here for Part I.

  1. Take along or ask to see some memory joggers – the best ones are usually photos – or play some music quietly that you know they liked. Other things that might help are certificates, old objects from their past, or seeing a census record with their parents’ names on it. Ask for copies of the photos and make a quick sketch or description of them so that you can link up the photos with the correct part of the interview.
  2. Have a list of open-ended questions ready. There will be another post on this coming up. Don’t worry if your don’t get to ask them all and if your relative seems unsure or uncomfortable about a certain subject, move on.
  3. Fact and fiction. Be aware that some of the answers to your questions may be embellished or even fabricated! Stories are often handed down from one generation to another and some of them become exaggerated or have been made up to cover up an embarrassing or problematic situation. We have heard many times that, “Grandad was the illegitimate son of the Lord of the Manor.” Although this may have been true in some cases, in others it may have been a story to bring a sense of romance to the truth, or to shift the blame away from a loved one. Record all the stories – fact and fiction and weigh them up later. You can ask your relative whether they believe the stories or not and what they know about the people who told them. This will give them the opportunity to recant some of the more extraordinary tales if they want to!
  4. Write it up. Don’t just leave your interviews on a phone or scribbled notes. Write them up as soon as you can, whilst the information is still fresh in your memory. Scan in photos if you can and start your very own Family History folder. My History sells some good ones – click here.

Are there any buried secrets in your family which are lost forever? Or perhaps you have found a family member who has unlocked a mystery for you? Please tell me your stories in the comments box!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.