December 21, 2014

How To Do A Genealogical Interview

Hand with pencil

Get comfortable

If you have made arrangements ahead of time to interview a particular person, try to do it in a quiet setting where there will be little or no interruptions. If you will be tape recording your subject, make sure ahead of time that your recorder is in prime working order (batteries, settings, etc.) and set it close enough to pick up all the dialog, especially if you have a quiet speaking interviewee. Talk about general topics if you will be taking notes, to get them comfortable with the interview setting. Speak slowly and clearly. Tell your subject that you will give them a break when they need one.

Begin with the basics

Depending on what you might already know about your subject’s name and birth dates, you can skip that information and focus on other questions that might give you more background information.

Some questions to ask:

  • Where were you born? (City, state, country)
  • Were you born at home, or in a hospital or nursing home?
  • Do you know what time of day you were born?
  • Was there a world event that took place the same day? (End of a war, weather event, etc.)
  • Were there other siblings? (This could lead to a long answer, so maybe save it to ask in a separate session.)
  • Where do you fall in birth order?
  • Did your parents both work? What were their professions?
  • What do you know about your mother’s/father’s ancestors? (City, state, country)
  • Are there any celebrities in your family tree?
  • Why did they come to the United States from that country?
  • Did they bring any family traditions with them?
  • What important lessons did you learn from your (Mother, father, grandparents, etc.)
  • Who were the best story tellers in your family?
  • What will you always remember about them?
  • Were you taught any special skills? (Cooking, carpentry, sewing, fishing, hunting, etc.)
  • What were the things you did as a child, teen, and adult that have given you the most pleasure?
  • Were you ever in any accidents?
  • What were the newest discoveries during the time you were growing up?
  • How has the world changed since you were a child?
  • In what way was the world better then?
  • What was your favorite subject in school?
  • What did you like to do after school?
  • Did you ride a bike to school, a bus, or walk? Or, were you taken to school by car?
  • Did you get good grades?
  • What was the extent of your formal education?
  • Is there anything that you would like to tell me about that you feel I should know?

Don’t expect to get all of your questions answered in one sitting. Take this list with you and highlight the most important things you want to know. If your subject is willing to answer more questions, then go back and ask your secondary questions.

Depending on your relationship with the subject, keep in mind that your questions could bring up sad or angry memories. If they do, either move on,change the subject or end the interview. This should be a fun exercise, not something unpleasant. Happy interviewing! :)

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Remember When?

1) Remember when you were 12 years old? On a summer day out of school? What memory do you have of fun activities?

2) Tell us about that memory (just one – you can do more later if you want to) in a blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a comment on Facebook.

Here’s my memory:

We lived out in the country, so when I would wake up on a summer morning the sunlight would be streaming in my window.  I could hear the sounds outside of birds like robins, crows and sometimes even a pheasant. If I heard a whistle blow in the distance, I’d know it was 8 AM because that was the starting time at the Olympia Brewery up on Capitol Boulevard some three or four miles away.

As I lay there I could hear my mom in the kitchen and I would visualize what she was doing just by listening: making coffee, turning on the radio,  running water in the sink, and then she’d sit down to have a cigarette and read the paper. Mom always liked to lay the paper out on the table. 

In the “good old days” I was always ready to get out of bed, set and ready for the day’s adventure, whatever it might be.  Some days in summer we would ride our bikes down to Palermo Valley to pick strawberries; other days we’d hang around the house and complain about how hot it was.  I think I probably ate more strawberries than I picked.  A big “no-no” if you got caught by the row boss!  No straddling the rows either. You might stomp on a good pickin’ berry.

My friend Mary and I might have the day planned to ride down to Falls Park by the old Olympia Brewery. We’d walk the whole trail, and I remember one time we got all daring and actually went out on the huge flat rocks in the middle of the Deshutes River.  It was like a whole other world sitting on the sun-warmed rock listening to the river roaring by and craning our necks to see if we could see any fish.

On our way home, if we had any money with us, we’d stop at Ted’s Grocery in Tumwater to get a Pepsi or some ice cream.  Our time was set by the brewery whistle:  the morning whistle I mentioned; the noon whistle so we knew to get our behinds home for lunch if we wanted any; and the 5 o’clock whistle that told us to get on our bikes and get home because Dad got off work at five and we needed to get home and cleaned up for dinner.

Thanks to Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings for this fun Saturday night post idea.  Why not click on the link and go see what he wrote about?

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