Four Tips to Help Your Family Interviews Go Smoothly
Family History Books often begin with the stories and memories shared by those closest to you: capturing these memories for generations to come is so important. That said, it can be daunting to begin the family interview process. Each family member has a lifetime of memories and stories to convey, and it can feel impossible to know where to begin. The process of learning how to interview a relative might feel strange, or even embarrassing—like prying. But guess what - it's worth it! The following are a few tips to keep in mind to help the process go smoothly:
1. Don’t let chronology rule
While the questions are arranged on the page chronologically, the interviewee doesn’t have to tell stories in that order. They can share their significant stories in the order they emerge. It doesn’t matter if the stories are in order or ‘logical’ — there will be plenty of time for editing later. What does matter is recording the stories that are significant in your family member’s life story.
2. Make use of silence
Allow the questions to sit for longer than you feel comfortable. These pauses allow for the process of remembering, reflecting, and retelling. There is no way around it – there will be questions that require some serious thought. There may also be stories that can’t yet be
shared. You can take your time, allow silence for a while, and even decide to come back to the question in another conversation.
3. Dig into detail
The more sensory details you ask about and the more your family member is willing to share,
the more colourful the final story will be. For particularly significant moments or stories, take the time to dig into the detail. What were the smells and sounds in the environment? Who was there? And how did your family member feel in that moment? Even the tiniest details, such as their means of transport, help bring stories to life.
4. Enjoy the process
Reflecting on and answering questions takes time and demands concentration but can lead to some great stories. If you have asked about some hard content, take a break and let your family member enjoy telling a few stories that are a bit more fun and lighthearted to tell.
With these tips and tricks to guide you, it’s easier to focus on what matters: your family members and the stories they wish to share. Collecting stories from your parents/grandparents is something that you will never regret: whether your family chooses to listen to the audio files, transcribe them into printed form, or create a family history book.