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Genealogy Resources: Conducting Interviews

A guide to help you begin researching your family's history

Quick Tips for Interviews

  • Schedule the interview at a time when your relative is likely to have energy and feel lively.
  • Record the interview, but do so in a non-intrusive way. If your relative resists being videotaped, don’t force the issue. Audiotape captures the person’s voice and personality and the facts they impart just as well.
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage reminiscing. For example, you might ask, “What kind of person was your father?” or say, “Tell me about your father.”
  • When asking about facts, do not ask “yes or no” questions, such as “Do you remember your mother’s maiden name?” Instead, simply ask, “What was your mother’s maiden name?”
  • Find more than one way of eliciting the same information. For example, if a relative does not remember his mother’s maiden name, you can ask, “What was her brother’s name?”
  • If a relative digresses from one story to another, let him or her do so—do not interrupt. Take notes during the interview about topics and facts that you still have questions about and ask them later in the same interview or in a follow-up interview.
  • Without interrupting, it is fine to show that you are listening by nodding, smiling, and otherwise reacting to what your relative is saying.
  • Relax and enjoy yourself, and encourage your relative to do the same.

            Credit: Center for Jewish History Libguide

Interview Questions

  1. Where did you live when you were growing up?
  2. How did your family come to live there?
  3. Were there other family members in the area? What were their names?
  4. What older relatives do you remember, and what do you remember about them? What were their nicknames and where did they live? Do you remember any traditions associated with them?
  5. What was your family religion?
  6. What family stories have you heard about your parents? Your grandparents? More distant relatives?
  7. What stories have you heard about the origins of your family members and their immigration to America?
  8. Is there a naming tradition in the family?
  9. Who are your parents and grandparents?
  10. Who are your siblings/aunts/uncles/cousins?
  11. What is the date or place of birth?
  12. What is the date or place of marriage?
  13. What is the date or place of death?

153 more questions available here