Me: Well, how about some suggestions on how to do it? The actual questions we can work on in the next post.
You: Oh. Well, I thought I'd go to my grandma's house on Saturday as a surprise and ask her to tell me all that she knows about our family.
Me: Yeah. Um. Don't do that. In fact, you should do the exact opposite. [And before you ask me, no, I'm not kidding.]
You see, it's really not "Genealogy and Interviewing". It's more like, "Genealogy and Visiting". And it's probably best if you plan your visit. Following are some suggestions for planning it:
- Call, email, or write [You know. Write. As in long-hand. If you still know how to do that, of course.] your family member(s) and after the pleasantries, explain what you're doing, why you're doing it, and politely explain how they could help you. See if they'd be interested in speaking with you. [I'd use "speaking" rather than "interviewing". To me, "interviewing" seems a little impersonal, and that's exactly what you don't want to be.] Also mention that if they have any photos, family Bibles, letters, etc., they'd be willing to share with you that you'd love to see them. [And if it turns out that they do have any of those, you can thank me later for suggesting that you inquire up front about them. =)]
- Now, some people are able to remember everything they want to say to someone and everything someone else tells them. I'm not one of those people. So, I'd plan to write out some questions to ask them and write/type them down. Also, I'd plan to take notes. Lots of notes. And if you think your family member will agree to it and you have the resources to do so, I'd voice-record it and/or video tape the interview [Oops. Visit.] [Your descendants would love you for doing it, and also you'd be able to refer to it later when your notes became a bit "spotty" because your family member's story about Great-Aunt Bernice became "juicy" at that point.] In any case, I'd also plan on taking a camera.
- One of the things you need to remember is to make your family member feel comfortable during the interview [Oops. Visit.] If they're comfortable, they'll probably remember and share more with you, which is the whole point.
- If the discussion starts to go off-course from your planned questions, don't sweat it. In fact, let them talk. The human brain is like that. One memory leads to another memory, and then the next thing you know you're swimming in memories. So let your family member reminisce. It's a good thing. Go with the flow. Be flexible.
- Remember those photos, letters, and family Bibles, etc. I suggested you mention when asking if they'd let you interview [Oops. Visit.] with them? Well, if they found any, have them show them to you and share what they know about them. These make great conversation starters. And you'll be pleasantly surprised by the family history clues that have been sitting there all this time waiting for someone you to find them. Also, take as many notes as possible about everything. Take photos of memorabilia, if they'll allow it. You'll want to also take a look at the back of any photographs. Many clues may have been written there by some long-forgotten relative.
- You: "When younger, did you enjoy going to school, Grandma?" Your Grandma: No. ~ [Snort.] Ask open-ended questions. Yes/No answers aren't going to get you very far in the "reminiscing department."
- Make sure the place you decide to interview [Oops. Visit.] with them is comfortable and is conducive to them opening up and sharing.
- If at any point the information they are sharing with you is different from what you know to be true, don't correct them. Just record and move on. Analysis and evaluations will be made later. In private. Why? [Because I'm the genealogist. That's why. *wink*] Because you are clue-collecting. But more importantly, it'd be rude to correct them. [And I don't need to tell you that they probably aren't going to share very much more with you if you insist on correcting them every time they open their mouths. Do I?]
- Don't press them into talking about something they don't want to talk about. That'd be rude, and we've already covered what happens when you're rude.
- At the end of the interview [Oops. Visit.], ask if it'd be O.K. with them if you contacted them later if you have any more questions. Odds are, you probably will have more questions.
- Also, if they don't mind, take a photo of them, and/or with them. You'll want it for your records later. [And you'll want it as a keepsake later.]
- Finally, offer to give them a copy of your research later. [That is, once you've done it.]
You: What about the questions? What do I ask?
Me: See, you should've been taking notes. I mentioned it already, but here it is again. [Wink.] The next post will have suggestions about what you should ask. Any other questions?