Sharing your family’s legacy is so important for strengthening family bonds and reliving traditions that will make memories for every generation. It can be particularly valuable if you’re just starting out on your family history journey, or are trying to break through a brick wall. Take the time to sit down with your relatives to record their memories – you might even make some new ones in the process!
But how do you start? Here are a few tips to make the interview experience easier:
1. Start with the oldest family members (and friends).
Our oldest generations have stories that you may never have heard and are likely to be lost if not captured now. Don’t wait on sharing some one-on-one time with your older relatives as you may not have many more opportunities to do so in the future.
Also, your family is anything like mine, you have “grandmas” and “aunts” who you’re not actually related to, but they’re considered family. Don’t rule them out when capturing family history. They were often involved in stories or may share a different perspective that might bring more colour to your family history.
2. Use photos to trigger memories.
Especially with your ageing relatives, they may not recall the exact day, month or year, so warm them up by sharing old family photographs and asking them to describe what they see, what memories they have of that person and what their life was like in those days. This approach is much softer than reading off a list of questions which may have them jumping around to different time periods in their lives and create frustration.
3. Go off topic.
Don’t be afraid to let them go off topic. It’s in these moments that you might learn something new or hear their perspective, which may be different from what you knew. And for that matter, if there are questions in the prompt that aren’t relative to your family, disregard them and use the interview questions as a guide.
4. Get it on video.
Ask your relative if they mind you recording the interview, either on video or just an audio recording. There’s something really special when you have your family member sharing stories first-hand vs. having it recorded on notepads. The latter isn’t bad, but if we could go back and record each one of our ancestors to understand their perspective, who would say no?
If you don’t live close to relatives, use holiday periods as an opportunity to sit down with them. For those who can’t see them anytime soon, there are easy to download mobile apps that allow you to record telephone conversations or even third-party software that allow you to record Skype videos. Another alternative is using Google+ Hangouts, which are free. You can make them private and select the ‘on air’ feature so it will automatically record and publish to ‘private’ on your personal YouTube page.
Do you have tips for conducting family interviews? If so, share them with us!