Talking to People Who Know

What should you ask? Armed with what you do know, you can then start asking questions. Talk to your parents and your grandparents. Send an e-mail or give them a call to let them know what you are doing and ask a few questions. Include your cousins, aunts, and uncles. Interview those people who lived near your family, and don't forget old family friends.

Learn to ask the right questions. If you ask Uncle Fred to "tell me everything you know, he may side-step you by responding that he can't remember anything. Ask specific questions that jog the memory. Whenever possible, show old photographs of people and places.

Names. Dates. Places. While it is important to ask the basic questions about the whens and wheres of births, marriages, and deaths, you can sometimes get more information from relatives by asking about other aspects of their life. Here are some questions that will help you get more than just names, dates, and places:

• Who were you named for?
• Did your grandmother tell you any special stories?
• Who was your best friend and what did you like to do together?
• Where did you go to school?
• What was your favorite holiday? Why?
• Were you in the military?
• Have you done any traveling? Where did you go? Who with?
• Where was your first home or apartment?

Read through this more comphrehensive list of  Interview Questions  to get more ideas.

Be sure to write down the answers. If your relative doesn't object, audio or video taping would be even better. However, this sometimes makes a person self-conscious and they may not be as forthcoming, but usually they will forget all about it within a few minutes. Prepare for an interview by making notes in advance about the questions you want to ask and by being somewhat familiar with the family you will be asking questions about. 

Inquire regarding:
Home and community life. "What do you remember about the houses you lived in?"
Personalities and relationships. What was your relationship like with your mother/father/sister/brother?
Economic conditions. How did the family earn money? Who worked?
Family characteristics. What were the most outstanding family characteristics. Any diseases that run in the family? Was there a black sheep in the family?
Family Facts. Try to fill in the blanks on your Family Tree Chart and Family Group Records.

Take your time during interviews; be prepared for a leisurely chat. People have a way of wandering off the subject, but you can gently move the conversation back to the matters of interest. Be considerate of elderly family members and do not let an interview go on too long. Make the interview enjoyable so they will look forward to hearing from you again. 

Immediately after the interview, transcribe your notes while they are fresh. Note the things you did not have time to ask or forgot to ask so you will be prepared for a follow-up interview.