Making a Family Tree: Interviewing Your Relatives
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Making a Family Tree: Interviewing Your Relatives

How to interview your relatives in order to obtain your family history.

Because every family is unique in its dynamics, you may have countless hours of research and record-keeping to undertake.  Before long, it can become overwhelming, especially if you don't have a methodical system to follow.  If that happens, it can hinder the results of family interviews you conduct, making you unsure of which information you need versus what you already might have.  Not only should you keep all your records categorized for easy access and use a voice recorder to capture your conversations, but also have a list of specific questions to ask.

Questions to Ask

While interviewing your relatives regardless of how much or how little they know about your family, you should start with the basics.   And while you interview, you will find that your questioning can lead to recollections of other pieces of information or anecdotes that you can use.

Basic Questions

  • What is your full name?
  • What is your birth date and birth location?
  • What schools did you attend and when?  (Note: you can also ask this of the person's immediate relatives, which can be especially helpful if trying to find more information about previous generations)
  • What is your spouse's full name?
  • What is your spouse's birth date, birth location and death date/location/cause (if applicable)?
  • Where and when were you married or divorced?
  • What are your children's names?
  • What are your children's birth dates, birth locations and death dates/locations/causes (if applicable)?
  • What are your parents' full names (including maiden surnames)?
  • What are your parents' birth dates, birth locations and death dates/locations/causes (if applicable)?
  • Growing up, where did you live?
  • Are you or your family affiliated or have been affiliated with any place of worship?

Once you armed with the answers to the above questions, you can generally obtain all kinds of leads in your research.  For example, many birth records can be traced just by having some of the information found on birth certificates, as is with marriage, divorce, baptism, and divorce.  Depending on the era, such information may be traceable through church records or with local government and/or local historical societies.  School records may also be another source of piecing together the lives of your relatives individually.  Of course, just with names and dates alone, you can also look through newspaper archives or online database records and possibly find notices of birth, engagement, death, divorce, or military achievement, to name a few.

Another reason to use a list of standard questions is so that you can share it with your relatives who may need to ask other people in your family, but do not know where to start.  When you have relatives who are willing to help you out, make it as easy as you can for them, and you will increase the chances of obtaining further information from others.  If receiving help long-distance, email or mail your questions to them, rather than expect them to write them down while talking with you on the phone. 

While you might be an avid family historian, you will find that not everyone is as enthused about what you are doing.  You may encounter those in your family who consider the past in the past and feel no need to talk about the details of their lives, or are just not interested in learning about previous generations.  When that happens, don't take it personally - just move on to others who do want to talk with you, instead. 

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Comments (3)
Ranked #5 in Genealogy

For those of you who were wondering - this is the same article I published earlier this week, but for some reason, after I had published it, it disappeared from my list of factoidz and also from factoidz' directory, yet is still visible (and clickable!) by doing a google search for it! So not only did I stop getting any views for it, but also $$! If you had voted and commented on the previous publishing, I hope you see this and do so again!

Ranked #5 in Genealogy

Ok, after publishing this I still see that it is NOT showing up in my master list of articles, nor the site, but this time it is showing in my list of factoidz dashboard for views!

Ranked #5 in Genealogy

I have since fixed this article (as of today) to change it into another similar topic. The original was How to Make a Family Tree, which was a duplicate.