When interviewing a relative to gather genealogy information on your ancestry there are several important considerations to keep in mind:
Do start close to home. Interviewing your own parents can be one of the most enlightening and enjoyable experiences you will have. If your relationship with your parents is not as close as you would like, that is all the more reason to reach out. Almost everyone loves to talk about themselves and their history and is flattered when someone takes a genuine interest. Consider it a great new bonding opportunity.
Do get important dates and places and other specific information on marriages, births, deaths of parents and siblings.
Do ask them to relate stories about their past that will bring insight and understanding to who they are and the events that shaped their lives and attitudes and contributed to making them the person they are today.
Do come prepared with a set of specific questions so that you can control the flow of the conversation and keep it moving.
Do come prepared to either take notes or record or video tape the conversation.
Do try to ensure that everyone is comfortable and that you are in a relatively quiet place so that they are not bothered by household distractions.
Do ask if you can make copies of important genealogy documents, letters or photos.
Do ask open ended questions that will elicit information rich responses to your questions. An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no or a short one word response.
Do not overstay your welcome by taking up more of their time than you ask for up front – unless they offer to extend the visit. A 1 or 2 hour initial visit is plenty.
Do not bring your cell phone or other things that are likely to distract you from your mission.
Do not act bored, even if the information is not of personal interest to you.
Do not be afraid to politely move the conversation to a new topic if the interviewee gets stalled on an irrelevant topic for too long. But be careful not to interrupt in the middle of a thought.
Do not be pushy about getting sensitive information. Be aware that your interviewee may simply not be comfortable discussing certain things.
Do not dominate the conversation – let the interviewee do most of the talking.
Do not forget to thank the person at the conclusion of the interview for their time and information.
Do not procrastinate – particularly when it comes to interviewing older relatives. It is sad when you intend to get around to an interview but don’t find the time until it is too late.
Once you have completed your interview it is wise to go back and work up a transcript of the conversation. It is both courteous and appropriate to offer to share a copy with the interviewee once you have completed the transcript.