Interview & Gather

Interview & Gather

Gather What You Already Have

Gather information you already have or can get from family and friends. One person in the family may have inherited personal papers, photos and other materials from your grandparents or earlier ancestors. Call your cousins, call your uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces. Ask your parents and siblings! You may need to probe a little. Ask, "are you sure there is nothing you have?" If the response is anything other than "I'm certain," you need to follow up, and if possible, make a personal visit

You may find some personal treasures you can save from some future, uncertain disposition -- it could happen that an elderly relative's house is to be cleaned out and someone may simply discard family history treasures without giving it a second thought!

If you're lucky you may find personal correspondence, photos with identification notes on the back or an old address book. All great stuff!!


Interview family members and others with knowledge of you family is essential. How often have I heard "if only I had asked while they were alive." Interviewing requires lots of patience. First, you have to contact relatives, some of whom you may not have contacted in several years. Have a list of the specific questions you want to ask. Ask general, open-ended questions such as: "what else did you know about Grandpa?" and ask about other relatives or sources of information.

Your specific questions can be about anything that is interesting in the family history, but be sure to ask questions that will give you facts that you will need to continue your search for documents and the like. For example, when discussing great-grandparent, make sure you ask about where they lived at different times in their lives, where they lived in their last years, where they are buried, what occupations they had, military service, and so forth.

A good strategy is to follow up after the interview because your interview subject will get to thinking about your questions after the interview. They may tell you "Oh, it came back to me that..." but only after your interview is completed.

Take good notes, and if you have permission, record the interview as well. Do not hesitate to go back to clarify anything that doesn't appear clear.