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bblais
08 April 2008, 09:33 PM
Hello,

I am starting to do interviews of some of my older relatives, and those of my wife. Are there any types of questions that are particularly good? Is there some checklist for the types of questions that are good for interviews?

What have others found to be useful?


thanks,

Brian Blais

SGilbert
08 April 2008, 11:47 PM
Do yourself a favor and get, by any means, "To Our Children's Children" by Bob Greene. Over 200 pages of questions to ask. Absolutely indispensable!

Any large bookstore or Amazon should have it.

Tim Powys-Lybbe
09 April 2008, 06:55 PM
Hello,

I am starting to do interviews of some of my older relatives, and those of my wife. Are there any types of questions that are particularly good? Is there some checklist for the types of questions that are good for interviews?

What have others found to be useful?Get them talking, quietly say "Tell me about it". You need to get them talking almost about anything they can remember as sometimes this will tell you something you had never expected to hear.

Most people can read top-to-bottom family trees. Get one printed, in large text so it is easily readable, that shows their family and anyone they may have known. Then ask them to tell you about each of the people on the chart. Perhaps include a few blank boxes for currently unknown parents and siblings.

If there are any mistakes on the chart, blame yourself, don't blame them. Ask for their help in correcting any errors you may have made.

I you have a tape recorder, ask them if they mind you turning this on. Explain perhaps that you can't write very fast and don't wan't to interrupt.

Finally at this stage, if they have difficulty remembering anything don't pressurise them. Don't say "When was uncle Jacob born" but "Do you know when uncle Jacob was born" and if they say "Yes" then get swiftly into the "can you tell me about it" mode.

Richard Folkerth
10 April 2008, 07:38 PM
I am starting to do interviews of some of my older relatives, and those of my wife. Are there any types of questions that are particularly good? Is there some checklist for the types of questions that are good for interviews?

What have others found to be useful?


BRIAN

My wife and I have found that an open-ended approach works really well, as opposed to proceeding doggedly thru a list of questions. We DO have questions we ask to get the process started, but we develop these in advance ... tailored to the specific person we are interviewing. The objective is to get them started talking; they know things you can't possibly be smart enough to ask about. And they will be happy to talk with you, because they know that you can't possibly have this knowledge. The interviewer should lead the subject a bit to keep from talking in circles but the interviewer should take the cues about what questions to ask from the comments of the subject.

If the conversation seems to be winding down, ask another question from your prepared list.

And by all means record the conversation ... with the subject's permission, of course. You can get a nice little digital voice recorder for around $50 or a bit more. This will let you engage the subject in conversation instead of scrambling around trying to take notes AND, more importantly, you will have a 'permanent' record of events told in the voice of one who experienced the events.

I personally don't rely much on specific dates that may result from an interview like this and even the stories can sometimes morph with the telling and retelling. But this is part of the charm of interviews !!

DICK FOLKERTH