Conducting an
Oral History Interview

Tips before you begin your oral history interview

  • Make them feel comfortable by thanking them for their time and asking about their current lives – asking about their grandchildren is always a good way to start. Grandparents just love to talk about their grandchildren.
  • Provide some morning or afternoon tea – cake or pastries and a cup of tea or coffee will help them relax.
  • Your interview technique will depend on how well you know the relative. If you don’t know them well, spend a little extra time getting to know each other and talking about the common family members before delving into their lives.

  • Take some old photos or scrapbooks or documents with you to show them how your research is going and that may lead you to more information. Old photos will trigger their memories and will get them talking about the "old days".

  • I prefer not to use a tape recorder. Most people dislike having their voice recorded and using a recorder may put the relative on edge and remain guarded. Instead, try and make brief notes during the interview then when you get home make more thorough notes.
  • Be respectful of your elders. They have a lot of information to give you and will not give any of this to you unless you are respectful and interested. Remember, any of this information is to be treated like a priceless possession as once people pass away, this information is lost.

family history intervie

Questions to ask at your oral history interview:-

  • Where were you born? What year?
  • What were your parent’s names? Did they have nicknames or did they use another first name?
  • Where have you lived over your lifetime – where did you grown up, did you move after you were married, did you move because of your work or military service.
  • What was your occupation?
  • What was your parents occupations?
  • Did your parents have a family business or family farm?
  • What were the significant events in your life? (If they served in a war, this question will lead them gently into telling you about that part of their life. Some war veterans don’t like to talk about their experiences and you should never delve into this part of their life unless they willing talk about it).

Next - document your family history information

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