The Genealogy Interview, Part 3

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Our final post of The Interview series discusses conducting the interview and preserving the interview for future access.

Conducting the Interview

Interview setting

Make the setting as comfortable as possible. You want to be able to concentrate on the interview, not those details. So look around for anything that can make noise or possibly interrupt the interview (think phones and clocks). Make sure they are turned off. Spend a little time in relaxed chit chat with your interviewee.

Placement of equipment and sound check

Make sure the equipment can pick up voices clearly. Not too much fuss or muss, but while you are relaxing in chit chat make sure the recording level is appropriate. If you need to fill out a biographical form have them do so now.

Review release forms with interviewee

Begin by going over the release forms with the interviewee and let them know they will be asked to sign when the interview is over.

Record the introduction

As an introduction to the interview, record who the interviewee is, the date of the interview and where. Also record that you are the interviewer.

Record the interview

Generally you will want to move the interview along in chronological order. For every fact you seek, attempt to obtain a name, date and place for the events. As in all other research, start with what the interviewee knows about themselves and move backwards in time.

Try to make your questions open ended to encourage as much free flowing information as possible. Try to obtain the interviewee’s assessment of events in addition to the facts.

Keep the length of the interview to 60 or 90 minutes. You don’t want to fatigue your interviewee. It’s OK to schedule another interview session if necessary.


Process the materials in preparation for further genealogical research or reporting

The first thing to do with your interview materials is to make lots of copies and figure out how to keep them safe! You want to keep your recordings on a hard drive, a computer, in the cloud, and a flash drive. Have both compressed and uncompressed formats.

Make sure all your forms are signed and stored with the materials. Fill in information from the interview. Did you receive any photos or memorabilia? Make sure you have those properly logged.

Write up your notes about the interview. Transcription is a whole other blog post in and of itself. But now is when you transcribe the interview. Make sure you use acid-free paper for your hard copies.

Deliver materials to client or repository

When you deliver materials use this checklist to make sure your package is complete:

  • All signed release forms
  • Transcript – electronic and hard copies
  • all recorded media
  • the abstract and interview log
  • Question guide
  • a correctly spelled list of proper names and places
  • any correspondence
  • Photographs
  • bibliography

Access and Use

Provide access to the interviews

Make backup copies of recordings in the cloud and on your computer. Some sites, like MyHeritage, let you add recordings to your tree.

We suggest you consider working with an archival partner for both preserving and presenting your interviews. Oral histories, such as these interviews with Anne Braden, can be of historical significance to future generations.

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