Make the interviewee feel as comfortable as possible. Do not be aggressive in your tone.

Try to record all interviews so you are not taking notes. Use digital tape recorders or if possible digital video recorders. You can attach these to your software program so that the history is there for all to hear. Carry on a normal relaxed conversation. Encourage the interviewee to just reminisce - you’ll end up with some great stories.

Have questions you want answered in mind (preferably written) but do not use it as a script. Keep things in conversation mode rather than a cross examination. Interview them- not question them. Always make the person feel like its “our” family and that they are important in this process.

When they can’t remember dates ask if it was before or after such and such events (things you know about). Don’t rush them – give them time to think about it or go to another question and then come back. If you get a date that differs from what you have elsewhere try to get the interviewee to put date in perspective to some other event you know about. Never assume it’s wrong.

Get the person to tell you about the people–what they were like, their idiosyncrasies etc.

Memories fade in and out so don’t accept “I don’t know” Leave it and come back to it another time from a different angle

Find out if the person knows someone else doing a genealogical study of the family.

Always ask if they have any old photos or papers. Ask to sit down with them and see them. (They’re not about your family.–That’s OK I want to know about you and your husband.) Often these photos will have someone else in them that the person forgot about or does not make the connection to your search.

What do you want to know?
        Names and relationships
        A timeline
        What the people were like
        What they did for a living
        Where did they live when and with whom?
        What was going on in historical perspective
        Where are they buried
        What were their parents like. Who were they, etc.
        Did any ancestors ever come to this country.
        Did anyone ever visit relatives in the old country?
                If yes contact their direct descendants to see if they have pictures.

If the person you are seeking information from is out of town and you cannot visit - a few alternatives:

        1. Invite them to fill in information on your online genealogy tree and to add stories, upload pictures and articles.

        2. Send them one of the pedigree charts and ask them to fill in as much as they can

        3. Send them a list of questions or better yet arrange for a phone call where you can ask them just like above.

SAMPLE:     Click here for sample questions to use when interviewing an immigrant.  This questionnaire has additional questions for Jewish immigrants.

Items to look for from interviewees or in your parents closets/attic:


Birth, Adoption, Marriage, Divorce, Death, Burial / cremation Certificates

Alien registration cards, Naturalization certificates,

Passports. Military records

Announcement for birth, graduation, confirmation, engagement, wedding, death

Obituaries in newspaper, organization newsletters, magazines

Family Bibles and Diaries

Funeral cards, Event programs

Notes put together by another family member

Published genealogies

Old letters and personal diaries

Photos, Movies, Audio recordings, Scrapbooks

Items handed down through the family

Jewelry with inscriptions

Copies of legal documents

Applications to lineage societies

Information on union, professional or fraternal organization memberships