Quick, which of the following is the most important skill needed by aspiring genealogists?
- Navigating local history collections at the library
- DNA triangulation for genetic genealogy
- Becoming proficient with building family trees on Ancestry
- Interviewing relatives about family history
- Learning how to use advanced search features on Google
In our opinion, #4 - interviewing relatives - is the most important skill to develop. Interviews are critical to unearthing information that may not be available in any printed or digital source. Sometimes, interviews lead to insights that can break down brick walls, and take your research to times and places that you never even knew existed.
Another thing to note about interviewing relatives: It's the only skill in the list above that may be impossible for outsiders (including professional genealogists) to effectively complete. You can hire a genealogist who knows all about genetic genealogy or Ancestry databases, but good luck asking them to interview Aunt Violet, who tends be snappy with strangers!
Interviewing relatives can also be fun, whether you're sitting around the living room before Thanksgiving dinner is served, or talking with a sibling or parent on the phone to wish them a happy birthday. It's key to take note of details large and small. Even memories of childhood or family events such as weddings are important. If possible, get permission to record the interview (using a camera or phone) or jot down notes after the interview.
you can read it on our website) but one thing that's worth mentioning about these interviews is they were interesting to conduct. In the old tapes of Ian's mother interviewing her father (the U.S. Navy officer in the picture), both parties clearly value the conversation.
It was the same during the interviews with others in our family - older cousins, a great aunt, and Nicole's father, a quiet WWII veteran. At times, the people on the tapes share a chuckle as they travel down memory lane. Even during the more serious moments, it was an opportunity for reflection and remembrance.
Tools for genealogy interviews
The new EasyGenie Stories Kit (Story Kit Paper/PDF) can help prepare questions, record data, and chart family branches. The EasyGenie Genealogy Kit for Kids (Kids Kit Paper/PDF) has interview sheets that can encourage young people to learn about family history from elders.
While you can use a digital audio recorder or video camera to record interviews, your phone may already come equipped with simple tools for recording interviews (always ask permission first, and put the device on the table or to the side so it's not distracting). Here's how to use your iPhone's voice recorder.