Last time in “Developing a Passion” I explained why your greatest family history resources are your senior family members—grandparents, great-aunts, even distant cousins. Much, if not most, of their time on earth was spent before you were even born. Though they’ve been with you forever, they will not continue with you forever. That’s why you need to ask them lots of questions now!
Don’t be shy about it. Set up an appointment with your interviewee. Share some of the questions you may have so they can think about them ahead of time. If your subject is nervous around a recording device, try to keep it as inconspicuous as possible and maybe even practice with your subject first.
Numerous websites can give you ideas as to what questions to ask. Learn to sit silently if your subject runs out of words for a time. Jumping into the suddenly quiet conversation can interrupt their thought process, and you might lose a great story.
A terrific memory trigger for seniors is photographs. Talking to your loved one while looking at pictures can bring back a flood of memories. The same can be said about family heirlooms and memorabilia. Be sure to ask for names and dates and write them on the backs of unidentified photos!
Preserving your recording in multiple places, including on websites and clouds, is essential to making sure your interview lasts for generations. It is also wise to transcribe word-for-word what is said in the unfortunate event your interview is ever lost.
I have never once run into anyone who regretted the brief time they spent recording loved ones, especially after those loved ones were gone. My mother once taught me, “When a person dies, a library is burned.” Interviewing your seniors now ensures that at least a few pieces from that library will survive.