Helpful Hints for Collecting Family Stories

Looking for some ideas on how to gather and record stories that will strengthen your family? Read on to learn more about helpful technology, questions that can help draw out unique stories, how to share the stories to, and more.

For more detailed information see “Creating Oral Histories.”

Gathering Family Stories

There are many options for capturing family stories. Recording personal interviews—whether by using a video or audio recorder or by simply writing it down—is a common way to gather stories. Use your smartphone or other digital camera or recorder to document the interview, then share the file with family members.

Other ways to gather family stories include starting a blog where family members can record personal memories, or e-mailing family members one question a week. This allows for their answers to be compiled in one place.

Always remember to save and backup your work

Conducting Interviews

An interview is a great way to capture stories, testimonies, thoughts, and memories before they are lost. The following are seven tips for first-time interviewers.

  1. Decide whom to interview. Don’t limit yourself to individuals close by. Use technology to talk with individuals living anywhere around the world.
  2. Schedule an appointment when possible, but be prepared at family parties or reunions when an opportunity may arise. Choose a time and place to meet that is quiet so you don’t have background noise in your recording. While face-to-face interviews are the most effective, telephone or online video interviews are alternatives.
  3. Prepare a list of questions. Create a mix of open-ended and direct questions. Open-ended questions help the interviewee talk about what is most important to him or her, for example, “What is your earliest memory?” or “What was your hometown like?” Direct questions help you get specific information, such as “What year were you born?” or “What are your parent’s names?” Find ideas on family history interview questions.
  4. Be sure to pack: extra batteries for your recording equipment, paper and a pen or pencil to take notes, your list of questions, and other references, such as family pedigree charts or photos.
  5. Look for signs of fatigue. Take time to rest or drink water to refresh.
  6. Don’t interview for more than an hour. While the subject is speaking, make a note of anything you don’t understand, then spend a few minutes after to ask clarifying questions and how to spell the names of people and places mentioned in the interview. If you have a lot to talk about, consider scheduling follow up interviews.
  7. Immediately after the interview, label your recording with your name, the name of the person you interviewed, and the date and place of the interview.

Sharing Stories

Digital files or transcribed copies of the interview are easy to share with family members through e-mail, uploading to, or using another method of file sharing.

While future releases of will allow file uploading, to share family stories now, paste text of the story or transcribed interview into the sharing space.

When transcribing recordings, be sure to do it directly after the interview when the words are still fresh in your mind. It’s OK to type it in standard form and leave out the verbal pauses and false starts and stops.