Interviewing Relatives

leroyb's picture

As we try to move this work forward for George Emery Lyons Sr. and Ruth Hazel Sainsbury—both with their ancestors and decendants—here are a few pointers on how we might gather stories and research information from those who are still living. 

Family history interviews are a good way to capture memories before they are lost1. Even the most remote "family tradition" has an inkling of truth, which will eventually lead to a clue as to the real story. When you hit a dead end, sometimes a conversation with a relative will bring out clues that aid in the discovery of more information.

Decide whom to interview and why. Consider writing a pyramid by starting with relatives you know and asking them for addresses and phone numbers of other relatives who might be helpful. Or, you may want to do general interviews with perhaps your oldest living relative, another member of your family, your town's oldest resident, a neighbor, or anyone who may have ties to or information about your family. You may also want to review this article from the Logan Utah Family History Center on Oral History Instructions2. You may also try the "who, what, when, where, why and how" questions to find clues that will be helpful in your present and future research.

If possible, it is always enlightening to visit a relative personally or on the phone. After asking permission, see if you can record the conversation which can help prevent a loss of information as it sometimes is hard to write as quickly as a person can speak.

Don't procrastinate visiting or writing your most valuable resource, thinking your life will slow down and you will have time to write or interview your relatives later. Those relatives die every day, often taking their valuable and often exclusive knowledge to the grave. It might take you a decade or longer to uncover facts you could have learned in one simple conversation.

Sample Ancestor Questionnaire

(Feel free to continue any of the following information on the back or on other sheets of paper.)


Birth and death information (date, place and parents' names):



Marriage information (date and place):



Spouse birth and death information (date, place and parents' names):



Children's names, birth and death information (date and place):

Include their spouses, if known.



Where is the family originally from and what states or countries did they live in?



Did anyone in this family serve in a war? (Revolutionary, 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I or II)



If you feel comfortable in doing so, please share any stories or unusual circumstances about the family:



Name and address of anyone else you feel would be willing to help me:



Source of information:



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1 Comment

dixiea85's picture

June 16 Picnic in the Park

 Mom and I had a safe trip home from the Picnic in the Park for the Cousins get together on the 16 of June.  We had a wonderful time and hope to do this again.  I know this ment a lot to mom to be in touch with family that she hasn't seen for a long time.  I was able to meet wonderful people who are my family.  May we all realize the blessing it is to be connected as a family, you are all amazing!