interviewingFor most of us, sitting down to interview a family member or close friend for a family history project can be nerve-wracking and intimidating. After all, not all of us are Barbara Walters–we don’t typically sit down with people in a recorded setting and ask them questions.

So when we do get Aunt Ethel to sit down we might feel more tense and worried that she does.

Here are some of the best things you can do to calm your nerves before an interview and make sure that your interviewee thinks you’re just as good as Ms. Walters.


  1. Don’t worry about the order of your questions.

The order of your interview questions will change–guaranteed. No matter how well-prepared you are, interviews are living, breathing things. They change and that’s part of what makes them so great.

A good tip is to start with easy, more mechanical questions (“When were you born?” “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”) and then shift to more thoughtful or involved questions.


  1. Don’t interrupt . . . unless you have to.

If you’re interviewing Aunt Ethel and she seems to be headed off a giant cliff of a tangent, just be patient. You can be surprised by the interesting tidbits and stories that result from a tangential topic.

That being said, sometimes you might have to interrupt, if only to move to a different topic or to stick to a tight schedule. In the those cases wait for a pause of breath and jump in.

“Thank you for sharing and this has been fascinating. I’m actually really interested in (blank).”

It will always feel awkward to interrupt someone. Just push through the awkwardness and continue the interview.


  1. Have a notepad handy.

Don’t forget to bring a notepad and pen along for your interview. Not only can you jot down notes about the interview, but a notepad can also help you plan ahead in the thick of the interview.

If you’ve lost track of where you are in the interview, take some time and jot down ideas for follow-up or next questions. Or maybe you’ve forgotten what your interviewee has said and you need a refresher. Just glance at your note!

A notepad can also serve as a discrete way to concentrate on something other than the person’s face that you’re interviewing. Eye contact is crucial to keep up the emotional connection in an interview, but sometimes it’s okay to take a quick break and review your notes.

Hopefully these 3 simple tips will give you the confidence you need to sit down with your family members and have a successful interview.

We’ll be publishing more tips soon, so make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy interviewing!