Talk to Grandma before it’s too late

Saving oral history is a critical early step in your genealogy research. A great deal of family history is passed down orally and the memories of your older relatives are at risk of being lost. It should be a priority to interview your older relatives as early as possible.

Prepare for your interview by developing a list of topics to cover. This will help focus your conversation. Also organize your research by putting your documents and pictures in ring binders or folders to show your relatives. Reviewing your research with your relative will help establish rapport and help them recall the family history that they have in their sub-conscious.

The interviews should be an equal exchange of information. The questions should flow as normal conversation and not as an interrogation. Avoid questions that seek a “Yes” or “No” answer. Try to be a good listener and give your relatives a chance to tell their stories. Don’t talk or interrupt while the person is speaking. Ask your relatives to help identify the people in the pictures. Try to record the conversations to have an accurate record and you will be free to interact with your relative.

Remember that memories often fade and facts get confused with other facts. The information you obtain through oral interviews must be taken at face value. Some of the facts may not seem accurate but remember that some parts are probably true. You should include the entire story and add your concerns. Future researchers may be able to find facts that sort out your concerns and resolve the problem.


  • Interviewing older relatives is a critical early phase
  • Organize your documents and photos to show your relative
  • Interviews should be an equal exchange of information
  • Avoid questions that seek a “Yes” or “No” answer
  • Let your relative talk
  • Record your interviews

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