Through formal interviews and casual conversations, I managed to collect quite a few interesting stories from them, particularly from my mother. Losing a close family member is painful under any circumstances, but the pain is compounded when a person’s wisdom and life stories die with them.
Collecting the stories from another person’s life is a daunting task for many people. There are plenty of perceived obstacles, but few of any real substance. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a professional to conduct an interview. And the notion that someone doesn’t want to be interviewed is wrong in 99 percent of the cases I’ve seen. Once you clear these hurdles, the rest is within the grasp of anyone who’s read this far.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Dealing with reluctant subjects. The key here is to be persistent and to find a topic that your subject is interested in. If you keep stressing the importance to you and promise to talk about only what your subject is willing to share, they’ll almost always comply. Once you get someone talking, the stories usually flow freely.
Go gently. Start by talking about something your subject is interested in. Be conversational, not confrontational. You don’t want to antagonize your subject. Listen and pay attention to body language so you can steer the conversation to productive areas for both of you.
Ask good questions. Read my earlier post on this subject. Don’t ask questions that accept simple yes or no responses. Make your subject think and respond with stories instead.
Don’t wear out your welcome. I like to keep my interviews short, usually around 40-45 minutes. This is especially important with older people whose energy starts flagging fairly quickly. End your interview on a high note and with a promise to talk again soon. Don’t let too much time lapse between interviews.
Writing prompt for the day: Make a list of family members you want to interview and create a plan to do it.
Larry Lehmer is a professional personal historian and a legacy planner who helps people preserve their family histories. To learn more, visit his web site, send him an e-mail or follow him on Twitter.
Flickr photo courtesy of 2bpatchett.