10 Tips for Interviewing Grandparents

10 Tips for Interviewing Grandparents

Get their stories now, before it is too late!

Often when loved ones pass away we are filled with regrets for not asking them more questions about their lives. Now is the time to call your grandparents and set up a time you can talk with them about their lives. An interview is only a conversation between two people with an end goal in mind. In your case, your goal is to collect as many stories as possible. The interview should be conducted in a relaxed information-flowing manner, as you want the person you are talking with to feel comfortable sharing their memories. Let him or her know what the purpose of the interview is ... to collect these stories for posterity.

To help you with the process, I have listed some tips to help you with your interviewing skills.

10 Tips for Conducting a Great Interview

1. Set a time for the interview and let them know approximately how long you would like to talk with them. This way you can both make sure there are as few distractions as possible.

2. Make a list of questions you would like to ask … but be flexible. If your grandmother is in the middle of telling you about her father, don’t interrupt to ask a different question. The questions you have compiled are used to help keep the conversation going and to help them recall various times in their lives. They should not be used to dictate the entire conversation.

3. Take control of the conversation. Yes, I know. I just told you to let the conversation flow. However, if the person you are interviewing gets distracted and starts talking about the neighbor’s dog or their paperboy’s irresponsible behavior, ask a question to get them back on track, or start talking about a different time period.

4. Ask open-ended questions. Questions that can be answered with one or two words – such as “yes,” “no” or “I guess,” aren’t going to provide you with much information. Instead use statements such as “Tell me more about …,” “Why do you think …,” What does this mean to you?” and “How did you feel about that?”

5. Endure silences. Sometimes when a person is striving to remember something, they need to take a moment to organize their thoughts. Don’t be too quick to interrupt. A little silence can be golden.

6. Be aware and respectful. If they seem uncomfortable talking about a topic you are pursuing, change your direction of questioning, or ask them if they would maybe like to talk about that particular subject at a later date.

7. Clarify, clarify, clarify. If you are not clear about something they said, question them about it. If you still aren’t clear, rephrase it and ask them again. You want the information you gather to be as factual as possible. Also, make sure you ask about the spelling of names (if you don’t know it) and, if possible, approximate dates things occurred. This will make it easier to organize the stories into chronological order.

8. Share your own memories. You will find that by sharing some of your memories, more will come to their mind. Plus, it makes the interview more conversational, putting less pressure on them. However, be careful not to monopolize the conversation. Remember, the purpose of the interview is to collect their memories, so don't start making it ALL about you.

9. Ask them to review the final manuscript for accuracy. Sometimes, small details may be wrong or were omitted. Also, it will make them feel more comfortable about sharing information with you if they know they will have an opportunity to review it.

10. Be sure to thank them by mailing a nice card or giving them a call. Offer to show them the finished product and/or give them a copy as a gift.
The interview should be a fun experience for both of you. In fact, you will probably find it so enjoyable that you will want to reminisce with other relatives. And, of course, that’s exactly what we hope you will do.

In the next blog, I'll provide suggestions of interview questions you might use.

Good life, great interview.

Lynda Fisher is the author of Your Legacy, Your Life and I Wish You Happiness: Creating an Ethical Will for the People You Love. She is passionate about the practice of Legacy writing. As a speaker, author and business entrepreneur, she is sharing her message with others throughout North America in hopes they will join her in her crusade to preserve their life stories and family history.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Lost your password?