Pointers on Interviewing

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Before you launch too deeply into using the Family History Questionnaire, there are some important things to understand about using the mind ticklers that the list includes. Most important is to realize that this is not a list to be read through laboriously while you exhaust your great-aunt Minnie. Rather think of it as a set of "flashbulb" questions that fire off images in your relation's life.

To show you what I mean, here's a general question: "What was it like for you in the years before you started school?" That probably raised a huge cloud of shapeless fog in your memory banks.

Now try this one: "In which room did you usually eat breakfast?" My guess is that even as you read the question a flashbulb fired off in your brain and you were transported back to not just that room, but that table, what was on it, what color the walls were, what you could see out the window (if there was one), even what sort of thing you usually ate at breakfast, and, of course, who shared the table with you.

So as you use the Family History Questionnaire, try to phrase the questions as flashbulb questions, and wait for the picture to develop.

One other thing: don't edit or interrupt the flow of the response. I asked the breakfast question of a lady the other day, and she said "Which breakfast room? We moved around a lot when I was a kid." We then carried on chatting about what it was like to be an "Army Brat", where the food was good, and where not so good. Then I asked, not: "What did you do when your dad went off to play soldier?" but rather "Did you have any special way of saying good-bye to your dad when he left to do his soldier work?". I never did find out "which breakfast room".

I strongly recommend that you print off the Family History Questionnaire page, and study it extensively before you give it a first trial run.

Good hunting.

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Email Send E-mail to dave@birley.org
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David H. Birley
704 S. York Ave.
Rock Hill, SC 29730-3459