Before the holiday get together, contact all of the people you’d like to talk with and let them know what you are working on. If they agree to help, provide them with a list of questions – both factual and open ended – to jog their memories.
There are two ways to approach gathering information. Each has advantages and you may want to use both. One is to have a family story circle. Get people together and ask them to tell their favorite family stories. As they do, you may be surprised at how the memories of others in the circle can elicit details, or trigger whole new stories. Make sure to use audio recording or videotape to capture the stories people share.
The second technique is to conduct an oral history interview with the relatives who have agreed to talk with you. Sit down with each person in a private setting with an audio or video recorder. Run through the list of questions you developed, but be ready to pursue interesting tangents to get more detail. The more you let people talk about what they remember, the more stories you will get.
-Biff Barnes, Editor