The Art of Interviewing Relatives
and Getting Answers to Your Questions
by Dennis Piccirillo
Whom do you interview? What questions do you ask? The first
person you interview is yourself, then your parents, grandparents,
etc. The basic question you must ask is: What are your father's
and mother's names including your mother's maiden name? Repeat
the question substituting parents with grandparents, great-grandparents,
etc. The name that a person is born with is the name that you use.
(Unless the person changes their name) The three major events in
your life are birth, marriage, and death. There are many other
important events you can record such as: Baptism, Bar-Mitzvah,
confirmation, school graduation, military service, divorce,
remarriage, adoption and many more.
Every event occurs at a location somewhere in the world. My
grandfather Pietro Alessandro Piccirillo was born 1 November 1867
in Lucera, Foggia, Italy. He immigrated to Newark NJ in 1902 from
Italy. You need to record the location in order to verify the data
with official sources.
Before you go off and interview your relatives, develop a plan to
interview the same person several times. Each interview should be
at least several weeks apart. Make sure you record the answers in
your blank book. You may write a letter to the person before the
Most relatives are not thinking about genealogy. They need hints
to recall information. People will save important papers and forget
where they save them. One day many years ago, one of my relatives
gave me my grandfather's wedding portrait painted in 1893. I asked
where was my grandmother's picture. He stated he did not know.
Ten years later, a cousin gave me the lost picture of my grandmother.
It had been put in a safe place that was forgotten.
Most relatives will answer your questions with questions. Why do
you want to know that? I do not remember anything about my family.
I threw the information out many years ago. Relatives may be saying
these things to get you out of their hair. Or you may encounter a
relative who has the information, but will not give it to you. It
may hold a secret that they do not want known. Remember, when
events occur in a person's life, there is more than one person that
knows about it. One person's important secret is another person's
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