What If They Don't Want to Be Interviewed?
People who decline to be interviewed do so for a variety of reasons. Some of these are:
- They have family information they want to keep secret and are afraid they might reveal.
- They feel unsure about their memories and don't want to be embarrassed by saying wrong things on tape.
- They are deathly afraid of tape- and video-recorders and freeze up when facing one.
- They are modest and believe that talking about themselves is egotistical.
- They are too busy.
- They have personal and family history materials that they want to study before they respond to questions on tape.
- They distrust the interviewer and his or her motive.
- They are afraid they must carry the interview and do all the work while the interviewer just listens.
- They are uncomfortable being interviewed in their home or it's a difficulty for them to travel to meet the interviewer. Some of these objections cannot be overcome. But a few approaches do sometimes work.
Inform Them That the Workload Is on You, Not Them
Promise them that they have the easy part - just answering the questions that you ask - and that you will guide the interview.
Appeal to Their Conscience
"You are the only one who remembers our great-grandfather, and we need you to tell us about him." "My brothers and sisters have asked me to plead with you to share your memories with us. We need your help."
Stress That Talking Is Easier Than Writing Things Down
"Mom, you've got all that family history in your head. You've either got to write it down for us or tape-record it. Let me help you do it the easy way - you just talk and I'll record.
Record Them over the Telephone
People reluctant to face a tape-recorder can often be convinced to talk to you by phone while you record them.
Ask Them to Talk about Their Parents or Grandparents, Not about Themselves
Once they start talking about others, you can gradually introduce questions about their own childhood contacts with those people. From there, it is easy to shift the conversation toward their own lives as youngsters.
Capitalize on Occasions When They Talk about the Past
If the relative is at someone's home for dinner or a visit and starts telling interesting stories, you can grab a recorder and turn it on. "Let me turn on the recorder while you're telling that story, Grandpa - it's such a good one."
Arrange for Them to Be Jointly Interviewed with Another Relative
"Uncle Manny, I'm going to be talking to Uncle Ramos about the family. Why don't you join us and share what you know, too." In this case, having an extra person in the interview might be the only way someone will agree to be recorded.
Bribery by Trade or Barter
If you have a photograph collection or a written life story of a relative - or any other kind of record the prospective interviewee might like - you could barter with it: "Aunt Maria, I've got copies of Dad and Mom's history. I'll make you a copy and give it to you if you'll let me interview you about the family."
Send Them an Account of the Family's History That Will Make Them Want to Tell Their Version
A man could not gain his aunt's permission to interview her. So, one day he gave her a copy of her brother's (his father's) oral history transcripts, in which the father talked about their parents and family. The aunt found several incorrect statements in it, so she asked if she could tell the story right.