Family History: Preparing for the telephone interview

Family History: Preparing for the telephone interviewBy Barry J. Ewell

Because I lived a great distance from most of these contacts, I conducted most of the interviews via telephone. Each conversation was taped. Over the years that I have conducted interviews, I have found that taping the interview leaves me free to focus on the discussion. The only notes I took were thoughts that came during the discussion about further questions to ask or expand upon. I used the following equipment for the interview:

  • Micro-cassette player with fresh batteries.
  • Three fresh 60-minute cassette tapes.
  • Radio Shack recording device that connected the phone to the recorder.
  • Backup micro-cassette player in case the player failed or the tape became entangled while recording.
    • List of questions for interview.
    • Note pad to record thoughts, requests, and promises.
    • Envelope to enclose tape immediately following interview.

Prior to each interview, I made sure the tape recorder worked and lines were clear. If you haven’t used a tape recorder for interviews before, it is imperative that you practice recording and asking questions so you know your equipment and questions. That way, if you have any problems, you will have time to research and make corrections.

Recording an Interview via Telephone. The FCC protects the privacy of telephone conversations by requiring notification before a recording device is used to record interstate (between different states) or international phone calls. Interstate or international telephone conversations may not be recorded unless the use of the recording device meets the following requirements:

  • Preceded by verbal or written consent of all parties to the telephone conversation; or
  • Preceded by verbal notification that is recorded at the beginning, and as part of the call, by the recording party; or
  • Accompanied by an automatic tone warning device, sometimes called a “beep tone,” that automatically produces a distinct signal that is repeated at regular intervals during the course of the telephone conversation when the recording device is in use.

Also, a recording device can only be used if it can be physically connected to and disconnected from the telephone line or if it can be switched on and off.

Call Recording Options. You have several options for recording personal history interviews via phone.

Telephone recording controls are used to connect your phone to a recording device of some kind. Radio Shack sells two options, which are both under $30. Results are mixed, but of all the options these are potentially the worst audio sound quality if used improperly. However, I have used these types of devices for years and been satisfied with the quality.

A second option is using Skype or iChat. These free Internet telephone applications are a great way to conduct remote interviews and conference calls. There are many options of how to use Skype to record telephone conversations. I have not personally used this option, but I know many individuals who use Skype or iChat to record podcasts.