So you're not a sociologist or a professional researcher, but you're still interested in preserving your family's history through recorded audio. Your family members are living keepers of history, and their stories are at once anchors and wings. As you begin to formulate your list of questions, stick to the facts.
Ask subjects where they were born, where they lived as children and what kind of jobs they held. Then work a few "feeling" questions into the mix. What was it like to experience certain events? Even if your relative didn't fight in a World War, there are still far-reaching events that were sure to affect him or her.
Before you begin taping, turn some attention to location. Are there distractions? And we're not talking obvious stuff here, like roaring traffic or crying babies. Is there a ticking clock that could be silenced or an air conditioner humming in the background? You may need to make a few adjustments to gain some silence. And, don't become part of the problem.
Refrain from saying "mm-hmm" in agreement as your subject speaks. Talking one at a time may seem like simple advice, but it's one of the most common mistakes interviewers make. Plus, the less you talk, the more your subject will.