30 Questions to Use for Family History Interviews
A top priority for any family historian should be to preserve the oral history and stories of the persons in their lives still living, including parents, aunts and uncles, and especially elderly grandparents or great-grandparents. Taking the time to interview them can provide valuable details that may not exist anywhere other than in the person’s mind.
The best tactic for getting excellent feedback from the person you are speaking with is to use open-ended questions, instead of questions easily answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ An open-ended question is one that requires a lengthier answer and is designed to encourage a meaningful and more thorough answer using the subject’s own feelings or knowledge.
Following is a list of questions that you can utilize as prompts to get the conversation started. Feel free to come up with different questions that might better fit the specific person you are interviewing, or even to shorten or lengthen this list.
Pre-plan a method of recording the interview. You could either write the answers as you conduct the interview (and transcribe them later to a more formal documentation) or use a recording app on your phone. If you are recording, be courteous and let the person know.
- What is your full name? Do you know why your parents chose it?
- What do you know about your family surname and its origin?
- When and where were you born?
- Describe your earliest childhood memory.
- Tell me what you remember about the personalities of your family members.
- Who is the oldest relative that you remember?
- Did your family have any famous or infamous persons you can tell me about?
- Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
- Talk to me about an important lesson your parents taught you.
- What was your family’s religion growing up? Do you still follow it and why or why not?
- Did you have any family pets when you were young? If yes, what kind? Tell me about them!
- What was your family home like when you were young? Was it a farm or a home in the city? Did you have chores? Did you have indoor plumbing or a telephone?
- Were there any special items or favorite possessions in the house that stand out in your mind?
- What schools did you attend and was school difficult or easy for you? What was your favorite subject and your least favorite, and why.
- What world event(s) had the biggest impact on you while you were growing up? Did it personally affect your family?
- Did anyone in your family serve in the military? If yes, can you tell me about it?
- How did your family celebrate major holidays when you were young?
- What was a favorite game or toy? What was special about it?
- Describe your first job to me. Did you like it? What were your responsibilities?
- Tell me about your favorite song. Do you have a favorite movie or book?
- How did you meet your spouse and when and where were you married?
- How did you feel when you found out you were to be a parent? Can you tell me about the day your first child was born?
- What are the full names of all of your children? Is there a story behind the names chosen?
- What did your immediate family enjoy doing together?
- Where have you lived that made you the happiest? What did you like about it?
- What profession did you pursue the longest and why did you choose it?
- What are you most proud of about your life?
- Is there one piece of advice that you would like to pass on to my children?
- What would you want people to remember about you?
- What haven’t we talked about that you’d like to discuss or tell me about?
There you go– 30 questions to use for family history interviews.