Genealogy Q&A: Family History Questions for Kids to Ask Grandparents
11/25/2013
Expert answers on how to help a child do a family history interview with Grandma or Grandpa.


Q. My daughter has to interview her grandparents for a school project. Do you have any suggestions for questions she can ask?

A. Not only do assignments such as this one bring families closer, they’re also a great way for kids (and their parents!) to learn about their family history and history in general. And a reticent subject may be more likely to open up when the interviewer is a grandchild.

Here are some questions to get you started:
  1. When and where were you born?
  2. What were your parents’ names?
  3. What is your happiest memory of your father? Your mother?
  4. What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?
  5. What are the names of your grandparents?
  6. What is your happiest memory of your grandfather? Grandmother?
  7. Where did you grow up?
  8. What did you do for fun as a child?
  9. How did you like school?
  10. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  11. Tell me about your first date.
  12. How did you meet Grandma/Grandpa?
  13. Tell me about the day my mom/dad was born.
  14. What advice would you give to new parents?
  15. What jobs have you had?
  16. What are your strongest memories from your time in the military?
  17. What would be your recipe for happiness?
You and your daughter can edit the list together based on the length of the interview, what your daughter wants to ask about, and any project requirements (for example, her teacher may want her to focus on a particular topic such as military service).

Your daughter may want to jot down significant historical events that occurred during her grandparents’ lives, such as the Great Depression or the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Then she can ask about them with a question such as, “What’s your most vivid memory of growing up during the Great Depression?”

If she’s been learning about the Great Depression in school, she’ll see how it affected everyday people and maybe even find herself an answer to that perennial question, “Why do we have to learn this?”

She also might be interested in how her grandparents’ childhoods compare to her own: Did they have similar hobbies? What chores did they have to do around the house? How did they like their brothers and sisters?

Use a question list as a guide, but it’s OK if the conversation leads your daughter to ask questions not on the list, or her grandparents to tell stories not related to a particular question. Looking at old family photos may spark her grandparents' memories, too. (Find more oral history interviewing tips on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.)

Make sure you record the interview for posterity (and in case your daughter needs it for a report) using a digital voice recorder or a videocamera (get pro’s tips for filming interviews in the March 2008 Family Tree Magazine).

If filling in a family tree chart is part of the homework, use the free downloadable forms on FamilyTreeMagazine.com. Your daughter's grandparents would probably love to see the finished project.
 
For more advice on interviewing a grandparent, see Questions to Bring You Closer to Grandma and Grandpa: 100+ Conversation Starters for Grandchildren and Grandparents, by Stuart Gustafson and Robyn Freedman Spizman (Adams Media), available at ShopFamilyTree.com.