Tips for Interviewing a Relative About Family History

By Courtney Henderson

Every detective needs good informants to help crack a case. Who are the best informants for your family investigations? Older relatives, such as your grandparents, great-aunts or -uncles, even your parents’ older siblings. They can tell you their memories of your family from before you were born.

Grownups like to share their memories, so don’t be shy—call an older relative to set up an interview. In-person is best, but you can do it over the phone or computer if your relative lives far away.

Be sure to bring your detective notepad and a pencil to take notes; you also might want to bring an audio or video recorder to tape a face-to-face interview. Just ask your interviewee’s permission first; some people feel uncomfortable being recorded.

Here are 10 questions to ask:

  1. Where did you grow up and what was it like?
  2. What were your parents’ and siblings’ names? Were you an oldest, youngest or middle child?
  3. What kind of jobs did your parents do?
  4. What were your chores, and what did you do for fun?
  5. What was my mom/dad like as a child?
  6. What are your happiest family memories?
  7. How did you meet Grandma/Grandpa/Uncle ____/Aunt ____?
  8. What do you remember about your grandparents?
  9. Do you know any stories about ancestors immigrating to America? Where did they come from?
  10. Do you have any old photos, papers or a family Bible you could show me?