20 Questions for Interviewing Relatives

20 Questions for Interviewing Relatives

One of the best ways to gather information about your family history is to interview your more senior family members. Use these questions as a springboard for planning your oral history interviews.
 interview family members history genealogy question suggestions

Want to hear your relatives’ stories, but not sure where to start? The best tactic for oral history interviews is to ask open-ended questions (rather than ones with yes or no answers), and to focus on people’s memories and experiences.

 It’s much more interesting-for you and the interviewee-to talk about the stories and emotions behind the events in your family’s past.

Take the time to ask your relatives the important questions

Use these questions as a springboard for planning your interview:
  1. What’s your first memory?
  2. Who’s the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?
  3. How did your parents meet?
  4. Tell me about your childhood home.
  5. How did your family celebrate holidays when you were a child?
  6. How did you meet your spouse?
  7. Tell me about your wedding day.
  8. Tell me about the day your first child was born.
  9. What were your favorite school subjects?
  10. Tell me about your favorite teacher.
  11. Tell me about some of your friends.
  12. Describe your first job.
  13. What did you do with your first paycheck?
  14. What was your favorite job and why?
  15. Who are some of your heroes?
  16. Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy was shot? (Add or substitute other important historical events.)
  17. What is your experience with or opinion of computers? (Add or substitute other modern conveniences, such as television, microwaves and cell phones.)
  18. Tell me about some of your favorite songs (also books, movies and television shows).
  19. Tell me about some of the places where you’ve been happiest.
  20. What haven’t we talked about that you’d like to discuss in the time we have left? (This is a good way to begin wrapping up the interview.)
Turn your family interviews into a family history book with the Write Your Family History toolkit, available from Family Tree Shop.

 

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  1. I would skip the what I deem to be trivial questions about fave teachers, tv shows, movies, books, heroes and the like, and go with deeper and more important questions (and questions I always wanted to know about my dad’s side) like: What were your parents like? What were your grandparents like? What was it like growing up in your family with your siblings? Did your family (mom, grandmother, etc) make or eat any foods particular to your heritage? What kind of vacations did your family take when you were growing up? Which relatives were your family closest to when you were growing up or which ones did you visit most often? What are some fun or funny family stories you can remember when you were growing up? What was daily life like for you during the different stages of your growing up years? Did you have any favorite pets? If so, tell me about them…