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:
- What’s your first memory?
- Who’s the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?
- How did your parents meet?
- Tell me about your childhood home.
- How did your family celebrate holidays when you were a child?
- How did you meet your spouse?
- Tell me about your wedding day.
- Tell me about the day your first child was born.
- What were your favorite school subjects?
- Tell me about your favorite teacher.
- Tell me about some of your friends.
- Describe your first job.
- What did you do with your first paycheck?
- What was your favorite job and why?
- Who are some of your heroes?
- Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy was shot? (Add or substitute other important historical events.)
- What is your experience with or opinion of computers? (Add or substitute other modern conveniences, such as television, microwaves and cell phones.)
- Tell me about some of your favorite songs (also books, movies and television shows).
- Tell me about some of the places where you’ve been happiest.
- 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.)
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