Don’t miss out on one of the most precious research resources available to you – your elderly living relatives. You may be really surprised at what they can remember and what they are willing to tell you, if you’d only ask. In Part I & II, I gave you my top 8 tips for making an interview fruitful and enjoyable for both of you. You can read them here: How to interview your relatives – part I, How to interview your relatives – part II.
This post is a list of questions which you can use as a framework for your own interview. It’s up to you how rigidly you want to stick to it – perhaps it doesn’t matter to you if your relative wanders into uncharted territory with their answers. But do make sure you include your own questions about areas of your family history which are mysterious or unexplained.
There are probably way too many questions here for one sitting, so you may want to break them up and ask them with a few days or weeks of rest time between them:
What is your full name?
Why did your parents select this name for you?
Is there a naming tradition in your family?
Do you have a nickname?
What do you know about your family surname?
Where you grew up
When and where were you born?
How did your family come to live there?
Were there other family members in the area?
What was the house like? How many rooms?
Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
Growing Up Years – Family
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child?
What do you remember about them?
What stories have come down to you about your parents?
Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
Describe the personalities of your family members.
Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
Are there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
What kind of games did you play growing up?
What was your favourite toy and why?
What was your favourite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?
Did you have family chores? Which was your least favourite?
Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
School/College – Activities
What was school like for you as a child?
What were your best and worst subjects?
What school activities and sports did you participate in?
Do you remember any fads from your youth?
Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
Who were your childhood heroes?
What were your favorite songs and music?
Did you have any pets?
What kind and what were their names?
What was your religion growing up?
What church, if any, did you attend?
Have you ever been mentioned in a newspaper?
Who were your friends when you were growing up?
What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up?
Did any of them personally affect your family?
Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking?
What were your favorite foods?
How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family?
Did your family have special traditions?
How is the world today different from what it was like when you were a child?
What was the full name of your spouse? Their siblings? Their parents?
When and how did you meet them?
What did you do on dates?
What was it like when you proposed?
Where and when did it happen? How did you feel?
Where and when did you get married?
What memory stands out the most from your wedding day?
How would you describe your spouse?
What do (did) you admire most about them?
What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage?
Being a Parent
How did you find out your were going to be a parent for the first time?
Why did you choose your children’s names?
What was your proudest moment as a parent?
What did your family enjoy doing together?
What was your profession and how did you choose it?
If you could have had any other profession, what would it have been?
Why wasn’t it your first choice?
Of all the things you learned from your parents, which do you feel was the most valuable?
What accomplishments are you the most proud of?
What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
Discussion: Got any questions we haven’t thought of? Please let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to the list!