By Kate Jackson
With the holiday season coming up fast, many of us are already beginning to prepare for the family-filled parties and celebrations ahead. For the genealogy researcher, though, a holiday get-together can mean a whole lot more than planning a menu or gathering gifts – often, it’s an important opportunity to connect with our more distant relatives ask some family history interview questions!
Of course, it’s ideal if you can arrange to interview your relative at the gathering in advance so as not to catch them off guard. However, most would agree, there’s nothing wrong with spontaneously asking your great aunt or grandparent if they feel up to answering a few questions over pie and coffee.
Even if you’re not planning to see family in person, you can also request to interview someone over the phone or through email. However the interview comes about, in order to make most out of a visit with an older relation, it’s best to come prepared.
Here are a few tips to prep for your family history interview:
- Bring along a sturdy notebook and writing utensils, plus a printout of your interview questions, so you’re ready to ask questions and document responses quickly and accurately.
- Download a recording app on your phone, or bring a tape recorder, in case your family member is open to the interview being recorded. Evernote’s free app is great for recording audio, scanning documents on the go, and more – read about it here.
- Be sure to bring any old family photos or mementos that you want to learn more about. Your relative may be able to answer those questions and an old photo may help bring back valuable memories they’re willing to share with you.
- Don’t be shy! It can be a bit scary to approach a grandparent or older relative and ask to interview them about their life. Don’t be discouraged, though, because most likely your relative will more than understand your desire to document the family’s history and be happy to oblige in some form. No matter how nervous you are, just do it – because you never know what the circumstances will be in six months or a year. Now may be your only chance.
- Prepare a copy of your shared family tree, or some other way to share your genealogy research, to leave with your relative as a way of saying thank you.
- Most importantly, respect your relative’s feelings and boundaries. If they don’t feel comfortable answering a certain question, or are not okay with the interview being recorded, make sure they know that you honor those guidelines and appreciate their help documenting the story of your family. There are some good tips for how to conduct an interview in a way that will make everyone comfortable here.
Okay! Let’s get started!
Below, we’ve put together a list of 100 family history interview questions to bring along to your next gathering. We’ve also included printables of these interview questions for the sake of convenience. One is in the form of a fillable questionnaire and the other version is a simple list of the questions.
You can choose to use all 100 questions for a very in-depth and wide-ranging interview – or you can pick and choose from the list and compile your own sequence of questions. In most cases, all 100 questions will be far too many and will overwhelm your interviewee. Instead, highlight the questions you really want to know and then ask more if the opportunity arises.
Remember, an interview of this kind is a very personal experience and can be emotional for the person being interviewed. Be sure to tailor your questions to your individual family member, leaving out those that may be irrelevant or upsetting and adding in additional questions when needed.
You can download two different printable versions of the questions here or you can read through all of the questions below.
- Printable #1: Family History Interview Questions List
- Printable #2: Family History Interview Questionnaire
100 Family History Interview Questions
- What is your full name?
- Did your parents name you after anyone?
- What did people call you as a child? Do you have any nicknames?
- When were you born?
- In what city/state were you born?
- Did your birth take place in a hospital, at home? Was there a doctor or midwife present?
- What is your mother’s full name/date of birth? Where was she born?
- What is your father’s full name/date of birth? Where was he born?
- Do you know your maternal grandparents’ names and dates of birth? Where were they born?
- Do you know your paternal grandparents’ names and dates of birth? Where were they born?
- What did your father do for a living? Did he have more than one profession?
- What kind of work did your mother do? Was she employed outside of the home?
- What kind of work did your grandparents do?
- Where did your maternal grandparents live?
- Where did your paternal grandparents live?
- Do you have any special memories of your grandparents?
- What do you remember about your great-grandparents? Did you ever meet them?
- What do you remember about your mother from growing up?
- What do you remember about your father from growing up?
- What important life lessons did you learn from your parents?
- What family stories or memories were passed down to you from your parents or grandparents?
- What about special holiday traditions or recipes passed on to you?
- Are there any special family heirlooms that were handed down to you?
- What is your first childhood memory?
- Did you have any siblings?
- What are their names and when were they born?
- Can you describe your siblings more?
- Are you a middle child? The oldest, youngest? How did that impact your childhood?
- Were you close with your siblings? Who was your favorite playmate?
- Did you care for your younger siblings? Did you like it? Was it difficult?
- Where did you live as a child? Did your family move often? Why?
- Can you describe your childhood home(s)?
- How was your home heated? Was it warm in the wintertime?
- Where did you sleep? Did you share a room?
- Did you have running water? If not, how did you get water?
- Who did the cooking in your home? The cleaning?
- What kinds of foods did you eat often?
- Where did your food come from? A grocery store, a nearby farm, your family’s farm/garden?
- Did you have any animals or pets growing up? Which was your favorite?
- What was the weather like where you lived as a child?
- What were your chores when you were little? Did they change as you got older?
- Can you describe what your daily life was like as a child?
- Did you go to school outside of the home or were you homeschooled?
- If you were schooled outside the home, how did you get there?
- What was your favorite part of school? Your least favorite?
- What were the most important skills that you learned at home?
- What kind of clothing did you wear? Was it homemade or store-bought?
- What did you want to do or be when you grew up?
- What was your favorite hobby in your free time?
- Did you have any favorite toys or games?
- How did your family spend the evenings? Weekends?
- Did you have a close friend as a child?
- Where did your family travel to as a kid?
- What was your favorite holiday or special occasion?
- How were birthdays celebrated in your family?
- Did you celebrate a winter holiday? (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.?)
- How did you celebrate this holiday? Did you give gifts, decorate, dress up, worship?
- Was your family religious? What place of worship did you attend?
- What was your first job? How old were you?
- How many years of school did you attend?
- Did you go to a college or university? Where, when? What did you study?
- What were your goals, hopes, and dreams as a young adult?
- What is your occupation/trade? Have you had multiple professions over the years?
- If you could have chosen another profession, what would it be?
- Did you ever get married?
- When, where, and how did you meet your spouse?
- How did you get engaged?
- What was your wedding like? What did you wear, what food was served, where was it held?
- Did you go on a trip or honeymoon after the wedding? Where to?
- What is your spouse’s full name? Their siblings and parents?
- What is your spouse’s occupation? Interests?
- Can you describe a little about your spouse’s personality?
- What do you love the most about your spouse?
- What was your first home together like? Where was it? Did you rent it, buy it?
- What would you say is the key to a successful marriage?
- Do you have any children? How many?
- What are the names and birth dates of your children? The names of their spouses?
- Do you remember what it was like finding out you would soon be a parent?
- What were your children’s births like? At the hospital, at home? Who was there?
- What city or county were each or your children born in?
- Where did you live when your kids were growing up?
- Did you move around much? Why did you move and to where?
- What was your home(s) like when your children were young? Did you own or rent?
- What special memories do you have of your children’s baby or preschool years?
- What was your favorite way to spend time with your kids?
- What was the hardest part of raising kids? The best part?
- What special traditions or holiday celebrations were favorites in your family?
- Did your family attend church or worship services?
- What hobbies did you have when you weren’t working or caring for children?
- What kind of music did you like to listen to?
- What kind of books/magazines did you like to read?
- Did you have any close friends during this time?
- Were you a part of any clubs or organizations?
- Where have you traveled to in your life? What place was your favorite?
- What major world events have happened in your lifetime? Did any have a big effect on you?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of in your life?
- What would you say are your greatest skills?
- Which personal events in your life would you say had the greatest impact on you?
- What’s the best advice you can give your great-grandchildren, your great-great-grandchildren?
- What do you want people to remember the most about you?
Kate Jackson is the Associate Editor of Family History Daily
You might also like:
- 10 Places to Find the Free Genealogy Printables You Need
- 8 Ways to Gather Family History Without Hijacking a Holiday Event
- Ready to Contact Your DNA Matches? Here’s What to Say (and NOT to Say)
Image: Family portrait with guests, Grossinger’s, 1951. Library of Congress.