The best part of genealogy work is putting together the story of your family. Where can you better learn your family’s stories than from your living ancestors? Take the opportunity to interview your relatives while you have the chance. Be sure to visit with your oldest living relatives.
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If possible, video or audio record your conversations. This is much easier now with the technology available on our phones. They will become cherished recordings in times to come.
Ask open ended questions. Use photos to spur memories.
Small details can be very helpful. For instance, “I remember my mother telling me her grandfather worked as a railroad man… or his family came from England… or he was previously married…. or had a brother who served in WWI.” Even if you don’t know an exact location where your family lived, if you have an idea of the region, that is helpful.
Another helpful tool is to approximate birth, deaths or other dates using other known events. Your grandmother may not remember when her grandfather died, but she may remember he was at her wedding in 1950, thus you know his death was after 1950.
Below is a list of sample questions; but don’t feel you need to go down the list, allow the conversation to flow as memories come.
Family History Questionnaire
Questions for your family member:
- What is the name you were given at birth?
- When were you born? Where?
- Were you named after a relative or family friend?
- Have you ever had a nickname?
- Do you remember any funny baby stories about you?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- Did you attend college? Where did you study?
- What was your first job? Other occupations?
- When and where did you meet your husband or wife?
- What was your wedding like? Did you go on a honeymoon?
- Where was your first home?
- Spouses name, birth, death, occupation information
Questions about his/her parents:
- What is your mother’s/father’s name? What did she/he look like?
- When and where was she/he born? Die?
- What is your most vivid image of your mother/father?
- What was her/his occupation?
- Where did your parents meet?
- When and where did they marry?
- What are your brothers and sisters names?
- What is the most enjoyable memory of time spent with family? Siblings?
- What are some of the most valuable lessons your parents taught you?
Questions about extended family:
- What were the names of your mother’s/father’s parents?
- When and where were born/die and where did they live?
- What did they do for a living?
- Do you have personal memories of them? What were they like? What did they look like?
- What we the most enjoyable time spent with each grandparent?
- Did they have a favorite story you remember them telling?
- What do you know about your grandparent’s other children?
- What do you remember hearing about your GREAT grandparents?
- Did you ever meet them?
- From what part of the world did your family emigrate? Any stories told about their crossing? Do you have any relatives in foreign countries?
- Where did they settle in this country? Why?
- How far back can you trace your family tree?
- Did anyone in your family serve in the military?
Other more detailed questions, if desired:
- What type of house did you live in as a child? Did you share a room? Did you have a bed of your own?
- If you moved during your childhood, tell where and circumstances?
- Home details – electricity, type of stove, heat, other details?
- What were your duties as a child? Did you get an allowance? How much?
- Who cooked meals, ironed, cleaned?
- Who taught you to cook? Sew? Crochet? Knit? Car mechanics? Hunt?
- Did you visit relatives often?
- Family pets?
- What did Sunday mean to you? Were there any other special days of the week?
- How did you spend Christmas? Easter? Other holidays?
- Did you have a favorite toy?
- Favorite foods?
- Did your family have a garden? Animals?
- What did you do for recreation? Did you learn to swim?
- What kind of books did you read?
- Who was your best friend?
- What was the most mischievous thing you did as a youngster?
- Whom did you admire most when you were young?
- What were your favorite school subjects? Least favorite?
- How did you get to school? How large was your school?
- What did you do during summer vacations?
- Were you involved in sports? In high school?
- What was your first date like?
- What were some of the hardships your family faced?
- What were some of the family rules?
- What was your wisest decision?
- What advice do you want to leave to your children and grandchildren?