PREPARATION FOR A FAMILY INTERVIEW
AND SAMPLE QUESTIONS
Following are instructions and sample questions gathered from the Internet. Feel free to add your own to help you learn more about your family and what makes it special.
Ask open-ended questions, ones that go beyond just facts or yes/no answers. Ask about traits, habits, qualities, stories, and so forth. Consider asking about the time period - what was life like "back then"? I do recall my grandma mentioning how scared everyone was during the flu epidemics in the early 1900s. Remember that asking questions without a personal focus on the interviewee could come off as an interrogation. For example, if you're asking Grandma how she met Grandpa, rather than simply asking, "How did you meet Grandpa?" you might say, "How did you, a young woman from Iowa, ever have the opportunity to meet a man from upstate New York?"
Don't jump time lines. It's difficult and sometimes confusing for people to be asked to jump back and forth in their minds to different parts of their lives. Allow the memories to flow in natural progression.
Memories are emotional as well as visual, and even the most pleasant ones can be exhausting to relive, particularly for the elderly. You may have to end a session before you're ready. If your subject has found your visit pleasant, he or she will be willing, even eager, to have you back.
To help a person prepare for an interview, it is helpful to present questions in advance. It is also a good idea to locate and have available useful records, such as a journal or a biography.
Respect any unwillingness to discuss certain subjects or events. As eager as you may be to get the information, you have no "right" to it. Remember, there is no "Freedom of Information Act" within families.
Hopefully, these few points of interviewing etiquette will make your visit with your relative or family friend more comfortable; and, if it is true that the only value in life is love and knowledge, you may well come away with both.
#Who are your parents? Where did they come from? Where were they born?
# What is your full name? Why did your parents select this name for you? Did you have a nickname?
# When and where were you born?
# How did your family come to live there?
# Were there other family members in the area? Who?
# Did you have brothers and sisters? When and where were they born?
# What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones? Television? Stove or furnace?
# Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
# What is your earliest childhood memory?
# Describe the personalities of your family members.
# What kind of games did you play growing up?
# What was your favorite toy and why?
# What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?
# Did you have family chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite?
# Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
# What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
# 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? If so, what kind and what were their names?
# What was your religion growing up? What church, if any, did you attend?
# Were you ever 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?
# Describe a typical family dinner. 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?
# Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
# What do you know about your family surname?
# Is there a naming tradition in your family, such as always giving the firstborn son the name of his paternal grandfather?
# What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
# Are there any stories about famous or infamous relatives in your family?
# Have any recipes been passed down to you from 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 was the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
# When and how did you meet your spouse? What did you do on dates?
# What was it like when you proposed (or were proposed to)? 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?
# 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 were you the most proud of?
# What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
Start with a question or topic that you know will elicit a reply, such as a story you have heard her tell in the past.
Ask questions which encourage more than simple 'yes' or 'no' answers. Try to elicit facts, feelings, stories and descriptions.
Show interest. Take an active part in the dialogue without dominating it. Learn to be a creative listener.
Use props whenever possible. Old photographs, favorite old songs and treasured items may bring memories flooding back.
Don't push for answers. Your relative may not wish to speak ill of the dead or may have other reasons for not wanting to share. Move on to something else.
Use your prepared questions as a guideline, but don't be afraid to let your relative go off on a tangent. They may have many things to say that you never thought to ask!
Don't interrupt or attempt to correct your relative; this can end an interview in a hurry!
When you are done, be sure to thank your relative for her time.
Be prepared to share your recording with them and consider a thank-you gift.