Conducting a Successful Interview for Genealogy

Conducting a Successful Interview for Genealogy1

Getting the most out of your family history interviews is very important. These interviews are a special way to learn more about your loved ones are their lives. Taking advantage of such a resource is a great use of time and will give you more insight and could help fill in the gaps in your genealogical journey. Use these tips and questions to open up discussion about your family’s history.

Interview Tips

Ask open-ended questions — Questions that result in a yes or no answer won’t give you much to work with. Instead, ask questions starting with who, what, when, and where or requests like, “Tell me…”.

Focus on memories and experience — You’ll find many gems when you put your focus here.

Don’t share questions before — To get unrehearsed and more authentic answers and responses, don’t share the questions you’ll be asking ahead of time. You can let the interviewee know the gist and direction you’d like to go, but keep the specifics to yourself.

Record the session and take notes — Video or audio, you choose. Just be prepared for the worst to happen. Bring extra batteries, charging cords, a backup recording device, etc. For an additional safety net, transcribe the interview and/or backing it up to the cloud or on an external hard-drive.

Go off script — If the opportunity presents itself, feel free to step away from your list of questions and ask follow up questions. The questions listed below are great conversation starters. Let your interviewee tell their story their way. You’ll often get more out of your session. If you’re too far off subject, you can always get yourself back on track.

Interview Questions

  1. What is your full name? Reason for the name? Any nicknames?
  2. When and where were you born? Which hospital?
  3. Why did your family live there?
  4. Did you have extended family living in the area? Who?
  5. Tell me about your childhood home(s). The house layout? The number of bedrooms and bathrooms?
  6. What is something special you remember in your home?
  7. What is your earliest memory?
  8. Tell me about your family members and their personalities.
  9. What were your favorite things to do as a kid? Favorite games? Toy? Why?
  10. Who did you look up to? Why?
  11. If you needed something fun to do, what would you do and who would you do it with?
  12. Favorite hobbies?
  13. What were your childhood responsibilities? Chores?
  14. How did you earn your money as a kid? How was it spent?
  15. Tell me about your school experience. Favorite/least favorite subjects? Where did you attend elementary, junior, and high school? Did you attend college? Trade schools? What did you study?
  16. Did you participate in any extracurricular activities? Which?
  17. What is your profession and why?
  18. What fads and styles do you remember from your youth and young adulthood? Hairstyles, clothes, music, etc.
  19. What music did you listen to? Favorite bands, singers, and songs?
  20. Did you have a pet? Kind and names?
  21. Who were your friends growing up and in young adulthood? What did you do together?
  22. What world events impacted you in your life? Were you personally affected? How?
  23. Describe a typical evening at home.
  24. Describe the holidays at your house. Traditions?
  25. How is society different now than it was when you were young?
  26. Who is were the oldest relatives you remember as a child? Any memories?
  27. What stories or recipes have been passed down to you from past family members?
  28. What characteristics (physical and nonphysical) run in the family?
  29. Do you have any special heirlooms, pictures, etc. from family?
  30. Tell me about your spouse. Name? Family? Hobbies and interests? How did you meet? What did you do on dates? How did you propose (how were you proposed to)? Elaborate on your feelings.
  31. When and where was the wedding? Any special memories from this day?
  32. Describe your spouse. Favorite things?
  33. Advice on a successful marriage?
  34. Tell me about your kids. How did you find out you were expecting? Names? Why were those names chosen?
  35. What did your family like to do together?
  36. Proudest moment and accomplishments in life?
  37. Advice on a happy life?
  38. Most valuable lesson learned. How did you learn this?
  39. Any special stories you’d like to share?
  40. What do you want people to remember about you?