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172 Questions to Ask When Doing a Family History Interview

You ask yourself what you need to uncover, or you interview a family member to try to uncover some tidbit that may open doors in research, or perhaps just give you insight into the life of a person or family that has since moved on.

The questions range from the simple, when was Johnny born, to How is our world different today than it was when you were a child. Here is a list of some possible questions to ask during a research interview with family members.

These questions are designed to gather information about different family members and as such should be sent in a conversation. I also recommend limiting yourself to a few questions at a time. I understand your desire to gather all the details, but remember that your passion for family history is not necessarily a passion for others. While most family members are willing to help you when you explain what you’re doing and promise to share your information, some prefer to stick to privacy or even keep secrets.

I carry a small notebook with a list of questions on the front pages. When I’m with family members, I record information related to a question or perhaps insert questions into a conversation where they seem to fit. There are about a dozen to choose from most important questions and put them in a printed questionnaire. You can then email or email them to your contacts, briefly explaining what you’re doing and, most importantly, why.

  1. What’s your full name and why was it named?
  2. Was it named after someone else?
  3. Did you have a nickname growing up?
  4. If so, what was it and why was it called that?
  5. Did you have a different nickname growing up?
  6. What are the family members’ names now?
  7. Where and when were you born??
  8. Do you remember hearing your grandparents describe their lives? What did they say?
  9. Do you remember your great-grandparents? What do you know about them?
  10. Who was the oldest person in your family that you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
  11. Do you remember your family talking about world events and politics?
  12. Was there a chore you really hated as a child?
  13. What would you consider the most important inventions made in your lifetime?
  14. How is the world different now than it was when you were a child?
  15. What types of books did you like to read?
  16. Do you remember when you had a favorite nursery rhyme or bedtime story? What was it?
  17. Do you ever remember not having enough food because times were hard for your family?
  18. What were your favorite games and what were they like?
  19. What were your favorite childhood games?
  20. What were your schools like?
  21. How did you get to school?
  22. What was your favorite subject at school and why?
  23. Which subject was always the easiest for you at school?
  24. What was your least favorite subject in school and why?
  25. Who was your favorite teacher and why were they special?
  26. How do your classmates remember you best?
  27. What school activities and sports did you participate in?
  28. Did you and your friends have a special hangout where you enjoyed spending time?
  29. Where were you and what did you do there?
  30. Have you ever received any special awards for your studies or school activities?
  31. How many years of training did you complete?
  32. He has a college degree? If so, what was your field of study?
  33. Did you get good grades?
  34. Did you like school?
  35. What did you like best and least?
  36. What did you usually wear to school? Write it down.
  37. Were there any fads from your youth that you vividly remember?
  38. How old were you when you started dating?
  39. Do you remember your first date? Describe the circumstances.
  40. Name a good friend you have known for the longest time?
  41. How long have you been friends?
  42. Have you ever had someone in your life whom you would consider your kindred spirit or soulmate?
  43. If so, who were they and why did you feel a special bond with them?
  44. How did you meet the person you would later marry? Characterize them?
  45. Do you remember where you went on your first date with your partner?
  46. How long did you know them before you got married?
  47. Write your wedding proposal.
  48. When and where did you get married??
  49. Describe the wedding ceremony. Who was there?
  50. Did you have a honeymoon? If so, where did they go?
  51. How would you describe your spouse? What do you admire most about them?
  52. How long have you been married (or were you married)?
  53. What wise advice would you give to a grandchild on their wedding day?
  54. How did you first know you were going to be a parent?
  55. How much children were they all together?
  56. What was their name, date of birth and place of birth?
  57. Do you remember anything your kids did when they were little that really impressed you?
  58. What is one of the most unusual things one of your children did regularly when they were little?
  59. What was the funniest thing you remember one of your children saying or doing?
  60. If you had it to do over again, would you change the way you raise your family? How?
  61. What did you find most difficult about raising children?
  62. What have you found most rewarding about being a parent?
  63. Have you spoiled one of your children? How?
  64. Were you a strict or lenient parent?
  65. Have you found that you have to treat each of your children differently? If so, why?
  66. Where did you first hear that you were a grandparent and how did you feel about it?
  67. What advice do you have for your children and grandchildren?
  68. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  69. What was your first job?
  70. What jobs did you have?
  71. How did you decide on your career?
  72. Did you make enough money to live comfortably?
  73. How long did you have to work each day at your job?
  74. How old were you when you retired?
  75. What were the hardest decisions you ever had to make?
  76. Do you feel you made the right decision?
  77. Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
  78. Who were they and what did they do?
  79. Is there someone who really changed the course of your life by something they did?
  80. Who were they and what did they do?
  81. Do you remember someone saying something to you that had a big impact on how you lived your life?
  82. What was it?
  83. How would you describe yourself politically?
  84. Are you conservative or liberal and why?
  85. What wars were fought during your lifetime? How did you feel about them?
  86. If you served the militarywhen and where did you serve and what were your duties?
  87. If you served in the military, were you ever injured while serving?
  88. What were the circumstances and what were your injuries?
  89. Which American president did you most admire and why?
  90. As you see it, what are our nation’s biggest problems and how do you think they could be solved?
  91. How tall are you?
  92. What color was your hair as a child and as an adult?
  93. What colour are your eyes?
  94. Where did you live growing up? List the places and the years spent there.
  95. Why do you live where you do today?
  96. Would you like to live somewhere else (If so, where)?
  97. Describe your general health.
  98. What serious illnesses or health problems do you recall?
  99. Do you have a health problem that could be considered hereditary? If so, what are they?
  100. What sports do you regularly do?
  101. Do you have bad habits now or in the past? What were they?
  102. Have you ever been a victim of a crime? What happened?
  103. Have you ever been in a serious accident?
  104. Has anyone ever saved your life? Write it down.
  105. Have you ever saved someone else’s life? Write it down.
  106. Have you ever been to the hospital? If so, why?
  107. Have you ever had surgery? If so, why?
  108. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  109. Have you ever had an experience that you believe to be supernatural or psychic?
  110. Have you ever known something was going to happen before it actually did?
  111. What was it?
  112. what do you usually dream about?
  113. Which church do you attend regularly, if any?
  114. Describe your religious beliefs.
  115. Do you believe in the afterlife?
  116. What was the most stressful experience you’ve ever had?
  117. What helped you get through it?
  118. What is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you?
  119. What instrument(s) did you learn to play?
  120. Would you consider yourself creative?
  121. What things have you made that others have enjoyed?
  122. How would you describe your sense of humor?
  123. What’s the funniest practical joke you’ve ever played on someone?
  124. What activities did you particularly enjoy growing up?
  125. What are your hobbies?
  126. What did you like to do when you weren’t working?
  127. What is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you?
  128. What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?
  129. Have you ever met famous people? Write down what happened.
  130. What organizations and groups did you belong to?
  131. Have you ever won any special awards or prizes as an adult? What were they for?
  132. Describe a time and place when you remember feeling truly at peace and happy to be alive.
  133. Where were you and what were you doing?
  134. What was the most beautiful place you’ve ever been and what was it like?
  135. What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken? Where did you go?
  136. What was your favorite holiday? Where did you go and why was it special?
  137. What was your favorite place you’ve ever been and what was it like?
  138. What pets did you have?
  139. Do you have a favorite story about a pet? What is that?
  140. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?
  141. What is your favorite style of music?
  142. What is your favorite instrument?
  143. Who is your favorite band?
  144. What is your favourite number?
  145. Who is your favorite singer?
  146. Who is your favorite movie star?
  147. What is your favorite movie?
  148. Who is your favorite artist?
  149. Which is your favorite painting?
  150. Who is your favorite poet?
  151. What is your favorite poem?
  152. What is your favorite TV show?
  153. Who is your favorite author?
  154. What is your favorite book?
  155. What is your favourite season?
  156. What is your favorite tree?
  157. What is your favorite flower?
  158. What is your favorite holiday?
  159. What is your favorite color?
  160. What is your favorite sport?
  161. Who is your favorite athlete?
  162. What is your favorite animal?
  163. What is your favorite food?
  164. What is your favorite fruit?
  165. What is your favorite vegetable?
  166. What is your favorite candy?
  167. What is your favorite cookie?
  168. What is your favourite drink?
  169. What is your favorite restaurant?
  170. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
  171. What is your favorite board game?
  172. What is your favorite card game?

and finally you can ask

IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS (spouse, children, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins), WHO BEST FIT THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTIONS? The best cook; The hardest worker; the quietest; the best memory; the best gardener; the funniest; the best looking; is animal friendly; the most politically active; the most mischievous; the calmest; the most athletic; The most intelligent; the most educated; the best career; the most creative; the wildest lifestyle; the most social; the biggest tease; the best housekeeper; the most reserved; the most colorful; the calmest; the most frugal; the most generous; the highest; the shortest; the best storyteller.

Although I conducted long “interviews” with my grandmother and other relations, it was only after the death of both grandparents that the “scandal” regarding the grandmother’s premarital pregnancy and the birth of a daughter came to light. In fact, I didn’t even know the child existed as he died when he was about two years old. A life cannot be connected in a few minutes or with answers to a few questions. These are just suggestions to help you find the information that will help you find your family roots and more importantly understand the people who made you who you are today.

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