Meri's Tips for Interviewing Family Members to Gather Family Stories

Here are some questions to get you started on interviewing family members
1.  When and where were you born? Are there any interesting or humorous family stories about the circumstances surrounding your birth?

2.  Who were your parents?  Where and when were they born? get married? die?  If they're no longer living, where are their graves located? What were their occupations?

3.  What were your paternal and maternal grandparents' names (including your grandmothers' maiden names)? Where and when were they born? get married? die?  Where did they live? If they're no longer living, where are their graves located? What was the cause of death? What stories do you know about them? What were they like?

4.  Why did you parents choose the name they gave you? Were you named after someone? If so, who?

5.  Do you look like anyone in your family? Who? What was their relationship to you? How did looking like or not looking like someone else in your family affect you? Are their any other characteristics you share with family members?

6. Do you have siblings? What are/were their names? When and where were they born? Are they still alive? If so, where do they live? If not, when did they die and what was the cause of death? What interesting stories can you tell about them?

7.  As a child, where did you live? Where did you go to school? What were your favorite subjects? Were you a good student? What was your career ambition as a child? What memories do you have of school and particular teachers?

8.  How did you spend your summers as a school child? How did you feel about going back to school when the new school year began?

9.  What were your favorite games and activities when you weren't at school?

10.  What chores did you have to do? What expectations did your parents have for you, both as a child and what they expected you'd be or do as an adult?

11.  What did each parent teach you? What were their motivating values?

12. What did you love most about each of your parents?

13. What stories have you been told about your personality and things you said or did when you were a child?

  What childhood illnesses did you have? How old were you? What do you remember about them?

15.  What interesting stories do you know about your parents? What are (were) they like? How did they meet? When and where did they get married? What was special and memorable about them?

16.  What funny or interesting stories do you remember -- either personally or that were told to you -- about your grandparents or great-grandparents?

17.  What is your mother's ethnic background. Your father's ethnic background? Are there any customs or traditions associated with the "old country" that your family observes?

18.  During childhood, how often did you get together with relatives? Did you have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins within driving distance? Did you have a close relationship with any of them? 

19.  What is memorable about your teenage years? Were there significant family or historical events that affected you as a teen?

20.  As a teenager, what was your favorite movie? Actor? Actress? Book? Radio or television program?

21. During your teen years, what the the fashion craze for boys? Girls?

22. During your teen years, what was your favorite color? Sport? Food? Subject? Pastime? Who was your favorite teacher? What did you love about these things?

23.  Who were your best friends in your teen years? Do you still have a relationship?

24.  How old were you when you first started to date? What rules were imposed by your parents about dating? Who was your first love? How old were you? What memories do you have regarding this first romance?
Rev. John Quincy Biggs, wife Nancy Arizona Davidson Biggs, and daughters Portia (r) and Mary Anita Biggs

25. When did you learn to drive? Who taught you? Did you pass your driver's test on the first try? Were you a good driver?

26. Where and when did you attend high school? Did you graduate? What do you remember about the graduation ceremony?

27. What did you do after high school? Did you attend college or a vocational school? Where? What did you study? Did you get "on the job" training of some kind?

28.  Were you in the military? If you didn't serve, what about your spouse? When? What branch? Why did you decide to serve? What were your feelings when you reported for basic training? Where did you get your basic training? Did you get any specialized training? Did you receive any honors or promotions? Did you experience combat (where, when)? What positive and negative experiences did you have? What did you like and dislike about serving in the military? What friends did you make? What was your social life like during your military years? 

29. . What did you do on your first date with the person you eventually married? What kinds of things did you like to do together? 

30. How long did you date before you got married?

31. Describe the marriage proposal and when you became engaged.

32. What kind of marriage ceremony did you have? What friends or relatives were present? Who were the bridesmaids? Groomsmen? Minister? Where was the ceremony performed? Was there a reception? Where was it held? 

33. What was your most memorable wedding gift? Your most vivid memory of the wedding day? 

34. Where did you go on your honeymoon?

35. How did your parents feel about your marriage?

36. Where was your first home together? How long did you live there? What is your fondest memory of that home?

37. How did you support yourselves?

38. When and where were your children born? What was your philosophy of child rearing? Who were your parenting mentors or "gurus?" 

39. What were the characteristics of your children as they grew up (differences, habits, character, talents, hobbies, humorous episodes, problems, joys, stories about each)

40. Did you have any special family traditions? Recipes? Who taught them to you?

41. What are your deepest values?

42.   What were your family’s religious or spiritual beliefs? How important was organized religion in your life? 

43. What are you proud of? Is there anything you're sorry about in your life that you'd like to do over or apologize to people for?

44. What did you do that everyone thought you shouldn’t do, but you were glad you did?

45. If one or more of your marriages ended in divorce, what led to the marital breakdown and what wisdom did you gain from the experience? 


46. How did you choose your vocation? What do you like/dislike about it?

47. What has been your favorite job? Why?

48. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

49. What are your hobbies? Favorite pastimes? Special gifts and talents?

50. If you had it to do all over again, what would you change about your life? Career?

51. How has the world changed since you were a child (inventions, discoveries, medical advances, roles of men and women, dating customs)?

52.  What are your current favorites (Song, Movie, Actor, Actress, Book, Television program, Newscaster, Season, Vacation spot, Holiday, Flower, Color, Dessert, Saying)?

53.  Do you have a photo album or pictures of yourself as a child? Pictures of your parents? Grandparents? Great-grandparents? Aunts and uncles? Cousins? (Note: With the person being interviewed, go through photos with a archival quality marking device and identify the people in the photos and try to estimate the date and specify the location that the photos were taken.) 

54.   What historic events do you most remember? What was your reaction at the time? How was your life affected?

55. How did these events or movements affect your life –  the Depression; women’s movement; civil rights movement; Vietnam; the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy; the environmental movement; the space program, U.S. politics in general?

56. What is your wish for your children (or grandchildren)? What wisdom would you like to pass on to the younger generation?

57. What is your wish for the future? What causes and beliefs do you hold dear?

58.   What things do you want your children to know about having successful relationships?

59. Have you ever experienced amazing coincidences or episodes of psychic powers (you knew something without knowing exactly how you knew it)? Tell about some of the most interesting ones.

60. Is faith an important part of your life? Do you attend church/synagogue/mosque? Where? 

61.  Do you pray? Have your prayers been answered in unexpected ways? 

62. What's your favorite holiday? What traditions and rituals have you developed in association with this holiday?

63. Are there any recipes for which you're known? What recipes can you share?