With the holidays approaching and relatives possibly getting together, as genealogist we should ask the questions that will help later generations know who the individuals are if the answers are written down. Please use the following questions for your assistance in gathering information.
Questions to Ask Your Relatives
I hear it all the time: “I wish I had asked my grandmother (any older relative) more questions about our family!” It seems there are always vital pieces of information that we realize we need for our family history, after our relative’s funeral.
Perhaps you haven’t asked questions because you don’t know what to ask, or you may have so many questions that you don’t know where to begin. I’ve tried to simplify the task by creating the following list. I’ve grouped the questions by topic so you can ask them at different times and occasions. If you visit with your relative frequently you may want to ask 5-10 questions each time you visit. Or you might want to ask questions related to one topic. Family holiday gatherings may not be the best time to ask too many questions, although some answers would be entertaining and informative for the whole group. And remember, most people love to talk about themselves!
You may want to video the exchange, take notes by hand, or type answers on a laptop. Do whatever is most comfortable for you and for your relative. And be prepared for extended answers and stories. Once someone gets started on a topic you may be surprised by the memories that come flooding back.
These are just suggestions. You’ll want to adjust them according to your relative’s age, your relationship, and what you already know. But these should get you started. (I’ve included a few personal notes in parentheses.) Another suggestion: answer the questions about yourself so your children or grandchildren won’t have to ask YOU.
What is your full name? Why did your parents choose that name for you? Did you have a nickname? (My great-grandmother’s name was the last name of the doctor who delivered her.)
When and where were you born?
What is your earliest memory?
Who were your friends when you were growing up?
Who were your childhood heroes?
Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names? (My grandfather had a pet crow.)
Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
What accomplishments were you the most proud of?
What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
What state did you live in as a child? Do you know why your parents lived there? Were there other family members in the area? Who? (Several members of my father’s family went to CA together to seek work.)
What is the first house you remember? What was it like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
What other homes did you live in as a child?
How did you end up living where you are now?
What do you know about your family surname?
Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
Did you have family chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite?
Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together as a family? Who usually did the cooking? What were your favorite foods? What food did you hate? (My dad loved liver and onions and I hated it.)
How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
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 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 your religion growing up?
What church, if any, did you attend?
Do you have any special memories of a service, camp, or other church event?
Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
What were your best and worst subjects?
What school activities and sports did you participate in?
Who were your best friends in school?
Did you ever get in trouble in school?
Did you receive any awards?
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.)?
What were your favorite songs and music?
Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
Was there a favorite “hang out” place in your town?
What is/was your profession and how did you choose it?
What was your first job? How much were you paid?
If you could have had any other profession what would it have been? Why wasn't it your first choice?
What is the worst job you’ve ever had? Best?
Were you in the military? What years? What branch of the military?
Did you volunteer or were you drafted?
Where did you serve?
What was your rank?
What were your duties?
What do you remember most about your time in the service?
When and how did you meet your spouse? Where did you go on dates?
What was the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
What was it like when you proposed (or were proposed to)? Where and when did it happen?
Where and when did you get married?
Where did you live when you got married?
What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? Did any of them personally affect your family? (My grandmother told many stories about the Depression years.)
How is the world today most different from what it was like when you were a child?