Probably one of the best resources for knowing about your family, and often the least used, is your living family. Family members don’t always have all of the genealogical information about ancestors, but what they know can help to validate or disprove theories. Information from family members can also add color and life to ancestors and give a personal connection that, if recorded and shared, can help reveal ancestors as real individuals with real lives.
My experience with these interviews is that they can be fun and enlightening. After living with our parents for many years we sometimes come to believe that we know them well. I have yet to see anyone not surprised by some of the answers given to interview questions.
When conducting the interview give yourself plenty of time. If you know that the person you are interviewing is prone to long storytelling it might be good to break it into a few sessions.
It is good to record them for two reasons. First, you will have a record not just of what they said, but also of their voice. Second, it will help you as you record what was said to take it down accurately. Be prepared to transcribe it. Even with digital devices, it is still easier to distribute something in writing than a digital recording.
The following are some questions that I have found effective when interviewing family members about their history:
1. Tell me about your childhood. Where did you live? Where did you go to school? Who were your friends? What are some of your favorite memories?
2. Tell me about your parents. Where were they from? What jobs did they have? How many children? What were their names?
3. Tell me about your school years. What did you like best in school?
4. Did you have any pets?
5. Tell me about how you met your husband/wife?
6. Where were you married?
7. What are your favorite foods?
8. What do you know about your name?
9. How did you propose to your husband/wife(or how were you proposed to)?
10. What was your first car?
11. What is your favorite music?
12. What are your favorite movies?
13. What was different when you were younger vs today?
14. Did you have any childhood nicknames?
15. How did you choose your children’s names?
16. Of what are you most proud in your life?
17. What was the name of your grandparents, and where did they live?
18. What are your memories of your grandparents?
19. What is the oldest family member you remember? What do you know about them?
20. What was your profession, and how did you choose it?
There are several good interviewing questionnaires online. Just search for “family history interviews” to find several great articles.
The most important part of the interview is to setting aside time to get it done. Capture the memories while there is time now. These interviews can often create some of the most treasured items of legacy that a family has.