Family History: Preparing interview questions

Family History Preparing interview questionsBy Barry J. Ewell

Some of the best things you find out will be unexpected. Once you get started with the interview, you are likely to be told some things you had not previously thought about, so it is essential to give the person you are recording plenty of space to tell you what they think matters. But you should not let the interview drift: it is your job to guide it. For this, you need an overall plan. Group the topics you want to cover in a logical way. I really like the chronological structure, such as talking through life stages in order. I have provided examples of questions, organized by life stages, that you can review and download from the companion website.

Below is a sample outline of an interview about two different life stages:

Married Life and Children

  1. Children:
    1. Names
    2. Dates and places of birth
    3. Health of mother before and after
    4. How father fared
    5. Characteristics and differences
    6. Talents and hobbies
    7. Smart sayings and doings
    8. Growing up (daily routine in home)
    9. Humorous episodes
    10. Problems
    11. Joys and sorrows
  2. Accomplishments Child rearing psychology:
    1. Role of yourself, spouse, children in the home
  3. Family traditions:
    1. Holidays
    2. Birthdays
    3. Graduation
    4. Deer hunting
    5. Funerals
    6. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day
    7. Weddings
  4. Family vacations:
  5. Grandchildren:
    1. How many
    2. Where they live
    3. How their parents raised them
    4. Things done together
    5. Trips to visit them and vice versa

Middle Age and Toward Retirement

  1. General life pattern changing:
    1. More time on hand
    2. Financial situation
    3. Different and new interests
    4. New friends and associates
    5. New hobbies (genealogy, golf, reading, music, art, books)
  2.  Health:
    1. In general
    2. Operations
    3. Allergies
    4. Physical disabilities
  3. Decided preferences: favorite foods and so on
  4. Civic and political activities:
    1. Positions held
    2. Services rendered
    3. Politics
    4. Political issues you were involved in
    5. Memorable campaigns
    6. Red Cross or other volunteer work
    7. Church positions
  5. New business ventures:
  6. Memorable travels:
  7. New and different homes:
  8. Retirement and its impact: financial, family, leisure time, volunteer activities

Personal Philosophy about Life in General

  1. Your ideal: What personal trait do you admire most and why?
  2. Regrets:  if you had your life to live over again, what would you do differently?
  3. One of the most important days of your life and why?
  4. Greatest joy and biggest sorrow
  5. Biggest lesson in life you found to be true
  6. Most important lesson, message, or advice you’ve learned that you would like passed on for others to profit by
  7. One word on how to live successfully
  8. Your secret for living a long, healthy, happy, prosperous life
  9. Does the Lord answer prayers?
  10. How you would like to be remembered
  11. Funeral arrangements: music, speaker, ceremony, special instructions, headstone inscriptions, selection of burial clothes
  12. Special words of counsel to:
    1. Children
    2. Grandchildren
    3. Other kin

As you develop your questions, use plain words and avoid sug¬gesting the answers. Rather than saying, “I suppose you must have had a poor and unhappy childhood,” instead ask, “Can you describe your childhood?”

You will need some questions that encourage precise answers, such as “Where did you move to next?” But you also need questions that are open, inviting descriptions, comments, and opinions. Some examples of open questions include “How did you feel about that?” “What sort of person was he?” “Can you describe the house you lived in?” and “Why did you decide to change jobs?”

There are some points to cover in every interview, such as date and place of birth and what their parents’ and their own main jobs were.