Genealogy: 150 questions to ask family members about their lives

Genealogy 150 questions to ask family members about their livesBy Barry J. Ewell

Well-crafted, open-ended questions can yield fruitful results when you interview family for purposes of family history. The following is an outline of questions you may want to consider. Take time to tailor the questions to the person you are interviewing.

When you are ready to conduct an interview, have the questions in front of you to make sure you are getting the information you desire. Conversations about family can go many directions. When possible, record the interview on audio or video.

  1. What is your full name and why were you named that? (Maiden name for females)
  2. Were you named after someone else?
  3. Did you have a nickname as you were growing up?
  4. If you did, what was it and why did they call you that?
  5. Have you had any other nicknames as an adult?
  6. What do your family members call you now?
  7. When and where were you born?
  8. When were you baptized, and what was your religion?
  9. What was the religion of your parents and your grandparents?
  10. What church if any do you attend?
  11. Your parents and your grandparents?
  12. Where was your first home?
  13. Other homes/places you have lived?
  14. What were your earliest memories of your home?
    1. Your parents? Please give full names.
    2. Your grandparents? Please give full names.
  15. Could you tell me a story or any memory of your brothers and sisters?
  16. What are the full names of brothers and sisters?
  17. What did your family do for fun when you were a child?
  18. Was there a chore you really hated doing as a child?
  19. What kind of books did you like to read?
  20. Do you remember having a favorite nursery rhyme or bedtime story?
    1. What was it?
  21. Do you remember not having enough food to eat because times were hard for your family?
  22. What were your favorite toys and what were they like?
  23. What were your favorite childhood games?
  24. Were there any fads during your youth that you remember vividly?
  25. Where did you attend grade school(s)?
    1. High school?
  26.  What were your schools like?
  27. How did you like school?
  28.  What was your favorite subject in school and why?
  29. What subject in school was the easiest for you?
  30. What was your least favorite subject in school and why?
  31. Who was your favorite teacher and why were they special?
  32. How do your fellow classmates from school remember you best?
  33. Did you get good grades?
  34. Did you like school?
  35. What did you wear to school?
    1. Describe it.
  36. What school activities and sports did you participate in?
  37. Did you and your friends have a special hang-out where you liked to spend time?
  38. Where was it and what did you do there?
  39. Were you ever given any special awards for your studies of school activities?
  40.  How many years of education have you completed?
  41. Describe yourself as a young adult.
  42. Did you attend any school or training after high school?
  43. Do you have a college degree(s)? F
    1. From where?
    2. If so what was your field of study?
  44. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  45. What was your first job?
  46. How did you decide on a career?
  47. What jobs have you had?
  48. Did you make enough money to live comfortably?
  49. How long did you have to work each day at your job?
  50. How old were you when you retired?
    1. Or when do you want, or can retire?
  51. If you served in the military, when and where did you serve and what were your duties?
    1. Rank?
  52. Were you ever injured in the line of duty?
    1. What were the circumstances?
  53. How old were you when you started dating?
  54. Do you remember your first date?
    1. Who was your first date?
  55. Could you tell me something about it?
  56. When, where and how did you first meet your present spouse?
    1. Describe them.
  57. Do you remember where you went on the first date with your spouse?
    1. Describe it.
  58. How long did you know them before you got married?
    1. Describe your wedding proposal.
  59. Where and when did you get married? (Include date, place, church, etc.)
  60. Describe your wedding ceremony.
  61. Who was there? Best Man, Bride’s Maid, other wedding party members?
  62. Did you have a honeymoon?
    1. Where did you go?
  63. How would you describe your spouse(s)?
  64. What do (did) you admire most about them?
  65. How long have (were) you married?
  66. When and where did your spouse die?
    1. How died?
    2. Where buried?
  67. What advice would you give to your child or grandchild on their wedding day?
  68. How did you find out you were going to be a parent for the first time?
  69. How many children did you have all together?
  70. What were their names, birth dates and birthplaces?
  71. Why did you give them the names that you did?
  72. Do you remember anything that your children did when they were small that really amazed you?
  73. What is one of the most unusual things that one of your children did regularly when they were small?
  74. What was the funniest thing you can remember that one of your children said or did?
  75. If you had to do it all over again, would you change the way you raised your family?
    1. How?
  76. What did you find most difficult about raising children?
  77. What did you find most rewarding about being a parent?
  78. Did you spoil any of your children?
    1. How?
  79. Were you a strict or lenient parent?
  80. Did you find that you had to treat each of your children differently?
    1. If so Why?
  81. How did you feel when the first of your children went to school for the first time?
  82. How did you first hear that you were a grandparent and how did you feel about it?
  83. What advice do you have for your children and grandchildren about being a parent?
  84. Where did your spouse’s parents live?
  85. When and where did your parents die?
    1. What do you remember about it?
    2. How they died, where hospitalized, buried?
  86. What do you remember about the death of your spouse’s parents?
  87. Do you remember hearing your grandparents describe their lives?
    1. What did they say?
  88. Do you remember your great-grandparents?
    1. What do you know about them?
  89.  Who was the oldest person you remember as a child?
  90.  Did you have any of the childhood diseases?
  91. Doyouhaveanyhealthproblemsthatare considered hereditary?
    1. What are they?
  92. What do you do regularly for exercise?
  93. Do you have any bad habits now or in the past?
    1. What were they?
  94. Have you ever been the victim of a crime?
    1. What happened?
  95. Have you ever been in a serious accident?
  96. Has anyone ever saved your life?
    1. Describe.
  97. Have you ever been hospitalized, if so, what for?
  98. Have you ever had surgery?
    1. What for?
  99. What would you consider the most important inventions made during your lifetime?
  100. Do you remember the first time you saw a television; a car; a refrigerator?
  101. How is the world different from what it was like when you were a child?
  102. Do you remember your family discussing world events and politics?
  103. How would you describe yourself politically?
  104. Are you Conservative or Liberal and why?
  105. Do you remember what you or your parents thought about income tax when it began in 1913?
  106. Do you remember anything of the days of prohibition?
    1. How did it affect you and yours?
  107. How did the depression affect you?
  108. What U.S. President have you admired the most and why?
  109. What did you think of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
  110. How did you react to the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
  111. How did you react to the death of President Kennedy?
  112. What wars have been fought during your lifetime?
    1. How did you feel about them?
  113. What were you doing when you heard the news of the Pearl Harbor bombing?
  114. How did World War II affect you?
  115. How did the Korean War affect you?
  116.  How did the Vietnam War affect you?
  117. Name a good friend that you have known for the longest period of time?
  118.  How many years have you been friends?
  119.  Has there ever been anyone in your life that you would consider to be your kindred spirit or soul mate?
  120. Who were they and why did you feel a special bond with them?
  121. What were the hardest choices you ever had to make?
    1.  Do you feel like you made the right choices?
  122. Who was the person that really changed the course of your life by something they did?
    1. Who were they and what did they do?
  123. Do you remember someone saying something to you that had a big impact on how you lived your life?
    1. What was it?
  124. If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?
  125. What was the most stressful experience that you ever lived through?
    1. What helped you get through it?
  126. What is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you personally?
  127. What kinds of musical instruments have you learned to play?
  128. Would you consider yourself to be creative?
  129. What things have you made that others have enjoyed?
  130. How would you describe your sense of humor?
  131. What is the funniest practical joke you ever played on someone?
  132.  What activities have you especially enjoyed as an adult?
  133. What are your hobbies?
  134. What did you like to do when you were not working?
  135. What is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you?
  136. Have you ever met any famous people?
    1. Describe what happened.
  137. What organizations or groups have you belonged to?
  138. Have you ever won any special awards or prizes as an adult?
    1. What were they for?
  139. Describe a time and a place you remember feeling truly at peace and happy to be alive.
  140.  Where were you and what were you doing?
  141.  What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited and what was it like?
  142. What is the longest trip that you have ever gone on?
    1. Where did you go?
  143. What has been your favorite vacation?
    1. Where did you go and why was it special?
  144. What was the favorite place you ever visited and what was it like?
  145. What pets have you had?
  146. Do you have a favorite story about a pet?
  147. Is there anything you have always wanted to do but haven’t?
  148.  Have you ever been to the world’s fair?
  149. What is the single most memorable moment of your life?
  150. What or who is your favorite:
    1. Animal?
    2. Artist?
    3. Athlete?
    4. Author?
    5. Board game?
    6. Book?
    7. Candy?
    8. Card game?
    9. Color?
    10. Cookie?
    11. Drink?
    12. Flavor of ice cream?
    13. Flower?
    14. Fruit?
    15. Holiday?
    16. Meal?
    17. Movie star?
    18. Movie?
    19. Musical group?
    20. Musical instrument?
    21. Painting?
    22. Poem?
    23. Poet?
    24. Restaurant?
    25. Season?
    26. Singer?
    27. Song?
    28. Sport?
    29. Style of music?
    30. Tree?
    31. TV program?
    32. Vegetable?
  151. If you had to pick a label for your family members (spouse, children, mother, father, brothers, sister…) Who fits the following descriptions?
    1. Animal lover;
    2. Best cook;
    3. Best gardener;
    4. Best housekeeper;
    5. Best looking;
    6. Best memory;
    7. Best story teller;
    8. Biggest tease;
    9. Calmest;
    10. Funniest;
    11. Hardest worker;
    12. Most athletic;
    13. Most colorful;
    14. Most creative;
    15. Most frugal;
    16. Most generous;
    17. Most mischievous;
    18. Most politically active;
    19. Most reclusive;
    20. Most relaxed;
    21. Most sociable;
    22. Quietest;
    23. Shortest;
    24. Tallest;
    25. Wildest lifestyle;