A Mother’s Day Gift to everyone!
Probably the thing I hear most when speaking about relatives from the past is that people regret not having interviewed their parents, grandparents, and other older relatives when they had the chance. You don’t have to be an author, writer, or world class historian to gather your family’s history.
I’ve been told it’s never too late to start interviewing relatives about family history, and with so many changes in our world, I feel an urgency to get these questions answered and now want to share this with you. I am hoping this will help you and your family document your family’s thoughts, memories, and personal stories. Every family has a story, and each member has a layer to add. Every person is walking around with precious pieces of history in their heads. Each memory is unique. No one else knows what you know or remembers it the same way. And all those memories from all those relatives can be pieced together like a puzzle. This means you have an important job to do. With these questions you can capture these stories for all the generations to come.
Memories is the keyword here. Hopefully the questions will help you go back in time to provide thoughtful memories while avoiding simply answering yes or no.
This first set of questions are designed to fill in your relatives’ backstory, to open some new opportunities for learning and sharing more about your family’s history. Feel free to omit questions or ask the family in stages, but don’t postpone too long. Lives change, memories fade, and people expire.
- Did you know your maternal grandparents? What do you remember most about them?
- Did you know your paternal grandparents? What do you remember most about them?
- Who’s the oldest relative you can remember meeting?
- Who was the funniest person among your relatives?
- Which relative do you wish you had known better and why?
- Who was the family historian when you were growing up?
- Remembering back to your childhood, was there a storyteller in your family?
- What family traditions did you most enjoy?
- What world events had the most impact on you when you were a child? Did any of them personally affect your family?
- Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together? Who did the cooking? What were your favorite foods?
- How were birthdays and holidays celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
- How is the world today different from when you were a child? Name a couple of examples and then tell us more about the one change that impacted your life the most.
- Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
- 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 people in your family?
- Have any recipes been passed down to you from family members?
- Are there any physical characteristics, traits, and/or habits that run in your family? If so, describe.
- Are there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles, or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
- Do you remember your parents/grandparents’ favorite sports or hobbies? Name who and what team/hobby?
- Did your parents/grandparents give to a charitable organization? Which one(s)?
- Did your parents/grandparents donate time or get involved with a charitable organization?
- Do you remember any trips/camping/vacations with your parents or grandparents?
- What was your parents/grandparents’ favorite sayings? Who & What?
- What haven’t I asked that you’d like to tell me about?
These next questions are about YOU! Recording memories from your childhood and now as an adult will help your family get ahead of knowing more about you and enhance the story of your family for generations to come.
Questions About YOUR Childhood
- What was your favorite moment (or most memorable moment) as a child?
- Why did your parents select your name for you?
- Did you have a nickname?
- Where were you born?
- How did your family come to live there?
- Were there other family members in the area? Who?
- What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
- Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
- What is your earliest childhood memory?
- Describe the personalities of your family members.
- 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, go to the beach, etc.)?
- Did you have chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite?
- Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it, and on what?
- What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
- What school activities and sports did you participate in?
- Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
- Who were your childhood heroes?
- What were your favorite songs and music genres?
- Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names?
- What was your religion growing up? What church, if any, did you attend?
- Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
- Who were your friends when you were growing up?
Questions About YOUR Adult Life
- How did you find out you were going to be a parent for the first time?
- Why did you choose your children’s names?
- What was your proudest moment(s) as a parent?
- What top things did you enjoy doing with your child or children?
- Of all the things you learned from your parents, what do you feel was the most valuable to share with your own children?
- What (self) accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
Time is the most valuable asset in our lives, and these questions will take time, but by answering them, you’ll be contributing to one of the most valuable assets of your family. So, thank them for their time!
I hope this helps you and your family no matter how large or small it is. It’s important to know your family history—one day the memories will be gone.
As a mother, I would love knowing someone started this process. It’s the gift that gives to everyone and a mother would love!