Before we get into our list of family history interview questions, it is important to note how the future of genealogy lies in the hands of the younger generation today.
Engaging our younger audience in genealogy
As we mentioned in our introduction, the future of genealogy can only survive if we can get our youth to feel passionate and engaged in their family history.
Prof. Simon J Gibson highlighted in his talk at Roots Tech, that for youth to feel this passion, genealogy needs to make a switch from process to being personality-based. By cleverly tapping into the current interests of millennials and Gen Z, there is a chance for genealogy to be enhanced for the world in a way that has never been done before.
One of the most obvious ways to switch genealogy to a personality-based model from processed based is to use technology.
Almost every person today carries with them a smartphone. Especially our younger generation! Our smartphones are now so advanced that they have incredible capabilities for recording and capturing memories to a professional standard. Using the modern-day technology that is in our pockets every day, is the way forward to encourage genealogy in the younger generation.
The best way to get engagement through personality and technology is to encourage family history interviews for our elderly family members.
Use mobiles to record family history interviews
It has never been easier to record high-quality videos and recordings than it has been today. Our smartphones allow us to record and capture footage with almost endless limitations. These interviews can then be quickly and safely stored, shared and accessed with our families for years to come.
We have an opportunity like no other to capture and store forever the rich and interesting stories of our grandparents and even great-grandparents lives in real-time. The amazing benefits of recording allow us to hear and listen to their voices and even see their mannerisms and expressions with video. Something that can’t be captured through documentation or portraits.
By interviewing our elderly while they are still alive, allows us to not only understand and get to know them in a way that we have never understood before, but we also get to keep and cherish their stories and pass it onto our future families to understand who and where they came from.
The future of genealogy
With more advancements in the future of technology, the possibilities of what we will be able to do with the interview footage and sounds are endless. Professor Simon J Gibson highlights the future possibility of synthesising our grandparent’s voices against other documents, allowing them to talk to us of their past automatically!
By combining our grandparent’s rich life stories, genealogical data and incredible technology, history will come alive in ways never thought possible.
Tips for interviewing for family history
- Interview with purpose
Professor Simon J Gibson’s top tip for interviewing is to interview your relatives with purpose. Sit with your family and ask the questions you don’t normally ask them about. Get to know about their life, their stories and feelings and record it. It will give your family members a chance to tell their stories that don’t die with them.
- Minimise background noise
For clear audio to understand what is being said, select a room with minimal background noise. So close all windows, find a room away from a busy outside road and do a test before you begin to see if the audio can be properly heard.
- Have great lighting
If you choose to interview with video too, chose a light room where you can see your relatives face clearly. But don’t have a crazy set up of lights blaring into their face, as you want them to feel comfortable and relaxed, and not like they are isolated and singled out from you in the room.
- Know your interviewee a little
Knowing your relative and their life story beforehand is necessary as you can avoid asking certain questions that you know won’t apply, or that can even upset them. Knowing them, allows you to ask more personal questions that will make for a more interesting interview.
- Ask open-ended questions focusing on memories and experiences.
This will avoid them answer yes or no to questions, and will make for more interesting answers. It will also give them more opportunity to express in their own words their thoughts, feeling and facts on the answers.
- Bring photographs or documentation to trigger memories and emotions
This interview is about your relative’s life. It is personal to them and a chance for them to express their story. You want to be able to capture every essence of their tale, so re-jogging their memories with old photographs, music, newspaper clippings or anything you can find will always make the interview more interesting and enjoyable for the interviewee.
So, if you’re a young person feeling passionate about keeping your grandparent’s life stories alive through recordings, then see our list below of our family history interview questions.
Our top family history interview questions
It may be helpful to section your interview into different stages of their life. We have separated our list of questions via childhood, school, marriage, work, family life, later life, life today. You don’t need to use all the questions below, just take the ones that you feel best suits your interviewee.
- What is your full name? Do you know why your parents chose this name? Do you have a nickname?
- Where and when were you born? Were you born at home or at hospital?
- What were your parents’ names? Where were they born? What were they like?
- What were your grandparent’s names? Where were they born? What were they like?
- Do you have any siblings? What are their names, ages, birthplace? What were they like?
- What is your earliest memory?
- As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
- What was your family home like? How many rooms did you have? Did you have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Television? Radio? Telephones? Kitchen amenities?
- Who was your best friend?
- Describe the personalities of your family members
- Did you have any pets? What was it and its name?
- Did you grow up with any religion?
- What was your favourite and least favourite family meal?
- What was Christmas Day like for you as a child? Describe a typical gift.
- What was your favourite childhood games? Books? Toys?
- What school did you go to?
- Did you enjoy school?
- How did you get to school?
- What were your best and worst subjects?
- Do you have a favourite school memory?
- Do you have a worst school memory?
- What school activities or sports did you participate in?
- Who was your favourite teacher and why were they special?
- How would your classmates from school remember you best?
- What did you wear to school?
- Were there any fads from your teenage years, hairstyles, clothes wear etc?
- What was your favourite type of music?
- Describe yourself as a young adult
- What was your first job?
- How did you decide on your career?
- What jobs have you had?
- Do you wish you took a different career path?
Relationships / marriage:
- How old were you when you started dating?
- What was your first date? With who? Where?
- Did you date much before marriage?
- Who did you marry? What was the ceremony like? Did you go on a honeymoon?
- How long did you know each other before marriage?
- What did you like most about them?
- How long have you been/ were you married?
- Where did you live as a couple?
- Do you have any children? What are their names? When were they born? Birthplaces?
- What was the most rewarding part of being a parent?
- What was the most difficult part of being a parent?
- What are your favourite memories with your children?
- Would you change the way you raised your children if you could do it all again?
- Are you a grandparent? How many grandchildren do you have? What are their names?
- What advice can you give your children and grandchildren about being a parent?
- What is the most important thing you’d like your children to learn from you?
- What’re the hardest choices you have made in your life?
- Do you remember any advice or comments that had a big impact on how you lived your life?
- If you could change something about yourself what would it be?
- What was your proudest moment?
- What was your happiest moment?
- What was your saddest moment?
- Describe how life has changed since you were a child.
- What do you now know that you wished you had known when you were younger?
- How would you like people to remember you?
Storing your family history interviews
So when you’ve recorded your interview what do you do with this new material?
Storing your genealogy records has always been an overwhelming task. Especially if boxes and boxes of items have been passed down through family members and have landed in your attic collecting dust. While inheriting lots of memorabilia can take up huge amounts of space, you know it is too precious to throw away.
This is where technology comes in, and plays its most important role in the future of genealogy. Today, we can scan, condense and store all our genealogy records in one trustworthy and suitable place.
The Reliving App
The Reliving app has been designed to do just that. You can safely store, record and build your genealogy records in one easy to view place. Which can be preserved and passed onto family members forever.
One of the most popular features of the Reliving App is the family history interview feature. It categories the interview into the different stages of life for ease of separating up the interview into more manageable bite-size chunks.
Reliving allows users to directly interview and record in real-time within the app. The interview feature also comes with 100 built-in interview questions on the screen and the option to add your own questions. Enabling you to flick through each question with ease, whilst recording simultaneously.
Each interview recording can be directly linked to the family members in your family tree. This saves any painstaking fiddling around afterwards which can be most time-consuming!
The app supports all media types, so if you already have pre-recorded interviews you can upload them and add them to your family tree files.
Currently, the app has the interview feature in audio, but interview video recording will be released in the second product launch coming soon!
In-app Interview Questions
Reliving has teamed up with Dr Steve Franklin who has provided the app with the 100 of the most important and well-thought-out interview questions to ask your elderly relatives. Some of which are included in this post! But to see them all register or sign-in to the Reliving app here.
We hope you’ve found out list of family history interview questions helpful and has inspired you to take action and spend quality recording moments with your elderly family members while you still can.