Oral Histories

Family History Questions You May Not Have Thought to Ask

Family History Questions You May Not Have Thought to Ask

You know you have to do family history interviews with older relatives to get started on a good genealogy research journey. These interviews are the foundation of any beginning genealogy project. However, you have to remember, the interviews and the information you get from them are only as good as the person doing the interviewing, and that’s you. You have to know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and techniques to use to get older relatives to remember things and be willing to share stories with you.

As a genealogist, you want your family history to be as complete as it can be, with real details that bring long gone relatives to life again on the page. Some of the best information you get will be from your family history interviews, because these are the people who were there, and who knew ancestors you did not. While there are basic questions you ask in any interview, here are some you may not have thought to ask, that will give you more delicious details to add to your story.

1. What are Some of Your Fondest Memories of Spending Time with Your Grandparents?

While you definitely want to ask for the names of your older relatives’ grandparents, since they may be your great or great-great grandparents (or their siblings), you want stories about them, too, so you know what kind of people they were. Asking specifically for stories of times your relative spent with their grandparents may bring other ancestors into the story. Even if no other ancestors are mentioned, you will still get good stories about how your older relative was as a child, and what their grandparents were like, which is genealogical gold.

Grandparents And Grandchildren Eating Meal Together In Kitchen

2. What Did You and Your Friends Do for Fun When You Were a Child?

This will tell you what games were popular when your relative was a child, as well as what kind of person your relative was as a child. It will also tell you about the customs of the time, the norms of the area in which your relative grew up, and what kind of crowd they associated with when they were young. If they bring their older or younger siblings into these stories, that’s even better for your family history.

3. What are Your Earliest Memories?

The answer to this question will take you as far back into the past as your relative can go, and may offer interesting details of life in the area in which they grew up at the time they were very young.

4. How Did Your Family Celebrate the Holidays?

Asking about holiday customs, as well as what holidays your relative’s family celebrated when they were young, will tell you a lot about how your family’s past ties into the way your family does things today. It will also give you more details about the times in which your ancestors lived. You may even get ideas for customs from the past you’d like to bring back.


Will Moneymaker

Will founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his last name. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)

  • Will definitely be sharing these with our followers. Thank you for the extra tips!

  • Sharon

    My mom had ALS. She was the one that got me started on research, for wanting to know something about her grandfather before she died. I feel I had divine help when I hit a gold mine of information and was able to tell her about her roots. Then I started asking questions. I said “Mom, just give me some dirt!” She did! It’s all written down, but cannot be passed on until…um…later. Her last days were spent with memories and lots of laughter.