Let Me Ask You This, Grandma

Interview-grandparentsStop – Make the Time to ask certain family related questions of your parents and grandparents before it becomes to late. However, there is a right way to approach a relative so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

First, they may not feel like talking about themselves – being modest is a big factor. So start slow and do have patience. Always explain why you are preserving these memories – for your family history research and for future generations. If you have uncovered a journal or other writings by another ancestor from decades ago, use that as an example of how important and valuable that information has been in putting together the family story.  interview-notes

Set up a time to talk to your relative that is good for them. Don’t plan an all-day session, it won’t work. Keep to about one or two hours. Be prepared, to record the interview or to write down the information.

Some of the questions you should cover: their full name (including nicknames), birth date, and birth place. Their parents’ full names and names of the relative’s siblings. Next covering the relative’s spouse(s) can be tricky. They might not want to cover any multiple marriages. Just take notes on the one or more they wish to talk about, including name, birth date, location, marriage date and if the spouse is no longer present – what happened. I had a relative I had interviewed and it took a couple years before she provided information about all four of her marriages.

Interview-cassetteGet the person to talk more about themselves. Their childhood years, schooling and fun activities. Did they belong to any clubs (scouts, sports teams, 4-H, etc)? Most people are very happy to recall their youth.

Covering one’s teenage years could be easy or more difficult. Save that discussion after you have been interviewing a couple times. When ready, cover about their ‘first love’, having a car, after school jobs (including the pay), etc.

Ask about their hometown, their favorite place in town, what was the hang-out for the kids, and was there a special citizen in town they loved to be around?

As you spend time with the relative, ask later about any photos, journals, papers they might have that would add to the family history. Be prepared to make copies of all the items, you never know when it could prove important later.


The key is to start now. If you had earlier interviewed your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., select one or two to spend more time with for more in-depth questions. Most of the time, they are waiting to tell their story.

Related FamilyTree.com genealogy blog links:

Stories of Well Lived Lives

Video Stories

Your Great Grandparents


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