Good list but I would add; Do you have any photos, movies, videos or audio
recordings of older family members? If yes, may I copy them and ask questions
about the people in them. Also ask about family keepsakes especially Bibles.
I've found some unique and important information both recorded and stuffed
into them. Also show them family photos that have unidentified people in them
they just might recognize them. I learned about my great grandfather's
missionary companion that way and this companion's journal of their mission
together in New Zealand.
It's a very good idea to ask questions now. Acting on similar advice many
years ago I interviewed my mother with a cassette tape recorder running. The
next time I saw my mother she was suffering from dementia and could not
recognize even close family members so the recording proved very timely.I still have and prize that tape plus several copies of the
transcription I made from it. I sent copies to my siblings of those parts in
which she talked about them specifically. The transcription was used at her
funeral to express some of her feelings and experiences in her own words.
I think this list is way too long and asks some questions that are too personal,
prying, or elicit inane or useless information.For example -
don't ask them if they made enough money to "live comfortably" or
if their parents could put food on the table.Don't ask them to
ruminate about the choices they made in a spouse.Don't ask them
about their bad habits, parenting mistakes, whether they were "strict or
lenient" and which children they "spoiled"Don't ask
them what they "do regularly for exercise."Don't ask if
someone ever saved their life.Don't ask about their
hospitalizations and surgeries.Don't ask where their parents
were hospitalized.Don't go through a long list trying to get
them to tell you their favorite season of the year, favorite vegetable, favorite
cookie, favorite tree, etc.Don't have them try to categorize
their spouse[s] or relatives as the most this or that: Who is the best
housekeeper, who is the best looking, who is the biggest tease, who is the most
I video recorded my interviews with all the grandparents. Be sure and take
breaks between interviewing. Also ask the most important questions first. I
would pick the 25 most important ones and focus on those. Also open ended
questions like tell me about your birth. What memories do you have of your
grandparents? Ask about each grandparent individually looks smells etc. Tell me
about that child or parent. this leaves it open to them discussing what is
important. What was the naughtiest thing you ever did? Have them bear their
testimony. Ask them about a life philosophy they live by. What would they tell
their posterity? What would they change if they could? What are the best
moments in life? How did their parents teach them religion and morals? What was
your relationship with so and so? Did you have any childhood illnesses or major
medical problems you remember about the family? This type of questioning takes
away the uncomfortable questions but gets the important information out. It
also helps if you want to blend the movies into questions you have asked each
grandparent when making movies for your children.
Central Texan,You seem to have missed the point. A person can
always ignore a question they aren't comfortable with, or interested in.
What we ask a family member should be shaped by our relationship with that
person. The point of those questions that you have called-out as intrusive or
inane is to trigger the telling of a story. Yes, a simple answer of "mom
had her appendix out at County General Hospital" may be inane. However,
that question could trigger a very insightful story that included information
about many family members and important events in their lives.Many
people argue that life histories of anyone but the rich, powerful, or famous are
inane and pointless. That is an opinion that they are entitled to have and
share. For some of the rest of us, families are eternal and knowing something
about family members helps strengthen those eternal bonds.
Thank you, GeoMan. I like your take on this, and I agree 100%. I've waited
too long, and I am not sure now that the information I am getting is accurate or
not from my mom and dad. It makes me sad.
My parents recorded my great-grandfather a few years before he died. He was
apprehensive, but after about 10 minutes, he forgot all about the recorder. I
was only a teenager, but I still remember how it touched me to hear him
reminisce about his life. My parents were wise enough to let him ramble along as
he answered the questions. He volunteered a lot of information and
stories that we didn't even know to ask. He spoke about his gambling habit,
how he had won and lost 3 fortunes at the poker table, how grandma put the farm
in her name so he couldn't lose it too, how he had been the blacksmith on
the crew that built the highway over the Teton mountains from Idaho to Jackson
Hole, the broken relationship he had with his father, all valuable information
to help us understand his life and our heritage.Interview them now,
and do it more than once. It is a priceless experience you will treasure for
ever, much more than even the "family history data" you glean.
We were also the primary care-givers for my wife's mother the last 10 years
of her life. As we took her to lunch or for rides, the conversation would often
turn to her early life. I would jot down her comments as she talked. We once drove her and her sisters down to the farm they grew up and they would
rattle on and on about so and so that lived here, and the fun they had over
there, and the pranks their brothers pulled. It was priceless, easy
and didn't have to be a formal interview, we just wrote down what she told
us when she told us. Cell phones with video, audio recorders, and note-taking
apps made it very easy to record their histories.
My daughter once tried to tape record interviews with her paternal grandparents
but Grandma didn't want to be recorded. So, she went into the next room to
talk to Grandpa; when he answered the questions, he deliberately made mistakes,
which prompted Grandma to shout out from the kitchen what the real answer was.
So Judy got responses from both grandparents. Talking to our elderly parents
brings priceless memories, and while the suggested list is long, it does provide
suggestions that can be asked as the interviewer thinks appropriate.
I find it insulting that you are presenting this list of questions as your own,
when you took them from a genealogy group on Facebook. The fact that you do not
site your sources or even give credit to the person who actually created this
list of questions is deplorable. Clearly you have no ethics. Perhaps you should
give credit where credit is due instead of presenting things as your own.