Successful Genealogical Family Interviewing

By Phil Goldfarb
“A Family Without the Knowledge of their History, Origin, and Culture is like a Tree without Roots.”
Getting people to share their stories isn’t always easy but if you sit down for a family history interview with the following questions starting with the oldest member of your family, you will succeed and have a record for generations to come!

JGS of Tulsa: Fifty Questions for Family History Interviews
1. What is your full name? Why did your parents select this name for you? Did you have a nickname?
2. When and where were you born?
3. How did your family come to live there?
4. Were there other family members in the area? Who?
5. Describe your childhood family home. What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like?
Address? How many rooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
6. Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
7. What is your earliest childhood memory?
8. Describe the personalities of your family members.
9. What kind of games did you play growing up?
10. What was your favorite toy and why?
11. What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?
12. Did you have family chores? What were they? What was your most and least favorite?
13. Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
14. 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?
15. What school activities and sports did you participate in?
16. Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
17. Who were your childhood heroes?
18. What were your favorite songs and music?
19. Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names?
20. What was your religion growing up? What Temple, if any, did you attend?
21. Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
22. Who were your friends when you were growing up?
23. What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? Did any of them personally affect your family?
24. Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking? What were your favorite foods?
25. How were holidays (birthdays, Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
26. How is the world today different from what it was like when you were a child?
27. Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
28. Were there any people who your relatives think are related but you don’t know how?
29. What do you know about your family surname?
30. Is there a naming tradition in your family, such as always giving the firstborn son the name of his paternal grandfather?
31. What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
32. Are there any stories about famous or infamous relatives in your family?
33. Have any recipes or customs been passed down to you from family members?
34. What are any physical characteristics that run in your family?
35. Were there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
36. What was the full name of your spouse? What about his/her siblings? What about his/her parents?
37. When and how did you meet your spouse? What did you do on dates?
38. What was it like when you proposed (or were proposed to)? Where and when did it happen? How did you feel?
39. Where and when did you get married? What memory stands out the most from your wedding day?
40. How would you describe your spouse? What do (did) you admire most about them?
41. What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage?
42. How did you find out you were going to be a parent for the first time?
43. Why did you choose your children’s names?
44. What was your proudest moment as a parent?
45. What did your family enjoy doing together?
46. What was your profession? How did you choose it?
47. If you could have had any other profession what would it have been? Why wasn’t it your first choice?
48. Of all the things you learned from your parents, which do you feel was the most valuable?
49. What accomplishments were you the most proud of?
50. What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?

Phil Goldfarb is the President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Tulsa and can be reached at:

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