Use these family history interview questions and prompts at your next reunion

The shelves of our Research Library have dozens of family histories and stories compiled by generations of family members. Family history files often include critical genealogical research information, like births and death dates, but also information that’s impossible to find with services like or even in newspapers. 

Family histories are usually compiled by one or two authors interested in documenting their family’s story. Done as a labor of love, they undergo the effort to interview and document relatives’ oral histories that later serve as cultural landmarks for future generations and extended family. 

If you’ve thought about writing down family stories or writing a more robust family history into a book, use these interview questions and prompts to help. These questions can help you understand a branch of your family’s religious observances, work and job experiences, movements, how they spend time, early memories, and more.

We’ve also included these family history interview questions in a Word document for convenience. Download it for free and use it to type up notes, or print it out to write out responses. 

Tips for talking with family members about their memories

Before you ask these questions, follow these tips:

  • Remember to consider a person’s experience and be respectful not to push people to speak about deaths, military service, or traumas they do not want to discuss.
  • Use a phone or recorder to record their voice or video. Preserving the format for generations may be hard, but it’s an excellent way to preserve memories and their voice, at least while the technology allows.
  • Family reunions, funerals, or a wedding day are excellent times to speak with other family members you don’t often see. But remember the occasion and consider getting a person’s phone number or email to ask follow up questions later.
  • Ask open-ended questions when possible, and remember to listen more than you talk.
  • Family history interviews may be a good starting point but should not be considered authoritative sources, as memories often fade. Remember to cite sources where possible and ask about dates or date ranges.
  • To ensure the best technique, record the person’s full name, interview date, and who is conducting the interview. Also, note the time of day and location. Record those dates, times, and locations if you ask interview questions over multiple days and times.

40 free family history interview questions

1. Can you share your earliest memory of our family?

This could include a childhood home, holiday celebrations or traditions, a favorite teacher, close friends from a neighborhood, or a first job.

2. How did our ancestors first come to settle in this area?

3. Do you know the origins of our family surname?

4. Were there any notable family traditions or customs passed down through the generations?

5. Can you recall interesting stories or anecdotes about your parents or grandparents?

6. What was the occupation of our earliest known ancestor?

7. Do you know if our family had any significant involvement in historical events or movements?

8. Have any family heirlooms or artifacts been passed down?

9. Can you tell me about the family’s religious or spiritual beliefs?

10. Were there any instances of intermarriage within the family?

This is common among cousins in many families up through the early to mid-twentieth century. 

11. Do you know if any family members served in the military?

12. Were there any family members who immigrated to another country? If so, what prompted their move?

13. Can you share any stories or experiences about our family’s immigration or travels?

14. How did our family adapt to life in the area or a new country?

15. Do you have any information about the family’s economic circumstances or social status throughout history?

16. Were there any family members who excelled in arts, literature, or other creative endeavors?

17. Can you recall any significant achievements or milestones reached by our family members?

18. Did our family experience any hardships or challenges, such as wars or natural disasters?

19. How has our family’s occupation or livelihood evolved over time?

20. Can you describe the family’s living conditions and lifestyle in previous generations?

This may also include how many children were involved, holiday traditions, how many siblings someone had, etc.

21. Do you know of any family members who were involved in notable social or political movements?

22. Were any family members who significantly contributed to their community or society?

23. Are there any specific ethnic or cultural traditions that have been preserved within our family?

24. Can you provide information about any family members who were famous or accomplished in their respective fields?

25. Were there any family members who were explorers or pioneers in any way?

26. Do you know if any family members or distant relatives were artists, musicians, or performers?

27. Can you share any information about our family’s involvement in sports or athletic pursuits?

This can also include school years, child leagues, etc.

28. Were any family members known for their culinary skills or unique recipes?

29. Can you tell me about any family members who were involved in medical or scientific advancements?

30. Were any family members involved in philanthropy or charitable work?

31. Can you provide information about the family’s migration patterns or movements to different locations?

32. Were any family members involved in education or academia?

As a follow-up, consider asking about their favorite subject. 

33. Do you know if any family members were involved in legal or judicial professions?

34. Can you share any stories about family members’ participation in historical events?

35. Were any family members who held positions of political power or influence?

36. Do you know if our family has any connections to famous or notable individuals outside of the family?

37. Can you provide information about any family members who were entrepreneurs or had their own businesses?

38. Were any family members recognized for their contributions to the arts, sciences, or humanities?

39. Can you tell me about any family members who were known for their sense of humor or interesting personality traits?

40. Would you be willing to share any family secrets or untold stories?

These family history questions are just a start. You can help future generations of your family by writing down special traditions, favorite holidays, what you know from among your living relatives today, and even the best advice you can give to a young adult or future family member today. 

Consider printing and binding your book, then gifting copies of your family’s story to relatives and for special collection in the Warren County Historical Society’s Research Library or your local library.

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