Get That Interview In While Gathering With Friends and Family For the Holidays

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By Whitney Ransom McGowan,, Inc.

For many, holidays are a great time for families to gather and spend time together. If your Thanksgiving holiday isn’t too filled with cranberry sauce and turkey, you may be able to take the time to talk with your family members about family history. If you are not celebrating Thanksgiving, take time to talk with your family members anyway!

I love talking with my grandparents. When I was 15 years old, I wrote my grandfather’s life history. I was eight years old when he died, and he was only in his fifties when he passed away. I really wanted to know more about what he was like. My grandfather had seven children. So, I first went to all of his children and interviewed them. I also interviewed all of his siblings who were alive at the time. I gathered photos along the way as well. When I recorded the interviews, I just listened and wrote down important points. I asked them to tell me memories they had of my grandfather (what he was like, their favorite memory of him, etc.). Unfortunately, about 20 pages into the writing, I somehow deleted the file on my computer and had to start all over again! Of course, the second time around, I gained an even greater appreciation and love for my grandfather and really embedded the details of his life into my own. When the writing was finished, I made copies of the pictures I had gathered, and put it all in a book. I gave a copy to each of my family members as a Christmas gift.

Although my family members were very appreciative of the book, if I were to do it again, I would do some things differently. First, I would get an audio recording, as well as a video recording of the people whom I interviewed. I would scan all of the photos. I would ask more questions while I was interviewing my family members. I would even interview some of them on more than one occasion to get additional information. Doing several interviews would give them time to think about the questions I asked and also give them time to see if they had anything else they wanted to add. I would also create a copy of the book in digital format and provide a digital copy, as well as a hard copy to all of my family members. I would also put together a video to go with the book. I would keep several backup copies of the file I was working on… just in case I somehow deleted one of them.

If you want to interview some of your family members, or if you want them to interview you, here are a few questions you might use…

  • When and where were you born?
  • Describe the house you lived in growing up.
  • What is your favorite hobby?
  • How did you meet your spouse? Describe the proposal.
  • What is your favorite memory of your wedding day?
  • Do you have any children? If so, what are their names?
  • What do you know about your family surname?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What was the best advice your parents gave to you?
  • What was your favorite childhood toy?
  • Did any world events have a particularly strong impact on your life? If so, which ones?
  • Tell me about your childhood?
  • What did you do for work? What do you currently do for employment?
  • Tell me a memory from one of your favorite holidays.
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • Do you have any special traditions?
  • What did you do together as a family?
  • If you could be remembered for one characteristic or attribute, what would it be and why?

The interviews don’t have to take a long time and can also be extended to include several short interviews. Have fun with them and enjoy getting to know better the person you interview. Don’t forget to record these interviews as well if you have access to an audio recorder or video camera (remember to ask for permission from the interviewee prior to recording).

If you want to get serious about your family history while doing the interviews, I invite you to check out You may just find a photo of your ancestor along with important birth, marriage, and death dates, certificates, and variety of other information about your ancestors. If the individual mentions a name of one of his or her siblings or grandparents, or other relatives, take the time to look them up on and see if you can gather even more information about your family members!

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