Interview Techniques and Notes -
Heritage Review, Germans from Russia Heritage Society, Bismarck, North Dakota, February, 1986, pages 3-9
by Florence Schmidt Clifford, Grand Forks, North Dakota, native of Ashley, North Dakota. She passed away on December 5, 1984.
Why These Interview Papers Were Developed
Several years ago I accompanied my husband to Minneapolis where he attended a business meeting. While waiting for him in a hotel I decided to telephone my 86-year-old aunt Melita to see how she was getting along. She was delighted to hear from me and we spent an enjoyable hour or so reminiscing about a number of things: my grandparents, their family, and the pleasant times we shared with them.
For years my mother, also in her 80's, had been gathering family lore. I remember that she often tried to interest me in her project, but I was always too busy. A health problem, however, forced me to curtail many of my usual activities; this gave me more time to reflect on my own mortality. With a certain fondness, I began to look back on the loved ones I had lost and the pleasant memories which they evoked. It suddenly became very important for me to see that my children and grandchildren knew what kind of people their ancestors were. I began to realize that if this was to become a reality I would have to get busy.
That night in the Minneapolis hotel, excitement and enthusiasm for my project kept me from sleeping and I longed for morning to come quickly so my search could begin. I knew that most family histories consisted of valuable information such as names, dates of birth, marriage and death, and lists of public honors; but I wanted to go beyond that. I wondered, for example, what talents my ancestors had; what their daily lives were like; what family traditions they cherished; what they thought about the politics of the day, and how they related to their families, friends and business associates. In other words, what were they like as human beings? I decided I would try to find out.
I began preparing a questionnaire to send to the children of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles. In it I asked every question I could think of regarding my grandparents: their physical appearance, mannerisms, favorite foods, holiday traditions, recreations, nicknames, characteristics, attitudes toward education, church and politics. During my daily activities if I thought of a question, I would immediately write it down, sometimes even getting out of bed to do so before it slipped my mind. After weeks of this effort, I sent copies of my questions to relatives and waited anxiously for a reply. I realized I was asking a great deal of every one of these dear people when I received a letter from one of the spouses; she said, "Boy, did you dump a load on poor old Fritz." Another wrote that she had a pain in her wrist and found it extremely difficult to write. It was then I knew that if I was going to harvest the kind of information I was looking for I would have to interview the people myself by tape recorder. As it turned out this proved to be a wise decision because I found that all of those questioned enjoyed, in some ways, their moments of reminiscing. They seemed genuinely pleased that someone found their story interesting and informative.
I have come to the conclusion that tape recording has many advantages over sending out written questionnaires. Many interviewees are elderly and arthritic and cannot do all of the writing required. One person previously interviewed by letter sent back simple answers like "Yes," "No," "Sometimes" or "Usually," but when later interviewed by tape she proved to be one of the most prolific, interesting and rewarding of all; she went into great detail dramatizing family anecdotes and singing songs that her mother had sung to her as a child. This lady simply didn't want to bother writing out all the information in longhand. It seems that people are more willing to give details if they don't have to write out every word. I'm happy to say that the results proved to be much more colorfully descriptive. For example, if songs are sung, there is a record of the tune as well as the words, and having a recording of the interviewee's voice in song and story is a treasure in itself.
When friends heard of my project they began asking me for copies
of my interview notes so they might use them in their own family
history research. So I rewrote them, dividing the material into
different categories for better organization and coherence.
I must say, however, that there are many effective ways of interviewing
and mine is only one ... a way that happened to work for my
purposes as I sought to discover all I could about my grandparents.
I present these notes to the reader, hoping that they might be of help. Modify them as you wish, take ideas from them. I truly hope they will help you in your own personal endeavors.
Before Your Visit: The Mechancial Side
Take at least five or six good quality tapes with you because you don't know how full of information the person may be and sometimes a tape will be defective and you must substitute another. It is far better to have too many than not enough. Use tapes no longer than 90 minutes because longer ones may tangle at some point and you will lose what has been recorded. Before you start to record, check the beginning of each tape to make sure that the recorder is working properly or you may discover after you get home that one side is completely blank.
Be sure to use an electric cord rather than a battery, if possible. There is always the possibility that the batteries will get weak or become completely useless.
If you have any family photographs, documents or small articles such as jewelry, take them with you and you will find that these things sometimes spark the memory of your informant.
Some Preliminary Thoughts
Be courteous and respectful to the person being interviewed and show a genuine interest and concern. Put him or her at ease as much as possible. Be compassionate and patient, and the results will be very gratifying.
Interviewing one person at a time in private is by far the most productive and successful. Tape the person in his own familiar environment in a quiet room, not outside on the porch or patio where street and wind noises may interfere.
An interview should not be too long. It may be advisable to do only a part of it in one session so that you will be more likely to receive accurate and detailed information. Give the person a chance to rest and he will come back refreshed and eager to tell you more.
It is best to ask the selected persons in advance (by mail or phone) as to whether or not they would object to being interviewed and to give them some idea as to the type of things that will be asked. However, there should not be such a great time lapse between the asking and the interviewing, for the individuals may feel constrained to edit their answers beforehand, and thereby ruin the natural flow of the interview.
During the Interview
At the beginning of each tape give the date, place of interview and name of interviewer and interviewee.
Gain the interviewee's trust by telling him or her the purpose of your research and reassure them that you will not divulge any embarrassing information. Then keep your promise. Impress upon them the fact that you think they have some fascinating information and a lot to give that is valuable to future generations.
The interview begins with personal questions rather than vital statistics because such things are easier, more relaxing and more pleasant to talk about. It is better to end with the vital statistics because by then the person is more at ease from the pleasure of reminiscing about his past. Furthermore, vital statistics often require a great deal of time and effort since the person may frequently have to get up, search and peruse family records in order to find the information requested.
If at first the answers are in monosyllables, encourage the man or woman to elaborate by drawing him out with additional questions. For example, if a man is describing a favorite car you might ask "What color was it?" or "What model?" The more details that can be brought forth, the more interesting and colorful the history will be. Or if he says that his father had a temper, you might ask him how it manifested itself and have him give specific examples.
All questions should be put in an informal conversational manner so the person won't feel as though he is being grilled. He will then give more freely of his information. He can be encouraged with a smile, a chuckle a favorable comment or he can be discouraged with a look of shock or disbelief or disapproval. A gentle, unhurried manner will be well worth the effort.
In asking the questions about the parents or relatives, it is best not to be too relentless in stressing facts. One should be on the lookout for signals or clues that the interviewee may be wanting to tell something about their own life, some episode or some crisis in their family. Let him develop those events even if they don't fit the questions. Keep an ear tuned to what the person might want to communicate about himself or his family. Some of these crucial experiences in his life with the family might be overlooked with too heavy a stress on facts only. (For instance, if the interviewer asks the color of his father's eyes and he begins to tell about how he glared at him on one occasion, let him go on and tell the story he has in mind. You can always find out the color later.)
Making a few personal notes during the interview may be helpful if there is some point you may want to return to later. But make the notes discreetly.
Stopping the tape should be avoided even if the conversation wanders and you feel that what is being said at the moment isn't exactly what you are looking for. Interruptions can stop the flow of the person's thoughts. It is better to waste a few feet of tape than to disturb the train of thought by repeatedly turning the recorder on and off. Let the person go on talking and then gently guide him back to the original question when there is an opportunity.
If the person hesitates in their story, try not to help them find the right words; let them think about it for a few seconds and then let them tell it in their own words at their own pace. Let them develop answers naturally and completely. It is very disconcerting to play your tape later and hear yourself interrupting the person just at a time when he is about to relate an interesting story. Patience is important.
When you're done, be sure to express pleasure and gratitude to your interviewee for giving so much of his time and energy to your project and for sharing his memories with you and future generation.
After you have interviewed the person the first time, his memory is stimulated and the next time you come he will probably have recalled more anecdotes to tell you. Encourage him to have handy a little notebook that he can write a key word into as he recalls things between recording sessions. These could be favorite proverbs, vocal expressions of his parents or family incidents not recorded earlier.
Once again, after you remove each tape from the recorder, be sure to label, date and number it at once. You may think that you will remember everything but chances are after you have done three or four tapes, you won't.
Note: This set of questions was designed to study the background of a special group of people ... my own ancestors of German background, specifically Germans from Russia. I had in mind especially the pioneer settlers in America and their children (my aunts and uncles). The setting was often a farm or small town situation. I often frame the questions as if I was talking to (or about) the male members of the family. With some small adjustments, the same questions could refer to women, to those who lived in large urban areas and to second and third generation people. The same adjustments can make the queries fit the lives of "old timers" in other ethnic groups.
The questions are only suggestions and may seem too detailed for some people but the interviewee could perhaps read through them and then use an outline during the actual interview and compose some of his own questions.
Suggested Interview Questions
How tall was he? Would you describe him as being tall and slim? Long-legged and rangy? Short, stocky and heavily built? Large-boned or small-boned? Was he physically strong? Give examples, if possible. About how much did he usually weigh? Did his weight fluctuate throughout his life?
Can you describe his walk? Did he have a sprightly walk? Slow and deliberate? Fast and purposeful? Hesitant and shy? Did he come down hard on his heels or walk on his toes? Was he quick moving? Agile? Well coordinated? Gangly and awkward? Did he walk with his hands in his pockets? Did he ever walk with his hands clasped behind his back as though strolling in a leisurely fashion? Did he have any peculiarity in his gait, such as a shuffle? Did he use a cane? If so, why?
Did he have coarse, thick hair or was it fine and sparse? Did he become bald? At about what age? What color was his hair when he was young? Did it get gray as he became older? Salt and pepper or white?
What color were his eyes? Were they large or small? Round or almond shaped? Were they expressive? Did they twinkle a lot of the time or was he more serious? Did he wear glasses? Always or just for reading? Were they prescription glasses or the kind from the store? Did he ever wear his glasses on the end of his nose?
What kind of a nose did he have? Roman? Turned up? Broad and flat? Thin and pointed?
Did he wear a beard or mustache? What kind? Describe.
Was his complexion ruddy, pale, or tanned looking?
Did he have any distinguishing physical characteristics or markings like mole, wart, scar or some other feature?
Were his hands long and tapering or short and thick? Did he use them expressively, and frequently gesture with them? Explain. Did he have any particular mannerisms that you remember like pulling his ear lobes or rubbing his hands together? Wrinkling his forehead? Did he have any certain mannerisms that betrayed his feeling when he was angry? Disappointed? Sad? Uncomfortable? Excited? Happy?
Did he smile a lot? Was it a broad smile? Hesitant? Shy? Self-conscious? Did he laugh out loud frequently? Did he have a hearty laugh? Did he enjoy a good joke, even if it was on himself? What kind of speaking voice did he have? Strong? Weak? Low? Medium? High pitched? Gruff? Gentle? Calm and soothing? Reedy? Gravelly? Resonant? Shrill? Would he raise it in anger? When he disciplined you children was his voice firm, but controlled or excited and uncontrolled?
Did he ever speak in public? If so, what kind of gatherings and where? was he a good speaker? Elaborate if you can about gestures, mannerisms, or voice, if possible.
What were some of his favorite vocal expressions? Did he quote proverbs? In English or his native language? Can you recite them? If you can, say them in his native language. Did he use these proverbs to illustrate a lesson or make a point? Did he use profanity? Slang? Give examples.
What was his highest level of education in his native country? Could he read and write in his native language? In English? How many languages could he speak? Did he receive any further education in this country?
When, where and how did he learn English? Did he attend classes in English? Did he learn from his children and other acquaintances?
B. Old Country Life
What was the occupation of his parents? What occupation did he have in the "old country?" Did he have memories of special foods, festivities, family or religious customs? Any political events in the old country that were memorable? Was he in some form of military service before he came to America? Where did he serve? Any special stories of war? Famine? Oppression? Hardships? Did he ever keep in contact with friends or family in the old country?
C. Migration to America
Why did he come to the new world? Did he come alone or with others? What were the circumstances of his departure? What route did he take to get to his American settlement area? Any memories of the boat ride? Immigration ports?
What were his first impressions of the new world? Language problems? Finding of friends and relatives? Getting a job?
D. Getting Along in America
What was his first reaction to the prairies? What was his life like during hard times? Drought? World War I? Grasshoppers? The Depression? Bankclosing?
How did he learn to farm? His crafts? His profession? When did he build a house? A barn? Buy his first livestock? Automobile? First radio? First electricity? Telephone?
How did these things change his life? Any other historical events that affected him or the family? Change in job? Move to new farm or city?
Did he have a colorful personality or was he more sedate and dignified? Explain.
Describe as well as you can his disposition. Was he cheerful most of the time? Was he moody? Did he have a temper? If so, did he display it often or just when it was really justified? Give examples. Did he bear a grudge or snap out of it quickly? Was he calm and collected in times of stress? Give examples, if possible. Did he think well under pressure or did he need time to think things out thoroughly before acting? Was he impulsive?
What were his skills? Did he have managerial ability? Was he adept in the business world? What were his special talents? What business or businesses did he engage in and when? As far as you know, did he enjoy his chosen occupation? What was his attitude toward work? How did he react to his successes, failures, honors? Praise?
Comment on each of the following characteristics and give examples, if possible.
Was he hospitable, inhospitable; talkative, noncommittal; aggressive, timid, spiritual, worldly; tolerant, critical; cautious, impulsive; predictable, unpredictable; stable, unstable; generous, stingy; extravagant, thrifty; thoughtful of others, selfish; compassionate, unfeeling; naive, shrewd; openly affectionate, reserved; humble, boastful; proud, modest; patient, impatient; alert, absent-minded; energetic, languid; practical, impractical; innovative, unimaginative; dependable or not dependable; loyal or disloyal; aristocratic, plebian, gentle, rough; trusting, suspicious, vindictive, forgiving; adventurous? Explain.
Did he accept the hardships of life philosophically or did he feel he had a hard lot in life?
Was he a dreamer or was he very practical and down to earth?
Was he brilliant? Explain. Clever? Give examples. Whitty? How?
Did he have a good sense of humor? Enjoy a funny story? Did he tell stories? What kind? Give an example, if possible. Did he play jokes on people? What kind. Foolish? Harmless? Malicious? Did he do it to teach someone a lesson? Was there anything unique or individualistic about his sense of humor? If so, what?
Was he pleased when his friends or relatives were successful?
Would you say that he was adventurous? Courageous? Give examples, if possible.
Was he fussy about his clothes and personal appearance? Was he neat? Concerned about the impression that he was making? Was he vain about his appearance? What kind of clothes did he usually wear? Work clothes? Describe. Caps? Hats? What kind? Colorful neckties? What suit colors did he wear most? Blues? Browns? Grays? Was he a natty dresser? Or was he more casual? How did his Sunday or special event clothes differ from his everyday clothes? Can you think of a particular outfit that he wore a lot? A certain article of clothing that was a favorite of his?
Did he shave himself or did he go to the barbershop regularly?
Was he usually in pretty good health? Was he subject to colds, headaches, indigestion, etc. Did he have any serious illnesses? Be specific, if possible. Surgeries? Where were the surgeries performed? Was he a hypochondriac? Uncomplaining? Did he ever lose any of his faculties like hearing, sight, etc.? If so, when? To what extent? Was he ever in an accident of any kind? Car? Other?
Were there any folk remedies that he used, like chewing garlic? Using onion poultices, etc.? If you can think of any, please tell what they were used for.
Did he take any patent medicines that you know of? Spring tonics?
Recreations and Hobbies, Personal Likes and Dislikes
Did he play cards? What kind? What was his favorite card game? Did he play solitaire? Did he play cards with other members of the family? Friends? Did he play chess or other games? If he played, did he always like to be the winner? Or did he play just for the enjoyment of playing? Did he lose gracefully?
Did he like cars? Do you know anything about his first car or some of the early ones? What were their makes and colors, etc.? Which were his favorites? Did he drive fast? Did he like to drive? Was he a good driver? Was he a poor driver? Give examples. Did he take foolish chances? Provide anecdotes, if possible.
Did he ever have a horse and buggy that you remember? Can you describe it? Which was his favorite horse or buggy? Where would he go with it?
Did he like farm work? Gardening? Prefer office work? Did he have any hobbies that he especially enjoyed?
Did he travel? Where? How? Why?
Did he like to go to movies? If so, what kind did he like?
Was he an outdoor man or did he prefer to read or do other indoor activities like bookwork, etc.? If he liked to read, what sort of things did he prefer? Novels? Periodicals? Newspapers? Religious material? Poetry? Mysteries? History? Classics? Western? The Bible? Did he get a daily paper? Which one? Did he get newspapers or periodicals in a language other than English? Name publications, if possible.
What were some of his favorite foods? Meat and potatoes? Ethnic
foods from his childhood? Which ones? Sweets? Salads and vegetables?
Ice cream? Cookies? Cake? What was his favorite dessert? Was
he especially fond of sweets or did he like plain foods better?
What dishes did he request most frequently? Were there any foods
he particularly disliked? Did he snack between meals? Afternoon
or bedtime? What was his favorite snack? Beverage?
Did he smoke? If so, what? Cigars? Cigarettes? Pipe? What brand? Did he smoke at an early age or take it up later in life? Did he inhale?
Did he drink? Wine? Beer? Alcohol? Soft drinks? What in particular? Rootbeer? Sasparilla?
What was his favorite form of recreation? Did he like sports? Baseball? Football? Tennis? Wrestling? Boxing? Croquet? Horseshoe? Was he a participator in a sport of any kind or was he more of a spectator? Did he play any of these games with you children? Did he engage in any sort of exercise program?
Did he enjoy picnics? If so, were they family picnics? Church picnics? Explain.
Attitude Towards the Arts
Was he musical? Did he sing? If so, bass, baritone, or tenor? Did he sing in English or his native tongue? Did he like music? Was it a part of the home life? Did he enjoy listening to music on the radio or victrola? What kind of music did he like best? Can you think of the names of some of the pieces he liked? Did he encourage you children to sing or play an instrument? Did he provide you with lessons? Instruments?
What kind of music were you allowed or encouraged to play? Give names of music, if possible. What kind of music were you not allowed to listen to or play? Did you have a victrola? What kind? What records did you have? Which pieces were favorites and whose favorites were they?
Did he like to dance? Did he ever make up songs or put his own words to a familiar tune?
Were you encouraged in the other arts such as writing, painting, dancing, etc.? Did he look upon these as frivolities or did he think they provided enrichment to one's life?
Attitude Toward Religion
What was his religious preference?
How important was the church in his life? Did he read the Bible? How often? Did he say prayers regularly at meals? Other times? When? Were the prayers spontaneous or set prayers? Do you remember any of them? If so, please recite them. Did he encourage daily family Bible reading? Describe the ritual. Were there religious articles in the home? Like pictures? Who took part? How? When? Where? Was he active in the church? How?
Did he help found a local church? Was he concerned about his children's religious training?
Views of Politics and World Events
What political party did he belong to? Did he ever run for an office? If so, which one? Was there any particular public figure he especially admired and respected? Was he interested in current events? Did he take part in civic affairs? Which ones? Did he belong to any clubs? Which ones? Did he vote regularly? Was it important for him to vote? What did he think of the government in this country as compared to that in his native country? What did he think of the presidents that were in office during his lifetime? How did he compare this country in general with the one that he came from? Did he miss certain things here that he had in his native land? What were they? Was he proud to be a citizen of the United States? Was he patriotic? Did he fly the flag on national holidays?
What was his attitude toward certain political issues: the Non-Partisan League? The Roosevelt years? Bill Langer? Women's vote? Prohibition? War with Germany? Klu Klux Klan?
Relationship to the Children and Expectations of Them
Did he have certain ideas as to what was moral or immoral behavior? Did he set a good example? What rules were laid down to children at what ages?
What kind of disciplinarian was he? Was he a soft touch? Did he punish for disobedience? How? Did he use physical punishment? How? Did he do all the disciplining himself or did he talk it over with his spouse first and then act? Did brothers and sisters fight? Which ones? Did they argue or engage in physical combat? How were arguments settled?
Did he enjoy playing with you children? How? What was his relationship to the children in the family and did he have a favorite? Do you think he was closer to some than to others? Which ones? What did he consider respectable behavior for children? What values, beliefs and attitudes did he pass down to you? Did he hold you on his lap as children and tell you stories? Did he ever tell you that he loved you? Later on did he and your mother go to your school programs together? Were you expected to room with your siblings? How many and which ones? Did you feel that you lacked privacy? What kinds of things did you enjoy doing with him? What was your own personal relationship with him? What special things can you remember doing with him?
Did he believe that children should fill certain roles and what were they? Did you children ever have a say in the decisions made in the family?
In his mind what constituted respectability in the family? What do you think his idea was of being a successful person? How did members of your family support each other emotionally?
Were you expected to address close family friends as uncle, aunt, or other? Explain.
What traditions, religious customs did he want you to retain? Did he want you to learn his native language? Did he speak to you children in his native language? Could you go to him with your problems and receive fatherly advice?
Did he have a particular philosophy about life? What was it? Did he try to instill it in you children?
Did he ever engage in matchmaking in your family? What kind of courting was allowed?
Relationship with His Spouse
When and where and under what circumstances did he meet her? Elaborate, if possible.
Did they argue with each other? Was he affectionate toward her? Both in public and at home? Was he considerate of her at home and in public? Did he put his arm around her or hug her in front of the rest of the family? Did he ever tease her? How? Did he ever call her any special pet name such as honey, darling, sweetheart or other affectionate names? Did he call her Ma, Mother, or Mama? Or by her given name? Did he ever abbreviate her name? Did he ever give her nicknames? What were they?
Did he make most of the decisions or talk things over with her first? Did he give her a definite realm of authority? Did he let her run the house as she wished? Did he let her do the buying for the family? Clothing? Food? Explain. Could she spend money as she wished? Was he the boss or did she take charge behind the scenes?
Relationship with Other Family Members
Were there other people living in the house with you besides family most of the time? Some of the time? Who were they? Hired help? Relatives? Friends? Tell who they were and how long they would stay and the relationship. For example, if they were maids or friends, were they considered part of the family and treated as such? Can you list the people's names that were living in your family during the time that you were there?
How did he regard the elderly in the family or in general? Widows? Orphans? Those that were destitute?
Did he have a favorite relative other than a member of his immediate family? Who was it and describe the relationship.
Did he like family gatherings and take part in them or was he bored with them? Did he and his spouse invite relatives over often for family holidays such as Christmas, Easter, New Year's Day, birthdays, or weddings? Did they have family reunions? Periodically? Regularly? What did they do at these reunions? Were they usually held because of certain events like weddings, christenings, or because they wanted to visit? Were the children included? Did they feel a special bond between themselves and others of the same heritage? Did they mingle with other ethnic groups? Did relatives exchange services such as babysitting, caring for the sick or those in financial trouble? Did they expect to be repaid for these services? How?
Relationships with Non-Family Associates
Did he like people? Was he gregarious? Was it important to him to be "one of the boys" or wasn't that important to him? Did he have male friends that were especially close to him that he admired or confided in? Who were they?
How did he deal with people other than the immediate family, like business associates or friends? Would you say that he was a leader or a follower? Was he talkative when there was a crowd around and could he hold his own in the conversation or did he sit back and let someone else do most of the talking? How did he look upon his work, his employees or employers? Did he get along well with the people that worked with him? Did he enjoy doing unexpected thoughtful things for people? Did he like to give presents? Give specific examples, if possible. Did he get along well with people of all walks of life or was he more comfortable around some than others? Explain. What attitude did he have toward his neighbors? Did other people come to him for advice? Did he go to others for advice? Did he engage in business ventures with his sons or parents? Was he a private sort of person or did he share his feelings with other members of the family and confide in them about personal problems?
Your Own Relationship to the Parent
What did you most admire about him? What did you find most endearing about him? What trait did you least admire in him? What is your fondest memory of him?
What type of clothing did the children wear? Was there such a thing as a spinning wheel? Seamstress? Buy clothes at store? Sunday clothes? Everyday clothes?
What games were played in winter? Summer? In house? Did you have a lot of toys? Sleds? Bicycles? Were there any special toys? A special dress? What part of the family's life did mail order catalogs play?
What happened when the family got its first car? The make? The cost? Early roads? Flat tires? Trips? Accidents?
Was there a family doctor? Any special events connected with the doctor? Serious illnesses? Deaths? Accidents? Were there midwives? Faith healers?
What about the dentist? Any remembrance of costs? Equipment? Home remedies?
Any lawsuits? Any problem with the police? Prohibition? School officials?
Any family events associated with storms? Blizzards? Hail? Wind?
Did you have any pets like dogs, cats, horses, or cows? Do you remember the names of them and what kind of animals they were (color, breed, etc.)? Did the father have a favorite pet? Which one? Describe and give the name if you can.
What was school like? What was in the lunch pail? How far to school? Did teachers use physical punishment? Describe schoolhouse. Was there religious instruction in school? Who were teachers? What was done at recess?
If you could go on dates, where would you be allowed to go? Was it important to your parents that the children marry someone with the same nationality, religion, and race?
Did the father or mother encourage you to get an education in the field of your choice or talent and interest? If so, did they pay for your education or were you expected to earn the money yourself?
What kinds of recreation or amusements were allowed at your home? What kinds were forbidden in your home? Barn dances? Card parties? Church picnics? Home dances? What kind of reading was permitted? What kinds were not permitted?
How were Sundays observed? Were there any restrictions on your activities on the Sabbath? What were they? Were there any rules about what you could or could not do on Sundays?
How does your way of raising children compare to that of your parents? Were you expected to get a job as soon as you were old enough? How old? What kind of job? Were you allowed to keep what you earned and spend it as you wished? Explain.
What was Christmas like at home? Did anyone ever play Santa Claus for you children? If so, describe what he wore, what he did, etc. Did the family ever do anything especially memorable at Christmas that you can recall, either for you or for someone of the family?
Do you remember one Christmas in particular? How was it special? Did you always have a Christmas tree at home? Did you buy it or chop one down yourself? Did you remember one gift in particular that you especially cherished? Describe. Do you remember a favorite toy that you had as a child? Were there any special holiday foods? Holiday songs? Visiting of neighbors? Did you take part in any church activities at Christmas? If so, what did you do?
What happened at your home on Easter? Holy Week? New Year's Day? Name days? Fourth of July? Special anniversaries?
Did you have special birthday celebrations for each member of the family? Did you have a cake? Presents? Spankings? Or did you just wish each other a happy birthday?
Was there a death in your family? If so, who was it and how did it affect your family?
Can you elaborate on particular community events such as fires (buildings or prairie fires), mail services, Indians, political meetings, circuses, chautauquas, first automobiles, arrival of the railroad line, first movie theatre, chivarees, weather disasters such as cyclones, hailstorms, blizzards, drought, disease, epidemics and Halloween pranks and other events.
NOTE: Some of the following items can be obtained through the normal genealogical search of records. These data often require digging out old papers and will interrupt the conversational tone of the interview. For that reason it is left until the end of the session.
What was his full name? If he used an initial, was it just an initial or did it stand for a name? Did he have a nickname? Who called him by this name? Was he named after a relative or ancestor? If so, which one?
What day, month and year was he born and in what country, state, county and city?
If he came from anther country which one and what district, city or village?
What day, month and year did he come to this country and when did he arrive here?
Do you know the name of the ship that he came on? What was the point of embarkation? What was the point of arrival? Who came with him? Why did he come to this country? Was someone else instrumental in his coming here? Who was it and did this person pay his fare? Did coming here from another country make him feel discriminated against? Was he or anyone in the family called by slurring names in America? Did he become a citizen of this country? Where and what day, month and year?
What day, month and year was he married and to whom? Where
was he married? Was the marriage planned by his parents? Totally
or in part?
What did he bring from the old country?
What was his occupation in the old country? What was it immediately after he arrived in this country?
What day, month and year did he die and where? What was the cause of death? What was the date and place of burial?
What are the full names of his brothers and sisters?
What are the full names of his wife's brothers and sisters. What are their birth dates? Did he keep a diary, family record book or save any other documents?
Reprinted with permission of Heritage Review.