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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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,
Comment on each of the following characteristics and give examples,
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;
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,
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
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?
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,
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
Did he drink? Wine? Beer? Alcohol? Soft drinks? What in particular?
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
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?
Any lawsuits? Any problem with the police? Prohibition? School
Any family events associated with storms? Blizzards? Hail?
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
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.