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Kevin Airrington is a professional genealogist & historian with 15+ years experience. Specializing in adoptions - It's Who I Am!™
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Does it exist?

It is easy to search without looking to see if the record even exists. “let” me search the 1810 census for a man who should have been living in Ohio. Problem is that most of the 1810 census for Ohio was destroyed in the War of 1812. If I never get past the search […]

Interview Your Relatives Before It’s Too Late!

Personal interviews play a vital role in compiling family histories and genealogies. It’s important to interview aged relatives while their memory is sharp and accurate. Prepare questions ahead of time and send them ahead so relatives can prepare in advance. Use a video recorder whenever possible. If not take two recording devices (in case one malfunctions) and extra batteries. Make sure you take writing materials along. If you can’t interview relatives in person send the list ahead and arrange a time for a telephone interview. Let them know if you’re planning to tape the conversation.

It’s not easy to compile a list of standard questions. Everyone you interview will be unique and some will require more than the standard questions discussed here. Sometimes new questions will surface during the interview. Jot them down and ask them later rather than interrupt the flow of the interview. Standard questions you May find useful appear in the lists after “Who Should I Interview?”

who should i interview?

Ideally it would be great if you could interview every living relative but with families spread all over the globe it might be impossible. It’s a good idea to start with the oldest members of your immediate and extended family. When relatives who could answer important questions are deceased turn to their children and friends especially their childhood friends.

Obtaining names dates places and relationships isn’t the only purpose of interviewing relatives. Record their memories of people and events!

relatives to interview

  • Great-grandparents
  • Grandparents
  • Great-grand aunts and uncles
  • Grand aunts and uncles
  • Parents
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Cousins
  • Friends of older or deceased family members
  • Neighbors of older or deceased family members

what questions should i ask?

The standard questions below ask for important genealogical information and some biographical details. Be sure to supplement the standard queries by designing questions to obtain specific information. If a relative has a special talent occupational achievement(s) military experience etc. design questions to cover those areas of a person’s life.

statistical and historical questions

  1. What name were you given at birth?
  2. Were you named after a relative friend of the family or historical figure?
  3. What is your birth date?
  4. Where were you born?
  5. Were you born in a hospital or at home?
  6. When were you married?
  7. Where were you married?
  8. What is your spouse’s full name (maiden name of wife)?
  9. How many times were you married?
  10. If married more than once give the date and place of each marriage and each spouse’s full name (maiden surname of a wife).
  11. Are you a widow/widower? If so give the date place and cause of each spouse’s death?
  12. Did you and your spouse(s) have children? If so give each child’s full name date and place of birth marriage and death and each of their spouse’s names?
  13. Where and how long did you attend school? If you went to a trade school college or university what did you study there? What degrees did you earn?
  14. Describe the teacher who had the most influence on you?
  15. If you served in the military can you name the branch of service dates of service combat assignments and ranks?
  16. What religion did you practice?
  17. Describe the minister or rabbi who inspired you the most?

questions about parents and siblings

  1. Can you help me complete a group record for your immediate family? We’ll need to know your parents’ and sibling’s full names plus the date and place of birth marriage and death of each one.
  2. Can you help me complete a pedigree chart? It will sketch out what’s known about your ancestors as far back as you can remember.
  3. If not can you give your parents’ full names?
  4. When and where were they born?
  5. If your parents are deceased when and where did they die? What caused their death and where are they buried?
  6. Can you list your parents’ diagnosed illnesses?
  7. How many children were born to your parents?
  8. What names did they give your brothers and sisters?
  9. When and where were your brothers and sisters born and married also name their spouses. When and where did they die and where are they buried?
  10. Can you list the diagnosed illnesses your siblings experienced?
  11. How did your parents earn a living?
  12. Can you describe your father? Include his physical description values travels religious beliefs and political affiliations?
  13. Can you describe your mother? Include her physical description values travels religious beliefs and political affiliations?
  14. Describe the home(s) you lived in as a child.
  15. Name two or three of your favorite authors.
  16. Name two or three books that influenced you the most?
  17. What is your nationality?

questions about immigrants

  1. If foreign born did any of your ancestors or relatives change their name after arriving in America?
  2. Can you name family members who immigrated to the United States?
  3. What city town or village did they live in prior to coming to this country?
  4. Why did they choose to leave their homeland?
  5. Do you remember any stories about what life was like before they came here?
  6. Where did they settle in the United States?
  7. How did they earn a living?
  8. What religion did they practice?
  9. Did any of them return to their homeland for a visit?
  10. Did any of their relatives visit this country? If so can you name them?

historical and biographical questions

  1. What were you told about your ancestors?
  2. Do you have or know anyone who has photographs of your family members and ancestors?
  3. Do you have any old documents letters scrapbooks war memorabilia obituary notices journals or other types of family heirlooms?
  4. What traditions did your family practice on holidays or religious events?
  5. Are others in your family interested in tracing their ancestry? If so who are they and how can we get in touch with them?
  6. Can you tell me about the three most memorable events in your life?


There are hundreds of other questions you can ask relatives. As people talk they will lead you to areas of their lives you May not think to ask about. If you hope to get answers to all of the above questions and others plan to schedule more than one interview time.

by Johni Cerny B.S. F.U.G.A.


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