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Questions to ask when researching your family history

This list of oral history questions was compiled from a variety of sources by Joanne Todd Rabun in 1993.They included a 6th grade class project of her daughter and a college-level Women's Studies class project of her nephew. She used them to produce a booklet entitled "The Life and Times of Winnie Lackore" to commemorate Winnie's 90th birthday celebration.

General Questions

  • What is your full name and why were you named it?
  • Were you named after somebody else?
  • Did you have a nickname as you were growing up?
  • If you did, what was it and why did they call you that?
  • Have you had other nicknames as an adult?
  • What do family members call you now?
  • Where were you born and when?
  • Do you remember hearing your grandparents describe their lives? What did they say?
  • Do you remember your great-grandparents? What do you know about them?
  • Who was the oldest person you can remember in your family as a child? What do you remember about them?
  • Do you remember your family discussing world events and politics?
  • Was there a chore you really hated doing as a child?
  • What would you consider to be the most important inventions that have been made during your lifetime?
  • How is the world now different from what it was like when you were a child?
  • What kinds of books did you like to read?
  • Do you remember having a favorite nursery rhyme or bedtime story? What was it?
  • Do you ever remember not having enough food to eat because times were hard for your family?
  • What were your favorite toys and what were they like?
  • What were your favorite childhood games?
  • What were your schools like?
  • How did you get to school?
  • What was your favorite subject in school and why?
  • What subject in school was always the easiest for you?
  • What was your least favorite subject in school and why?
  • Who was your favorite teacher and why were they special?
  • How do your fellow classmates from school remember you best?
  • What school activities and sports did you participate in?
  • Did you and your friends have a special hang-out where you liked to spend time?
    Where was it and what did you do there?
  • Were you ever given any special awards for your studies or school activities?
  • How many years of education have you completed?
  • Do you have a college degree? If so, what was your field of study?
  • Did you get good grades?
  • Did you like school?
  • What did you like the most and the least about it?
  • What did you usually wear to school? Describe it.
  • Were there any fads during your youth that you remember vividly?
  • How old were you when you started dating?
  • Do you remember your first date? Describe the circumstances.
  • Name a good friend that you have known for the longest period of time? How many years have you been friends?
  • Has there ever been anyone in your life that you would consider to me your kindred spirit or soul mate?
    If so, who were they and why did you feel a special bond to them?
  • How did you meet the person that you would later marry? Describe them?
  • Do you remember where you went on the first date with your spouse?
  • How long did you know them before you got married?
  • Describe your wedding proposal.
  • When and where did you get married?
  • Describe your wedding ceremony. Who was there?
  • Did you have a honeymoon? If so, where did you go?
  • How would you describe your spouse? What do (did) you admire most about them?
  • How long have you been married (or were you married)?
  • What wise advice would you give to a grandchild on their wedding day?
  • How did you find out that you were going to be a parent for the first time?
  • How many children did you have all together?
  • What were their names, birthdates and birthplaces?
  • Do you remember anything that your children did when they were small that really amazed you?
  • What is one of the most unusual things that one of your children did regularly when they were small?
  • What was the funniest thing you can remember that one of your children said or did?
  • If you had it to do all over again, would you change the way you raised your family? How?
  • What did you find most difficult about raising children?
  • What did you find most rewarding about being a parent?
  • Did you spoil any of your children? How?
  • Were you a strict or lenient parent?
  • Did you find that you had to treat each of your children differently? If so, why?
  • How did you first hear that you were a grandparent and how did you feel about it?
  • What advice do you have for your children and grandchildren?
  • As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What was your first job?
  • What kinds of jobs have you had?
  • How did you decide on your career?
  • Did you make enough money to live comfortably?
  • How long did you have to work each day at your job?
  • How old were you when you retired?
  • What were the hardest choices that you ever had to make? Do you feel like you made the right choices?
  • Who was the person that had the most positive influence on your life? Who were they and what did they do?
  • Is there a person that really changed the course of your life by something that they did?
    Who were they and what did they do?
  • Do you remember someone saying something to you that had a big impact on how you lived your life?
    What was it?
  • How would you describe yourself politically?
  • Are you Conservative or Liberal and why?
  • What wars have been fought during your lifetime? How did you feel about them?
  • If you served in the military, when and where did you serve and what were your duties?
  • If you served in the military, were you ever injured in the line of duty?
    What were the circumstances and what were your injuries?
  • What U.S. President have you admired the most and why?
  • As you see it, what are the biggest problems that face our nation and how do you think they could be solved?
  • How tall are you?
  • What color was your hair as a young child and then as an adult?
  • What color are your eyes?
  • Where have you lived as an adult? List the places and the years that you lived there.
  • Why are you living where you are today?
  • Do you wish you lived somewhere else (If so, where would it be)?
  • Describe your general health.
  • What major illnesses or health problems do you remember having?
  • Do you have any health problems that are considered hereditary in nature? If so, what are they?
  • What do you do regularly for exercise?
  • Do you have any bad habits now or in the past? What were they?
  • Have you ever been the victim of a crime? What happened?
  • Have you ever been in a serious accident?
  • Has anyone ever saved your life? Describe.
  • Have you ever saved anyone else's life? Describe.
  • Have you ever been hospitalized? If so, what for?
  • Have you ever had surgery? If so, what for?
  • If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?
  • Have you ever had an experience that you would consider to be super-natural or psychic? Did you ever know something was going to happen before it actually did? What was it?
  • What do you usually dream about?
  • What church, if any, do you attend regularly?
  • Describe your religious beliefs.
  • Do you believe in an after life?
  • What was the most stressful experience that you ever lived through? What helped you get through it?
  • What is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you personally?
  • What kinds of musical instrument(s) have you learned to play?
  • Would you consider yourself creative?
  • What things have you made that others have enjoyed?
  • How would you describe your sense of humor?
  • What is the funniest practical joke you ever played on anyone?
  • What activities have you especially enjoyed as an adult?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What did you like to do when you were not working?
  • What is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you?
  • What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?
  • Have you ever met any famous people? Describe what happened.
  • What organizations and groups have you belonged to?
  • Have you ever won any special awards or prizes as an adult? What were they for?
  • Describe a time and place when you remember feeling truly at peace and happy to be alive.
    Where were you and what were you doing?
  • What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited and what was it like?
  • What is the longest trip that you have ever gone on? Where did you go?
  • What has been your favorite vacation? Where did you go and why was it special?
  • What was the favorite place you ever visited and what was it like?
  • What pets have you had?
  • Do you have a favorite story about a pet? What is it?
  • Is there anything you have always wanted to do, but haven't?


  • What is your favorite style of music?
  • What is your favorite musical instrument?
  • Who is your favorite musical group?
  • What is your favorite song?
  • Who is your favorite singer?
  • Who is your favorite movie star?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • Who is your favorite artist?
  • What is your favorite painting?
  • Who is your favorite poet?
  • What is your favorite poem?
  • What is your favorite TV program?
  • Who is your favorite author?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • What is your favorite season?
  • What is your favorite tree?
  • What is your favorite flower?
  • What is your favorite holiday?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • What is your favorite sport?
  • Who is your favorite athlete?
  • What is your favorite animal?
  • What is your favorite meal?
  • What is your favorite fruit?
  • What is your favorite vegetable?
  • What is your favorite candy?
  • What is your favorite cookie?
  • What is your favorite drink?
  • What is your favorite restaurant?
  • What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
  • What is your favorite board game?
  • What is your favorite card game?
  • IF YOU HAD TO PICK A LABEL FOR YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS (your spouse, children, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts & uncles, cousins), WHO BEST FITS THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTIONS? The best cook; The hardest-worker; the quietest; the best memory; the best gardener; the funniest; the best-looking; the animal lover; the most politically-active; the most mischievous; the calmest; the most athletic; the most intelligent; the most educated; the best career; the most creative; the wildest lifestyle; the most sociable; the biggest tease; the best housekeeper; the most reclusive; the most colorful; the most relaxed; the most frugal; the most generous; the tallest; the shortest; the best story-teller

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