Origins || Family Folklore
|| Social History || Local History
The Grand Generation
Some Possible Questions
I remember my relatives talking and talking and talking, and yet
as a kid, I didn't listen. I'd love to go back now and listen.
Wayne Dionne, Alexandria, Virginia
Because every individual is unique and every
interviewer has his or her own special interests and research goals, there
is no single set of questions that will fit every situation. The following
are some that might be used in an interview with an older relative or neighbor
about family folklore and local history. Feel free to pick and choose among
them and to change them to suit your own situation. Ultimately, the most
useful questions will be those that you develop yourself based on your knowledge
of your own family and/or community.
- How did your family come to be where it is today? Are there migration
stories? Stories about establishing the family business or farm, or moving
to an urban neighborhood? Are there stories about how family members acquired
their first plot of land or their first store? Did the family stay in one
place or move around?
- If your informant is second- or third- generation immigrant, he or
she might be asked: Do you know any stories about how your parents or grandparents
came to America? Where did they first settle? How did they make a living?
What language(s) did they speak and what do they speak now?
- If your informant is a first-generation immigrant, you might ask him
or her:Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What did you do for
a living? Why did you leave your homeland? What possessions did you bring
with you and why? What was the journey like? Which family members came
along or stayed behind? Why?
- What were some of your first impressions and early experiences in this
country? Are there certain traditions or customs that you have made an
effort to preserve? Why? Are there traditions that you have been forced
to give up or adapt?
- Are there stories about the history or origins of your family name?
Has it undergone any changes? Are there any traditional first names or
nicknames in your family? How did they come about?
- What stories do you remember hearing from your parents and grandparents?
What were some of their favorites? What stories do you enjoy telling most?
Why? Are there stories about notorious characters in your family or town?
Lost fortunes? Heroes and mischief makers? If you are interviewing your
grandparents, ask them to tell you stories about what your parents were
like when they were young.
- How did your parents, grandparents, and other relatives come to meet
- Does your family have any special sayings or expressions? What are
they? How did they originate?
- What languages do you speak? Did you speak a different language at
home than at" work or school? Are there any expressions, jokes, stories,
celebrations where a certain language is always used?
- Have any recipes been preserved and passed down in your family from
generation to generation? What are their origins? Have they changed over
the years? Do they hold any memories for you? Are there certain foods that
are traditionally prepared for holidays and celebrations? Who makes them?
- How and where are holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
What holidays are the most important? Are there special family traditions,
customs, songs, foods? Has your family created its own celebrations? What
are they? How did they come about?
- Does your family hold reunions? When? Where? Who attends? How long
have the reunions been going on? What activities take place? Are awards
given out? Is there a central figure who is honored? Why? What sorts of
stories are told at these events?
- What family heirlooms or keepsakes and mementos do you possess? Why
are they valuable to you? What is their history? How were they handed down?
Are there any memories or stories connected with them?
- Do you have any photo albums, scrapbooks, home movies? Who made them?
When? Can you explain their contents? Who is pictured? What were these
people like? What activities and events are documented?
- What were some of your experiences during the Great Depression, World
War I, World War II or the Vietnam War? How did these events or others
affect you and your community?
- What are some of your earliest childhood memories? What games did you
play when you were a child? Did you sing any verses when you played games?
What were they? What kinds of toys did you play with? Who made them? Did
you make any yourself? What slang expressions did you use? Who were your
sports and comic book heroes and why? Can you remember your favorite songs
and music? What was school like? What chores did you have to do? Do you
remember your first job?
- What did you do in the evenings before there was radio or television?
What kind of home entertainment was there? Was there storytelling? Were
there games? Music and songs?
- Describe some of the technological changes you have witnessed over
the years. Have there been any changes in the tools and equipment of your
trade or profession? What was it like in the days before refrigeration?
Do you remember the first cars, tractors, airplanes, or electric lights?
What were some of your or your family's experiences with these new inventions?
- How have cultural traditions and customs changed or stayed the same
in your ethnic, regional, and/or occupational community?
- Describe the farm community, the small town, or the urban neighborhood
where you grew up. How has it changed over the years? What brought about
these changes? What did people do for a living? What do they do now? Were
there any community traditions or celebrations like church suppers, rodeos,
saint's day processions, or 4th of July parades? What were they like? How
are they different or the same?
- Can you draw a map of the family home? Of your old neighborhood? What
places stand out most in your mind and why? What were your neighbors like?
What kinds of gatherings were there?