The Grand Generation
Some Possible Questions

Origins || Family Folklore || Social History || Local History

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?

Family Folklore

  • 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 and marry?
  • 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?

Social History

  • 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?

Local History

  • 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?