If your experience is anything like mine, it can be frustratingly hard to get your family members to start sharing personal details about themselves, their parents, or their grandparents. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to talk about themselves, or perhaps they figure you’ve already heard and know the stories and they don’t want to bore you by repeating something you may have last heard decades ago.
I’m starting to think that more often, it’s because I’m not asking the right questions—that I’m not asking questions that are specific enough to trigger old memories. So in this series of posts, I’ll be bringing together some ideas for lines of questioning when interviewing relatives.
In the following examples, I’ll be pretending to ask an older relative about their deceased parent. While I use the pronoun “he” in the following questions, they apply equally well to both parents. I’m figuring there will be several lines of questioning (on leisure, religion, politics, personality, family, religion/spirituality, work, education, childhood, young adulthood, dating and marriage, the military, and so on), with the questions for any one of these lines being covered in one or more sessions of an hour or more each. Continue reading