Kids’ Genealogy Homework: Interviewing Grandparents

Posted January 11, 2008 by Geni | No Comment

In our continuing series of Guest Bloggers who are introducing subjects of interest to the Genealogy Community, we welcome Diane Haddad, Managing Editor of Family Tree Magazine who gives tips for interviewing Grandparents.

When I was 8 years old, my teacher sent my class home with a list of questions and instructions to ask an older relative about his or her life. I called my grandma, told her “you’re the oldest person I know,” and launched into the interview.

Despite starting off on questionable footing, I learned a lot about my grandmother: She grew up on a farm! And drew water from a well! And spoke German!

Similarly, your child’s school or scouting project to interview a grandparent can bring the two closer and reveal new family stories

The first step is setting up a time to talk. Your child can make the phone call, with your help. Meeting in person will be easiest, but a telephone interview is fine if your family is far-flung. E-mailed questions can result in less spontaneous sharing, but they’ll work, too.

You can record an in-person interview using a digital voice recorder or video camera. Skype, a service for making calls over the Internet, lets you record a call; or buy a recorder for use with a normal phone.

Next, if your child’s teacher didn’t provide a list of questions, she should come up with 10 to 20. Be sure to consider any project requirements, for example, focusing on a topic such as military service. A few good basic questions:

When were you born?

What were your parents’ names? Grandparents’ names?

What is your happiest memory of your father? Your mother?

Where did you grow up?

What did you do for fun as a child?

How did you like school?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

How did you meet Grandma/Grandpa?

Tell me about the day my mom/dad was born.

What was your first job?

Your son or daughter could find significant historical events that occurred during her grandparents’ lives, such as the Great Depression or the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Then he can ask about them with a question such as, “What’s your most vivid memory of growing up during the Great Depression?”

Your child also might be interested in how her grandparents’ childhoods compare to her own: Did they have similar hobbies? What chores did they have to do around the house? How did they get along with their brothers and sisters?

Scott Kelly, who conducts oral histories through his company Oral Family Histories, says it’s OK if the conversation leads your child to ask questions not on the list, or his grandparent to tell stories not related to a question.

Looking at old family photos during the interview may spark grandparents’ memories, too. If filling in a family tree chart is part of the homework, use the free downloadable ancestor chart on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.

See FamilyTreeMagazine.com’s oral history toolkit  for more question suggestions and interviewing advice.

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