Interview Tips & Suggested Questions

Here are some questions and interview tips from Margaret Lazio Lupyan who has interviewed hundreds of people for her business Memoirs Unlimited, as well as intergenerational interview tips suggested by the Legacy Project.

Here are some basic questions you can ask your grandparent (or other interview subject). These questions cover nearly every aspect of someone’s life and act as a launching pad for many, many memories:
1.  Date of birth
2.  Where were you born?
3.  Name and ages of siblings
4.  What was your father's name and occupation?
5.  What was your mother's maiden name and occupation?
6.  Favorite childhood memories:
7.  Date of marriage:
8.  To whom?
9.  Where?
10.  Children/names/birthdates
11.  Your occupation
12.  Chronology of jobs
13.  Hobbies

Additional questions might include:

  • Tell me the funniest story about your family.
  • Why did your family move to ________?
  • What were your most difficult moments?
  • What would you caution me on?
  • What advice would you give me?
  • How did you choose your values?
  • What have you learned the hard way?
  • What ‘sayings’ did your parents tell you that you’ve passed on to your children?
  • What are the major life lessons you would like to pass on to me?

Interview Tips:

(a) Relax during the interview, and you will help your grandparent relax in turn.
(b) Tape recorders are excellent for capturing detail and expression, but never rely on them alone.  Always take notes as well -- the recorder could fail, your grandparent might speak too softly, or the tape could break.
(c)  Your grandparent will probably repeat all or parts of a story, but each time you will learn more details!
(d) Ask questions slowly; allow time for your grandparent to answer; and show interest by making eye contact, nodding and leaning forward.
(e) Moments of silence or emotion are natural when remembering and sharing important life events. Accept whatever comes up as part of this process.
(f) Don’t take more than an hour at a time and be sure to thank your grandparent for sharing his or her life story with you! You can always continue the interview at another session.      


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