If you have made arrangements ahead of time to interview a particular person, try to do it in a quiet setting where there will be little or no interruptions. If you will be tape recording your subject, make sure ahead of time that your recorder is in prime working order (batteries, settings, etc.) and set it close enough to pick up all the dialog, especially if you have a quiet speaking interviewee. Talk about general topics if you will be taking notes, to get them comfortable with the interview setting. Speak slowly and clearly. Tell your subject that you will give them a break when they need one.
Begin with the basics
Depending on what you might already know about your subjectâ€™s name and birth dates, you can skip that information and focus on other questions that might give you more background information.
Some questions to ask:
- Where were you born? (City, state, country)
- Were you born at home, or in a hospital or nursing home?
- Do you know what time of day you were born?
- Was there a world event that took place the same day? (End of a war, weather event, etc.)
- Were there other siblings? (This could lead to a long answer, so maybe save it to ask in a separate session.)
- Where do you fall in birth order?
- Did your parents both work? What were their professions?
- What do you know about your mother’s/father’s ancestors? (City, state, country)
- Are there any celebrities in your family tree?
- Why did they come to the United States from that country?
- Did they bring any family traditions with them?
- What important lessons did you learn from your (Mother, father, grandparents, etc.)
- Who were the best story tellers in your family?
- What will you always remember about them?
- Were you taught any special skills? (Cooking, carpentry, sewing, fishing, hunting, etc.)
- What were the things you did as a child, teen, and adult that have given you the most pleasure?
- Were you ever in any accidents?
- What were the newest discoveries during the time you were growing up?
- How has the world changed since you were a child?
- In what way was the world better then?
- What was your favorite subject in school?
- What did you like to do after school?
- Did you ride a bike to school, a bus, or walk? Or, were you taken to school by car?
- Did you get good grades?
- What was the extent of your formal education?
- Is there anything that you would like to tell me about that you feel I should know?
Don’t expect to get all of your questions answered in one sitting. Take this list with you and highlight the most important things you want to know. If your subject is willing to answer more questions, then go back and ask your secondary questions.
Depending on your relationship with the subject, keep in mind that your questions could bring up sad or angry memories. If they do, either move on,change the subject or end the interview. This should be a fun exercise, not something unpleasant. Happy interviewing!