Editor’s note: This post has been updated for accuracy and comprehension.
Jim Rohn taught me, “If life is worth living, it is worth recording.”
Now is the perfect time to capture the legacy of your parents, grandparents and other beloved family members.
Below is a list of potential questions to ask your parents, grandparents or anyone else in your family whose story you’d like to preserve.
Knowing the stories of your family can give you a deeper understanding of your parents and grandparents, but it also gives you greater insight into your own motivations and behaviors.
There are a lot of questions here. You don’t have to ask all of them, but the list is a good guide to get you started.
I used them to interview my dad four years ago. I wish I had done it earlier, BEFORE he was quite sick, going through chemo for lung cancer.
I did it with my mom (pictured above) when she was in great health. The recordings came out very well and we’re glad we have them.
It would be amazing if I had these recordings from my grandparents! I only have one from my grandmother that was made in the early 1990’s when she was in her prime! She really loved to watch it, too, since she had never seen herself on TV.
It’s important to explain to your loved ones that you want to capture your legacy for future generations.
Questions to ask your parents and grandparents
Keep in mind that some of your relatives will be more shy than others, so take measures to be sensitive to that.
Use a tripod and put it aside – don’t hold onto your camera. An external mic is a good idea if you have one or get on for under $20 very easily. Great sound will really make a difference!
A good way to start and get them warmed up is to look through a family photo album together and ask them to tell you stories.
If you do intend to ask many of the questions, it’s a good idea to plan on a couple different sittings.
But remember, you can feel free to just ask the questions you think are most interesting.
- What is your full name and why were you named that? Did you have a nickname growing up?
- What were the full names, dates of birth and places of birth of your parents and grandparents?
- What were the occupations of your parents?
- What do you remember most about your mother?
- What do you remember most about your father?
- What do you remember most about your grandparents?
- Are there any other family members you particularly remember? What makes them stand out in your mind?
- Where were you born? Were you born in a hospital, at home or elsewhere?
- How many children were in your family? What are there full names?
- What are the earliest memories about your first home? What about other homes and places you lived?
- What do you remember most about your childhood?
- Where did you grow up? What was your neighborhood like?
- Could you tell me a story or a special memory about your brothers and sisters?
- What was your favorite pet when you were a child?
- What did you family do for fun when you were a kid?
- What were your favorite toys as a kid? What games did you play?
- What kind of chores did you do as a kid? Did you get an allowance?
- What kind of books did you like to read?
- When you were young, did you ever collect anything?
- Where did you go to grammar school, high school, and college or trade/technical school?
- Who was your best friend as a child?
- Who was your best friend in high school?
- What was your first job? How much money did you make?
- Did you work during high school?
- How many jobs have you had?
- How did you decide on a career?
- Did you and your friends have a special place to hangout? Tell me about that.
- How would people who knew you in high school describe you?
- Were there any subjects or teachers you particularly liked or disliked? Why?
- Were you involved in any school sports or clubs? Did you receive any special awards?
- What did you wear to school?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- What did you do after high school?
- What was your first car? What did you pay for it? How did you pay for it?
- Who was your first date?
- How many times have you been in love?
- How did you meet my mom/dad? Tell us about that?
- How long did you date? What was that like?
- What was your proposal like?
- Where was your wedding? How many people attended? Tell me about the ceremony.
- Did you have a honeymoon? Where did you go?
- How many children did you have all together?
- What are their names, birthdates and birthplaces?
- Why did you name them what you did?
- Are there any funny or unusual things your children did that stand out?
- What was most rewarding about being a parent?
- Were you strict or lenient as a parent?
- Have you been married more than once?
- When and where did your parents die? What do you remember about that? How did they die?
- Do you remember your grandparents describing their lives? What did they say?
- Did you have any childhood diseases?
- Have you ever been the victim of a crime?
- Have you been in a serious accident?
- Has anyone ever saved your life?
- What family trip do you remember most?
- What is the funniest family story you remember?
- Did you ever do anything naughty/mischievous?
- Did you served in the Armed Forces? Which branch? When? Where? What rank?
- Did you ever fight in a war-time battle? Where?
- What is your favorite book, movie and song?
- What do you think are the great inventions in your lifetime?
- Do you remember the first time you saw a television, car, plane, and refrigerator?
- Do you remember your family discussing world events and politics?
- How would you describe yourself politically?
- How did you react to events like the assassination of President Kennedy, WWII starting/ending, Pearl Harbor bombing, September 11…other big events?
- How did the Vietnam War affect you?
- Who are your closest friends to this day? Who is your oldest friend?
- What were the hardest choices you ever had to make?
- Was there an event that really changed the course of your life?
- Was there a person who really impacted the course of your life?
- What was the most stressful experience you ever lived through?
- What was the scariest thing that ever happened to you?
- What kind of musical instruments have you learned to play?
- What was the funniest practical joke you ever played on someone?
- What activities have you really enjoyed as an adult?
- What are your hobbies?
- What are some amazing things that have happened to you?
- Have you met any famous people?
- Who were your parents?
- Who were your grandparents?
- Where are they from?
- What organizations or groups have you been a member of?
- Have you won any special awards or prizes as an adult? What were they for?
- What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited and what was it like?
- What is the longest trip that you have every gone on? Where did you go?
- What states have you visited? What countries have you visited?
- What was your favorite place you have ever visited and what was it like?
- What pets have you had? Tell me about them.
- Is there anything you have always wanted to do but haven’t?
- Have you ever been to a world’s fair?
- What or who is your favorite:
- Board game?
- Card game?
- Flavor of ice cream?
- Movie star?
- Musical group?
- Musical instrument?
- What is the single most memorable moment of your life?
- What you most thankful for?
- What are you most proud of?
- Do you have any photos, movies, videos or audio recordings of older family members?
- What are your favorite family recipes? How do we get them?
- What is something you’re very proud of that no one knows you did?
- What can you tell us about our family tree we do not know?
Asking the tough questions
Though it may be uncomfortable, it’s important to ask some questions that are a little more difficult.
When someone passes away, you have to be able to access essential documents and possessions or you will have a nightmare situation to deal with. Items such as:
- Their will, marriage licenses
- Social Security Information
- Current bills.
- Insurance policies
- Proof of ownership of key assets – real estate, cars etc.
- Stock certificates, annuities, savings bonds, and brokerage accounts
- Safe Deposit Boxes
- Investment statements – Pensions, IRA, SEP, 401k
- Credit Card information
- Automatic Bill Pay information
- Housing, land, and cemetery deeds
- Bank accounts
- Usernames/Passwords for their computer and any online accounts
- Proof of loans made and debts owed
- Treasured belongings
The process of dealing with what’s left behind is simpler when everything is in order and no one has to search through drawers, cabinets and closets.
Preserving a legacy
As time goes on, it’s more important for you to document the story of your family for future generations.
In addition to knowing the history, you need to know where important documents are kept and what your loved ones’ wishes are before something happens to them.
These 98 questions will help you get to know your family – and yourself.
Do you have a method for preserving important memories and documents?