How to Get Good Answers
Do you hate it when you ask someone a question about their life, and they answer “yes” or “no”. You instantly realize that you should have worded your question a different way.
Oral history prompts and family history questions can be a little tricky but with my handy questions (and free printable), you’ll learn to ask the questions that get the answers you want.
“Yes and no” responses usually come from “what’s your favorite” questions. They’re great ice breaker questions, but they can really waste time when you want to get to the meat of someone’s personal story.
How you phrase a question can mean the difference between getting their story or getting a one word response. You might not get yes or no, but you might get a shorter answer than you had hoped.
Examples of these types of questions are:
- Do you like cake? (answer probably will be YES or NO)
- What is your favorite cake? (answer might be a word or phrase “I like chocolate cake“)
Those answers help break the ice.
But this question will get an answer plus a story:
- Can you tell me about your the best birthday party you ever had? (You will probably get a chance to ask about cake.)
Getting a story RATHER than an answer is your goal when writing your family history. Family history gains importance as the years increase. It enriches your life in the present, but its effects on the generations that follow will be treasured indefinitely. Read more about the ways family history enriches our lives.
Awesome Prompts and Questions to get you started
START HERE with some oral history prompts and family history questions that’ll get you started writing your family history.
- Who do you think you look most like in your family?
- Describe the most fun you ever had with a member of your family.
- What things about you made your parents most proud of you?
- Who in your family is your personality most like? Describe.
- What did the inside of your house look like when you were a kid?
- When you were bored as a child, what kinds of things did you do to entertain yourself?
- Where did you shop for clothes as a kid and what was one of your favorite things to wear?
- Did you play outside when you were a kid and what were your favorite games?
- What were the names of your best friends when you were growing up?
Appeal to the senses
- Some people can smell perfume or a certain food and it reminds them of someone or something from their childhood. What smell takes you back and who or what does it remind you of?
- Describe the happiest day of your childhood.
- What is something you got in trouble for when you were a kid?Did someone in your family ever make you cry and what
- What were you afraid of when you were young?
- Did anyone ever pick on you when you were a kid and what
- Was there any tragedy in your family that was difficult to
- Describe the day when you were the most afraid.
- Were there any members of the family that had special talents: Singing, dancing, athletes?
- What were the occupations of your parents and grandparents?
- What do you know about how your parents met each other?
- Who was the oldest relative you remember and describe what they looked like and their personality.
Get them talking about ancient history
- What are some things you remember about your grandparents that you want your (future) grandchildren to always know about them?
- If you could only use one word to describe each member of your family, what would you say? Tell me more.
- What kinds of activities did your parents enjoy when they weren’t at work?
- What do you imagine your grandparents were like? (Did anyone ever tell you about them?)
- Which world event impacted you the most when you were growing up and how did it affect you?
- What traditions or celebrations are much different today than when you were a kid?
- Growing up in your family, what lessons did you learn?
- What beliefs did your family hold?
- Did you imagine your life would be as it is now? (How is your life different than you imagined it would be?)
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Copy and print these questions. Make sure to think of some follow up questions for each person you plan to interview.
Each of these questions are designed to get you started with a really nice, one-page story that will be valued by your family and future generations.
Keep on writing!
Here’s a link to my FREE PDF printable “30 Oral Prompts & Family History Starter Questions“. I’d still love to have you join my email newsletter list! Grow with me!