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THE COHENS' GENEALOGY PAGE AT ROOTSWEB

BASIC GENEALOGY INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

This page is meant to be a guide with tips for how to do an effective genealogical interview. It was originally just a simple outline of questions to ask family members. But, since learning how to do a genealogical interview for school assignments has become a popular question, I am starting with a more detailed explanation to help with school assignments. If you want to skip the introduction and just get the list of questions and hints for adults, click here.

When you want to find out about your family history from your older relatives, you might not be very happy if you just ask them, "What do you know about your family history?" They will probably say, "nothing," or "very little." And that will not be what you want them to say at all. But you should then say something like, "I bet you know a whole lot more about your family history than you realize. Can you tell me who your parents were?" After they answer you, then you ask them, "Do you know when and where they were born?"

You better be ready to take a whole lot of notes on what they just told you and then on each of the following questions. "Do you know who their brothers and sisters were? Do you know what happened to them?" Stories are an important part of your family history, so you also want to ask and write down all you can when you ask, "What do you remember about them?"

If they say, "I don't know," or "I don't remember," then just tell them, "that's okay, whatever you do remember is still helping me a lot." There are lots of other questions you can ask them. One of the best questions is "who were you named after?" and another one is "Do you have a middle name? Do you know where your middle name came from?" That might just tell you the names of their grandparents or other relatives.

Another question that is sometimes lots of fun is, "Do you know where our last name came from?" This is because people did not use last names until a few hundred years ago, and so the history of your last name can be very interesting. People also sometimes changed their last names when they travelled to a new country. Finding out what their last name was before that happened can help you to find records about them where they used to live, if you decide you want to keep studying your family's history after finishing your assignment.

If your family member is Indian or Jewish, another question that might be very interesting and helpful is what tribe or caste the family or their parents and grandparents belonged to.

You can get an idea of some other things you might have fun asking by looking at the list of questions below, which was written for adults doing genealogy interviews.

QUESTIONS

What follows is a list of suggested questions for helping identify family members and retrieving further information that should help in tracing our ancestry and finding any "lost" members of the family.

Remember that almost everyone knows a whole lot more about their family history than they realize. All it takes is a few leading questions to get someone talking, and even people say they do not remember very much, will have interesting, informational memories triggered by a good conversation about the family.

Interviewee

Full name at birth:
Date of birth (day, month, year):
Place of birth (city, town, shtetl, state, country):
Hebrew or baptismal name:
Name in other country (before coming here):
Who named after:
Nicknames used:
Date of immigration:
Who travelled with:
Point of departure:
Point of arrival:
Occupation(s):
Religion:
Tribe or caste (if any):
Where lived throughout life and when:
How many marriages:
Names of spouses, when and where married:
Names of spouses' parents, where from, when immigrated, occupations:
Date and place of any divorces:
How many children:
Names of children, when and where born:
Stories remember about them:
Date of death:
Place of death:
Where buried:

Interviewee's Mother

Mother's full name at birth:
Date of birth (day, month, year):
Place of birth (city, town, shtetl, state, country):
Mother's Hebrew or baptismal name:
Name in other country (before coming here):
Who mother was named after:
Mother's nicknames:
Date of immigration:
Who travelled with:
Point of departure:
Point of arrival:
Occupation(s):
Mother's religion:
Mother's tribe or caste (if any):
Where lived throughout life and when:
How many marriages:
Names of spouses, when and where married:
Date and place of any divorces:
How many children:
Names of children, when and where born:
Stories remember about mother:
Date of death:
Place of death:
Where buried:

Interviewee's Father

Father's full name at birth:
Date of birth (day, month, year):
Place of birth (city, town, shtetl, state, country):
Father's Hebrew or baptismal name:
Name in other country (before coming here):
Who father was named after:
Father's nicknames:
Date of immigration:
Who travelled with:
Point of departure:
Point of arrival:
Occupation(s):
Father's Religion:
Father's tribe or caste (if any):
Where lived throughout life and when:
How many marriages:
Names of spouses, when and where married:
Date and place of any divorces:
How many children:
Names of children, when and where born:
Stories remember about father:
Date of death:
Place of death:
Where buried:

Interviewee's Siblings

Sibling's full name at birth:
Date of birth (day, month, year):
Place of birth (city, town, shtetl, state, country):
Sibling's Hebrew or baptismal name:
Name in other country (before coming here):
Who siblings were named after:
Sibling's nicknames:
Date of immigration:
Who travelled with:
Point of departure:
Point of arrival:
Occupation(s):
Religion:
Tribe or caste (if any):
Where lived throughout life and when:
How many marriages:
Names of spouses, when and where married:
Names of spouses' parents, where from, when immigrated, occupations:
Date and place of any divorces:
How many children:
Names of children, when and where born:
Stories remember about them:
Date of death:
Place of death:
Where buried:

MORE TIPS AND IDEAS

Exact street addresses, if known, are also sometimes helpful in finding census records, so obtain them if possible. The names of aunts, uncles, cousins, and their parents, spouses and children can also be considered. Basically, the more of the above information you can get on everyone, the better job you can do in rounding our your or our family tree.

And don't forget to ask if there are any people who your relatives think are related, but do not know how. Their names may well provide essential clues that can make a major difference in your research.

If you find you cannot seem to get much information from older relatives, do not give up on them. Make sure you speak with them instead of using just letters or email for communication. What they might not remember when you write them, may pop into their heads as you tell them details about your progress with your research. Also take a look at the effective interviewing hints for kids above, if you have not already done so.

Many genealogy buffs also use pictures as tools to trigger people's memories. Old pictures of family members and books and pictures of places where your relatives lived or spent time may trigger all kinds of interesting stories and essential clues about your mutual family history.

You need to be sensitive to and respect people's feelings in reporting your research, but it is important to bear in mind that not all information you obtain is fact rather than fiction. As people get older and their minds and memories get fuzzy, they can also get confused and inadvertantly misreport information. Some people just enjoy fabricating false tales and embellishing their stories for the fun of it. And many a family myth is perpetrated in order to cover up embarrassing marriages or births, and these myths can create a lot of confusion later on.

So, once you get information from a family member, you should substantiate the facts by finding confirmation in the written records. If you do not know where to start, then check out our genealogy research page and start your search with the recommended free databases suggested on our beginner's genealogical resources page.

 

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Page Revised April 14, 2011

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