That Happened to You?


Have you ever interviewed a relative, wishing you knew more about your family’s history? If not, this article is just what you need to get started!

If you have, how did the interview go? Did you get everything you wanted, or did you go away from it wishing you had done something differently?

I have tried to learn from my mistakes and have now written several family histories. These experiences have been such a joy! I hope that what I have learned may help you write the history of your family or perhaps even the history of your own life.

Great Questions

The questions you ask are the key to getting good material—interesting stories and personal words of wisdom. Questions that probe for the varied facets of the person’s life, questions that prod the memory, and questions that elicit anecdotes and entertaining bits of family history—these will make your family history enjoyable. After you have noted the basic facts and dates, try a few of these questions:

Questions about Childhood

  1. 1.

    What is the earliest event in your life you can remember? Tell me about it.

  2. 2.

    How did your parents choose your name?

  3. 3.

    Where did you grow up?

  4. 4.

    How did you travel or go places in those days?

  5. 5.

    What are the names of your brothers and sisters, in order? Do you remember how you felt and what you did when your younger brothers or sisters were born? How about _____? (Name the next younger child. Go through all the children’s names.)

  6. 6.

    What experiences do you remember having with your brothers and sisters?

  7. 7.

    What kinds of things did you do for fun? Any other things?

  8. 8.

    Did your friends or family have any nicknames for you? What did they call you? Why did they call you that?

  9. 9.

    What chores did your parents have you do? How did you feel about doing them?

  10. 10.

    What was Christmas like when you were young?

  11. 11.

    Did you have a special way of celebrating birthdays? What special family traditions did you have?

  12. 12.

    Who baptized you? Who attended the baptism?

  13. 13.

    How did you feel about school? What did you do well in school? What did you do poorly? Which teachers did you like best?

  14. 14.

    Did you ever have any unusual or exciting adventures when you were a child? Any others you can think of?

  15. 15.

    What was an embarrassing experience you had as a child? Any others?

Questions about the Teen Years

  1. 1.

    Where did you live? Tell me about your home.

  2. 2.

    What was your favorite activity as a teenager? Tell me about it.

  3. 3.

    What was school like as a teenager? Was there something you were especially good at in school? What school activities did you participate in?

  4. 4.

    What books did you read? What were your favorite radio or television programs?

  5. 5.

    What was teenage music like then? What was your favorite kind?

  6. 6.

    Did you go to school dances? What were they like? How did teenagers dance then?

  7. 7.

    What home responsibilities did you have?

  8. 8.

    Did anything difficult happen to you as a teenager?

  9. 9.

    Who were your friends then? What did you like to do with them?

  10. 10.

    What made you decide on your career or college or your plans for your future? What goals did you have at that time?

  11. 11.

    Did you ever like someone who didn’t like you? Tell me more.

  12. 12.

    When did you begin to have a testimony of Jesus Christ? What memories do you have of Church meetings or activities?

Questions about Adult Life

  1. 1.

    How and when did you meet _____ (name of spouse)? What was your first impression of him or her? Tell me all about it. What happened then? How did you feel?

  2. 2.

    When were you married? Where were you married? What do you remember about your wedding day?

  3. 3.

    What was it like to be a newlywed in those days?

  4. 4.

    What memorable or humorous adventures did you have?

  5. 5.

    What was it like to become a parent? How did you feel?

  6. 6.

    During your adult years, where have you lived? Why did you move there?

  7. 7.

    As an adult or parent, what did you like to do for entertainment? What were some of your favorite traditions?

  8. 8.

    What talents did you discover in yourself as you grew up? Tell me about all the things you learned to do. (It may be necessary to prod your relative on this one. He or she knows plenty but often doesn’t think it will be interesting. You might need to read a list of talents and ask about the happiest or most challenging or unpleasant time with that talent.)

  9. 9.

    Have you had any personal or family tragedies in your life? If you would like, tell me about them.

  10. 10.

    How did you feel when your father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, or child died? How did you get used to life without that person? What helped you the most?

  11. 11.

    What was the greatest accomplishment or joy you have had in life? What others do you remember?

  12. 12.

    As you look back on your life, what is one thing you had to work really hard at, then finally succeeded? (Give your relative time to think about this question.)

  13. 13.

    Tell me about your testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are there any spiritual experiences you would like to tell me about?

Suggestions for Family History Interviewing

  1. 1.

    Use a tape recorder and bring several 120-minute tapes.

  2. 2.

    Make your appointments for a time when you and your relatives can be relaxed. Sunday afternoons have been great for me! Plan about three hours for each interview.

  3. 3.

    Ask your questions, and then be quiet. Give your relatives time to think and talk without interruption. Making comments like “Oh!” “Really?” or “Wow!” will show your relatives that you really are interested in what they are saying and will encourage them to keep talking.

  4. 4.

    Use key phrases that prompt them to reminisce, such as “Tell me about that,” “How did that make you feel?” and “What happened next?”

  5. 5.

    Check the tape so you won’t end up thinking you are recording when the tape has actually run out. But be careful not to focus too much on the recorder. Some people can be very self-conscious about recordings.

  6. 6.

    When your relative seems to be getting tired, make an appointment for another session.

  7. 7.

    Transcribe your tapes. It may seem like hard work while you are doing it, but it will be worth it. Using a computer with word processing will make your job much easier.

  8. 8.

    Arrange the information you gathered in chronological order or topical arrangement.

  9. 9.

    Ask the person you interviewed to correct the draft. Don’t hesitate to ask your relatives for clarification on what you were told. But keep the tape recorder handy; he or she will probably want to tell you more!

Let’s Talk about It

  1. 1.

    Show family members a box or some other kind of container. Have them find in President Packer’s article (pp. 12–17 of this magazine) what he said they could do with this box and then have them do it. Invite family members to tell how it feels to get started with their family history. Bear your testimony of family history work.

  2. 2.

    Write several questions from “That Happened to You?” (pp. 26–29) on pieces of paper and place them in a bowl. Invite each family member to take one and write an answer to the question. Share the questions and answers. Then have each family member take another question, ask it of someone else, and write the answer. Place what was written in a family history box.

  3. 3.

    Read “My First Church Assignment” by Elder Harris (pp. 22–25). Review the suggestions for interviewing in “That Happened to You?” (pp. 26–29). Encourage family members to conduct an interview with a family member.

[photos] Photographs by Craig Dimond, posed by models

Lorie Nicoles-Davis is a member of the Buena Vista Ward, Buena Vista Virginia Stake.