Living History / Oral History Starter Questions

 It is good practice to get some basic information from the person being interviewed, and oftentimes, these questions serve as a springboard for the rest of the interview.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Record the date, place of interview, and your name as the interviewer.
  2. Get the person’s name and spell it correctly.
  3. Ask the person in what year he or she was born.  This is better than asking their age.  Some folks don’t want to give their age, but they’ll give the year.  This also gives the interviewer an idea of the times in which the person has lived, i.e. during the Great Depression, or World War II, or maybe during the Civil Rights movement, etc.
  4. Ask where they were born, and how long they lived there.  Ask them where they grew up, and what they remember most about their childhood.
  5. What was their favorite teacher, or subject in school?
  6. Did they play sports?  Which ones?
  7. Were they into music, or the arts?  Ask them to describe their feelings about their early years.
  8. When and where did they meet their spouse?  The romance questions are usually fun.  Get dating stories, wedding stories, early years together.
  9. Ask about their career.  Where did they go to school?  Did they go to college, or did they train some other way for their career?  Have they had more than one career?
  10. Did they serve in the military?  At what time?  Feelings about that.
  11. What’s the funniest thing they remember about their life?
  12. What was the scariest thing that ever happened to them?
  13. What was the most gratifying thing they ever did?
  14. What else would they like you to know about their lives?

Thank the interviewee at the close of the session and let them know what you intend to do with the information they gave, ie. Transcribe and include in a book about your family, give a copy to the Museum for its oral history collection, etc.

Permanent link to this article: