Want to learn your family’s history but don’t know where to start? These thirty-seven family history questions are the best way to start conversations with even the most distant relative.
If you want to learn about history, you crack open a book. History books hold all the important information—names, significant events, dates, and their impact on modern society. But learning about family history isn’t always as easy as reading a book.
Very few families have recorded their history. Instead, they count on passing their heritage to their descendants through traditions and word of mouth. It’s a beautiful and rich custom, but it’s not always the most reliable. How can anyone remember hundreds of years worth of information and stories? How can you share all of it in one lifetime?
The simple solution is to write down everything. And then all of the spoken and unspoken stories from over the years will be preserved for your future generations. But first, you have to make sure you’re asking the right questions.
Here are the top thirty-seven family history questions that you can ask even the most distant relative to make sure you’re getting all the information you need to write your family history.
Expert Tip: Ask open-ended questions to encourage your relatives to share their memories and experiences.
Basic Family Information
- What is your full name?
- Were you named after someone in the family?
- Did you or any family members have nicknames or special names? Who called you that nickname? Do you remember how you got it or who gave it to you?
- Where and when were you born?
Parents and Siblings
- Can you tell me about your parents? What were their names and occupations?
- How many siblings do you have, and what are their names? What are they doing now?
Immigration and Ancestry
- Do you know where our ancestors came from, and when did they immigrate to the current country?
- Can you share any immigration stories or challenges they faced?
Language and Dialects
- Did our family speak a particular dialect or language, especially if we have immigrant roots? Do you know any phrases or words in that language?
Religious Beliefs and Practices
- What is our family’s religious background, and did you or your parents practice any specific religion?
- Were there any religious ceremonies or rituals that were important to our family?
Family Culture, Traditions, and Celebrations
- Can you share any information about our family’s cultural or ethnic heritage? Do we have any customs or traditions that are unique to our background?
- Are there any family traditions or customs that you remember from your childhood?
- What were some special holidays or celebrations in your family, and how were they celebrated?
Health and Wellness
- Can you provide any information about the health history of our family, including any notable medical conditions?
Childhood and Early Life
- What are some of your earliest childhood memories?
- Where did you grow up, and what was it like living there?
- What schools did you attend, and do you have any memorable school experiences?
Significant Life Events and Achievements
- What were some of the most significant life events for you or other family members, such as graduations, weddings, or milestones?
Work and Career
- What jobs or careers have you had over the years?
- Do you have any memorable work-related stories or experiences?
- Did any family members serve in the military? If so, which branch?
- Can you share any stories or experiences related to your own service or theirs?
Marriage and Family Life
- How did you meet your spouse/partner, and what was your wedding like?
- Can you share stories about your children or grandchildren?
Family Moves and Travel
- Have you lived in different places throughout your life? Can you talk about those experiences?
- Can you describe the different homes or places our family lived in over the years? Do you have any particular memories associated with these places?
- Have you traveled extensively? What were some of your favorite travel destinations?
- What are your memories of significant historical events during your lifetime, such as wars, political changes, or major technological advancements?
Coping with Challenges
- How did our family cope with difficult times, such as economic challenges, illnesses, or loss? What were the sources of strength and resilience?
Hobbies and Interests
- What are your hobbies or interests, and how did you become interested in them?
Recipes and Food Traditions
- Are there any family recipes that have been passed down through the generations? What are some favorite dishes or food traditions in our family?
Heirlooms and Treasures
- Are there any family heirlooms or treasures that have been passed down, and can you share their stories or significance?
Anecdotes and Stories
- Are there any funny or memorable family stories or anecdotes that have been passed down through the generations?
- Are there any family legends or myths that have been told through the generations, even if they might not be entirely factual?
Favorite Family Photos
- Do you have any favorite family photos or albums that you can share, and can you tell the stories behind them?
Advice and Life Lessons
- Do you have any words of wisdom or life lessons you’d like to share with the younger generations of the family?
Books That Help You Communicate with All Generations
Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.