Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Tips and prompts for conducting your own life story interview, perfect for this shelter-in-place order.
Talk to your loved ones ahead of time about why you want to capture their life stories. This may help them to open up, be honest, and give it the time it deserves.
Prepare your questions ahead of time and share them so they are comfortable.
Try to find a quiet space to have your conversation, away from distractions and outside interference. If possible, carve out at least an hour as it can take time to warm up and get to the good stuff.
Have multiple conversations. Don’t try to do this in one go. You can ask questions around a theme (childhood, career, love, kids) or go chronologically.
Don’t worry about capturing it all! You want the highlights of a life, not a biography.
Forget the end result. Enjoy the “digging” process, which can be disorganized, emotional, hilarious, and enlightening.
Use questions to guide the talk but let your subjects lead the way and see what they are most interested in talking about.
Take notes, use a smart phone app to record your conversation, or even run a video camera. The interview itself will be an amazing experience you won’t forget, but preserving it will let you relive the moment and share it with future generations.
Great Questions for Parents or Grandparents
When/where were you born?
What is your earliest memory?
Describe your hometown.
Tell me about your siblings. Who got along and who didn’t?
What was the worst thing you ever did as a child?
Describe your home and room. What were the sleeping arrangements? Did you share a room with someone?
What did you like to do for fun?
Where did you go to school?
What kid of student were you?
What were family meals?
What were your parents like?
Who do you look and act like?
Did you take any family vacations?
How or where did you spend weekends?
Did any moments during your childhood have a lasting impact?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
How did you get into your line of work?
What was a typical day like?
Did you travel?
What did you enjoy about your job?
What is a proud work moment?
What mistakes did you make?
Did you have a mentor or someone who helped you?
Was there something else you wanted to do for a living?
How did you meet your spouse?
What did you think of them? What do you think they thought of you?
What were those early dates like?
What did you agree and disagree about?
How did you know he/she was the one?
How did the proposal go?
When were you married? What are some memories from that day?
Did you take a honeymoon?
How has your relationship changed through time?
What do you love most about them?
What did you think about becoming a parent?
What are some stand out memories from when they were little?
What was your favorite age?
How do the kids differ in personality?
Who looks or acts the most like you?
What has surprised you about raising kids?
On Life: (always save these for the end!)
What do you still hope to accomplish?
When were you happiest?
When were you scared?
What lessons have you learned? If you could tell your young self one thing, what would it be?Do you have any regrets? If you could do a part of your life over, would you?
Zoom teleconferencing is a free download that allows you to record video and audio of your conversations. Both parties need to download it, and have a webcam and strong internet connection. There are other free or inexpensive phone apps include Tape a Call, that allow you to record phone conversations into audio files.
Remember, there is really no wrong way to do this. Good luck and have fun with your life story project! Stay tuned for more tips on what to do with these stories now that you have them. If you have questions at any point, drop me a line.