Recording Family Memories

How often do you hear people lament over the missed opportunities to ask their loved ones all the questions they’ve wanted to know the answers to, but now it’s too late?

One thing I bring up with friends often is to make sure you interview your elderly loved ones. Ask them all the things you want to know before illness steals that memory or worse, they’re no longer around.
That information becomes such a valuable heirloom, not only for yourself but for generations to come.

The easiest way to do this is just to sit down with a cup of tea and ask questions while you record the conversation using a smart phone’s voice recorder, most have the app inbuilt these days.
If you want to go the extra mile, use a camera to film or even go the whole hog and create a mini bio-documentary like I did with my great aunt.

While you could always just write down the answers or get them to write them down, you then lose the mannerisms and personality that comes with a voice/video recording.

You’ll find a comprehensive list of questions to ask at the bottom of the page, but here are a few tips to ensure your interview goes well.

  • Make sure your subject has a comfy chair, the TV/radio is turned off and there are no distractions going on (lawnmowers outside etc).
  • Ensure a cup of tea or other drink is available, all that talking can be thirsty business!
  • Try to not have too many people in the room as this can be distracting and others may derail the conversation. Certain subjects can benefit from having other people in the room like if you’re discussing a couple’s courtship or wedding, but try to get a personal opinion first as the answers can change depending on who is listening to answers in the room.
  • Try to ask questions that require more than just a yes/no answer. Get the subject to elaborate on details to create a mini story in each answer. You might need to ask follow-up questions to get the whole story.
  • Try to flesh out descriptions of people and places that would have changed so much over the years.
  • People are often embarrassed to talk about themselves so it’s usually easier to start out with a casual conversation about a memory or time in their life before proceeding to straight out questions.
  • If you’re filming, use a location with lots of natural light, near a window is great. Keep some house decor or photo frames around but remove any clutter like dirty dishes, newspapers etc.
  • Take a break when needed!
  • You might need to ask your questions over a few visits, which is ok.
  • Sometimes memories don’t work the way you want them to so you may need to rephrase the question or come back to them another time.
  • Sometimes objects and old photos can evoke long-forgotten memories, so think about any family heirlooms or photos you might like to know more about.
  • While you’re at it, go through old photo albums and ensure those in the photos are named and have dates if known.
  • If you’re asking about traumatic events be aware of the subject’s feelings. If they are becoming too upset ask if they’d like a break or if they’d rather finish questions on that subject.


Click links for printable PDF

Questions for women

Questions for men


And finally, don’t leave it too late!


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