A little while ago I wrote a post about our living ancestors and why it’s important to talk to them about our family history while we can. I mentioned my only living grandmother and how little I get to talk with her because of our distant living situations, and she doesn’t do Skype or anything like that. Every once in awhile I ask her questions here and there when I get a chance.
When I was in Russia, right after I wrote my post, I decided that this time I would not let this opportunity pass me by. I would ask my grandmother all the questions I’d been wanting to ask her. I want to share some of the questions that I asked her. I modified some of them to make them more general. I’m hoping these will be helpful to those who don’t know where to start or what to ask their living ancestors.
- Where were you born? What city? At home or in a hospital?
- How did your family come to live there?
- What was your house/apartment like?
- What was your childhood like?
- What was the street you grew up on like?
- What was school like for you as a child?
- What did you do after high school? Did you go to college?
- How did you meet your spouse? When and where did you get married?
- What profession did you have? Why did you choose that profession?
- What were your siblings like? What were their personalities like? Where are they now?
- Where and when were your parents born?
- How did your parents meet? When and where did they get married?
- What were your parents’ personalities like?
- What were your parents’ professions?
- Do you remember your grandparents?
- Did you get a chance to talk to your parents or grandparents about other family members/relatives? Did they share any events/stories with you about them?
- When you were little, were there any other relatives living in the same area? What were their names? Where did they move afterward?
- Where were you when the Great Patriotic War (World War II) started? How did you find out about it? How did people react?
- Where were you when the Great Patriotic War ended? How did you find out? How did people react? (you can ask about other major historic events that happened during your ancestor’s life)
- Whatever you want!
At first, I was a little bit nervous asking my grandmother all these questions. As I mentioned before, in Russian/Soviet culture, it was unusual to talk about families, family members, their origins and such. People were very private about their lives. They were afraid to talk for fear the Soviets would not like or agree with their background. If you or your family were wealthy before the revolution you risked being ostracized or even killed. We sure do live in different times today! My grandmother seemed to love reminiscing about the old times and we had a wonderful conversation.
When I went to visit her, I had these general questions in mind. However, I didn’t pull out the list. I just let the conversation flow naturally, and I think, that’s what gave me an opportunity to learn some interesting and fun stories about my grandmother and her life in a natural rather than official setting.
So, talk to your living ancestors. Ask them questions. Any questions that come to mind, anything that you are interested in. Record their answers. The stories and experiences of these people are so precious and will become a treasure to your family for many generations.