With 2016’s Grandparents’ Day staring us in the face, I’ve been thinking a lot of my own grandparents and the things I wish I knew about them. Beyond that, though, I really wish I could hear their voices again. It’s been a long time…But before I go full Eeyore on us, let’s find a bright side. We live in a time of incredible technology, right at our fingertips, making it ridiculously easy to make sure our parents’ and grandparents’ stories aren’t elusive mysteries to the generations that follow.
So this Grandparents’ Day (September 11, 2016), we’re offering up tips – and a whole slew of questions – for doing video (or even voice recorded) interviews with the grandmas and the grandpas.
Before the Interview
Question Prep – Listed below are a variety of questions to ask, but feel free to use (or not) whatever strikes your fancy and add to the list. Make sure you have an outline of the questions to refer to during the interview.
**It doesn’t hurt to give grandma/pa a heads up on some of the questions your working on, pre-interview. They might be able to pull together some photos to go with the stories, or simply to help spark their memories ahead of time.
Who/How/Where – The question you might want to start with is, how deep are we going? Do we want to visit (when possible) some of the places they’ll be referencing, i.e. the house they grew up in or their first house as a married couple, the school they attended…Allowing them to reminisce as you literally stroll down memory lane. Determine if you’ll be doing individual interviews, interviewing them together, and/or interviewing friends and relatives who might be able to add to their story, or some combo package of these options.
For the stationary portion of your interview, make them comfortable, but be aware of the surroundings. In other words, don’t plunk grandpa down in the middle of, shall we say, chaos.
Equipment – While you could absolutely use your smartphone or iPad to film these most special of interviews, a video camera (with tripod) would be ideal. Because, for reals, who wants to be smack in the middle of an incredible story only to run out of storage?
During the Interview
You’re looking for stories, not answers – Meaning, ask questions that invite elaboration, versus something that invokes single word responses.
Don’t talk over your subject – This is about them, not you. Wait for a natural pause to ask any follow up questions.
Don’t regret what you didn’t ask – In other words, if you’ve got a question, ask it. If it seems like this thing is running away with itself, keep in mind you can always trim things down later.
- When and where were you born?
- How many siblings do you have? What do you remember about them growing up?
- What were your parents like when you were growing up?
- Where did you grow up?
- Who was your best friend?
- What did you like to do together?
- Where did you go to school? What was it like?
- Do you remember your favorite teacher? What was special about that person?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- Did you play any sports while you were growing up?
- What were some of your favorite games, activities, or hobbies?
- What was the house/apartment you grew up in like?
- What traditions did your family have?
- What chores did you have growing up?
- What was your first car? How old were you when you got your license? Do you remember how much gas cost?
- What were your first jobs? (How old were you when you got your first job?)
- What job did you like the best in your life, and why?
- What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken? (Why?)
- How did you meet the person(s) you’ve married? How old were you?
- What was the proposal like?
- What do you most remember about your wedding day?
- What was your first car / house/apartment like (that you bought/lived in as a married couple)?
- Can you share a particularly memorable moment from your marriage?
- Tell me about my mom/dad, aunts/uncles growing up?
- What world events that have occurred throughout your lifetime stick out most in your mind, what are some things you remember? (Where you were, your reaction, the reactions of those around you…)
- What are some of the major differences you see from your own childhood/youth to the world today?
- What advice would you give me?
- What would you most want your children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren/great-great-grandchildren to know about you?
If your grandparent was in the military…
- Were you drafted or did you enlist?
- What made you choose the branch of military you served in?
- What was your rank?
- Where did you serve?
- What do you remember about boot camp/training experiences?
- How did you get through it?
- Which war(s) did you serve in?
- Where exactly did you go?
- Do you remember arriving and what it was like?
- What was your job/assignment?
Did you see combat?
- Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.
- Were you awarded any medals or citations?
- How did you get them?
- How did you stay in touch with your family?
- What was the food like?
- Was there anything special you did for “good luck”?
- How did people entertain themselves?
- Were there entertainers?
- What did you do when on leave?
- Where did you travel while in the service?
- Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event?
- Do you have photographs?
- Who are the people in the photographs?
- Do you recall the day your service ended?
- Where were you?
- What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
- Did you work or go back to school?
- Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
- Did you continue any of those relationships?