Some Possible Questions
Because every individual is unique and every interviewer has his or her own special interests and research goals, there is no single set of questions that will fit every situation. The following are some that might help guide an interview with a relative or community member about family folklore and local traditions. Pick and choose among them to suit your own interests, and change the wording as you see fit. Ultimately, the most useful questions will be those that you develop yourself based on your knowledge of your own family and/or community. Remember not to be tied to a formal list of questions; rather use your questions as guideposts for the interview. Be flexible and have fun!
- What is your name?
- Where and when were you born?
- Where did you grow up?
- Where have you lived?
- What jobs have you had?
- What do you do for a living now?
Q: What do you know about your family name? Are there
stories about its history or origins? Has it undergone any
changes? Are there any stories about those changes? Are
there any traditional first names or nicknames in your
family? What are they? How did they come about? Are there
any naming traditions? What are they?
Q: Do you know any stories about how your family first
came to the United States? Where did they first settle? Why?
How did they make a living? Did your family stay in one
place or move around? How did they come to live in this
Q: If your tradition-bearer is a first-generation immigrant,
you might ask him or her: Why did you leave to come to the
United States? What possessions did you bring with you and why? What was the journey like? Which family members came
along or stayed behind? What were some of your first impressions
and early experiences in this country? What traditions
or customs have you made an effort to preserve? Why? Are
there traditions that you have given up or changed? Why?
Q: What languages do you speak? Do you speak a different
language in different settings, such as home, school, or work?
Are there any expressions, jokes, stories, celebrations where a
certain language is always used? Can you give some examples?
Q: What stories have come down to you about your parents
and grandparents? More distant ancestors? (If you are interviewing
your grandparents, ask them to tell you stories about
what your parents were like when they were young!)
Q: Do you know any courtship stories? How did your
parents, grandparents, and other relatives come to meet
Q: What are some of your childhood memories? What games
did you play when you were a child? Did you sing verses when
you played games? What were they? What kinds of toys did
you play with? Who made them? Did you make any yourself?
How did you make them? What kinds of materials did you
use? What kind of home entertainment was there? Was there
storytelling? Music? Were there craft traditions? Describe
Q: Does your family have any special sayings or expressions?
What are they? How did they come about?
Q: How are holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
What holidays are the most important? Are there special family
traditions, customs, songs, foods? Has your family created
its own traditions and celebrations? What are they? How did
they come about?
Q: What special foodways traditions does your family have?
Have any recipes been preserved and passed down in your
family from generation to generation? What are they? What
are their origins? Have they changed over the years? How?
Have any of the ingredients been adapted or changed? Why?
Are there certain foods that are traditionally prepared for
holidays and celebrations? Who makes them? Are there
family stories connected to the preparation of special foods?
Q: Does your family hold reunions? When? Where? Who
attends? How long have the reunions been going on? What
activities take place? Are awards given out? Is there a central
figure who is honored? Why? What sorts of stories are told
at these events?
Q: What family heirlooms or keepsakes and mementos do
you possess? Why are they valuable to you? What is their
history? How were they handed down? Are there any
memories or stories connected with them?
Q: Do you have any photo albums, scrapbooks, home
movies? Who made them? When? Can you describe/explain
their contents? Who is pictured? What activities and events
Local History and Community Life
Q: Describe the place — urban neighborhood, small town,
rural community, suburb — where you grew up. What was it
like? How has it changed over the years? What brought about
these changes? What did people do for a living? What do
they do now?
Q: Can you draw a map of your local community? Of your
neighborhood? Your family home? Your farmstead? What
places stand out most in your mind and why? What are/were
your neighbors like? What kinds of local gatherings and
events are there? What stories and memories come to mind?
Q: What community traditions are celebrated today?
Church suppers? Chinese New Year parades? Saint’s day
processions? Cinco de Mayo celebrations? What are they
like? How long have they been going on? How have they
changed? Who is involved? Why are they important to the
Q: How have historical events affected your family and community?
For example, what were some of your experiences
during World War II, the Civil Rights Movement?
Cultural Traditions/Occupational Skills
Q: How did you first get started with this particular
tradition/skill? What got you interested?
Q: How did you learn your skills? Who taught you? When?
What was the learning process like? What is the most challenging
or difficult aspect of the tradition to learn? Why?
Q: What are the key characteristics of the tradition? What is
its history? Do you know how and where the tradition originated?
How has it traditionally been practiced? How has it
changed or developed over time?
Q: Does the tradition have different styles or variations?
What are they?
Q: Describe the steps of the process from start to finish.
Q: What special knowledge, skills, and abilities are needed?
What techniques and methods?
Q: What raw materials are used? Where do you get your
materials/supplies/ingredients? How are they prepared?
Have they changed over time? How? Why?
Q: What tools are involved? How and when are they used?
Q: How do you judge excellence within the tradition?
What standards and criteria are used to evaluate the way the
tradition is performed? What makes someone respected in
Q: In what context is the skill/tradition performed? For
Q: What do you value most about what you do? Why?
Q: What do you think is the future of this tradition? What
are its challenges and opportunities? Are others learning
and practicing the tradition?
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