Sunday, January 25, 2015

Family History Surveys

Whew...well, another year escapes me. Sometimes I get so busy chasing research (and with real life, too) that I don't give as much attention to this blog as I should.. I'm hoping to change that, with a couple upcoming posts.

I had a project in mind for several years and I decided to make this the year that I get around to implementing it. I have often thought about how many questions I have for my living relatives and how to get this in a simple format, and most importantly, all in one place. Too often, phone calls or other conversations are placed on note paper and scattered all over throughout my boxes of documentation. What I have had in mind is the development of a Family History Survey which allowed me to combine all of my important questions for my relatives, into one place.

I had already thought of quite a few questions I wanted to include, it just took some mental prep to sit down and type it all out. After I typed my questions, I searched on Google for any other such family history surveys, to compare my questions and see if there was anything major I was missing from the questions I had prepared myself. I was surprised to find very few of them out there. I found the following to be useful:


The problem I found with some is that they were getting to be too long. I want all of my relatives- from my older relatives who have difficulty writing much at a time; to my busy younger relatives who are always on the go- to see the survey and think it is something they have the time and ability to do.

The other problem was that I had SO many questions I wanted to ask. It is a challenge to keep the survey short but also keep it to a length that gives you the information you most want to document about your relatives' lives.

Once I had settled on the questions I wanted to ask, I then began to organize them into categories: Questions about the individual; Questions about their memories and knowledge of their immediate family; and questions about their knowledge and memories about their extended family. The "Individual" category has a sub-category regarding marriage and children, for those whom it applied to.

After checking and rechecking to make sure the questions were worded correctly and there were no spelling errors, I then set about placing enough space after each question to that it could be answered adequately. Finally, my survey was nearing completion.

I then put together a letter to precede the survey. This would explain to my relatives what I had sent them and why. Below is an excerpt of my letter:

"I am sending, in this packet, a series of questions meant to help me understand more about you, and about our family in general. Many of the questions are open-ended, to encourage you to provide as much detail as you would like in answering them. If you run out of space, feel free to use the back of each page. I have included extra paper should you wish to expand further. Please provide as much information and detail as you can. The more information you provide, the more you help to preserve our shared family history.

I am also including packets for aunts and uncles married into the family, because in addition to having an impact on my life, your story is also important to the overall story of our shared family, your descendants.

It is very important to me that you complete this questionnaire, as it will help us all understand more about our family. I may already know the answers to some of these questions, but please answer them anyway. This survey provides a way for me to formally document these aspects of your life. While it may look long, I have chosen each of these questions carefully to create a complete picture of who you are, and to document your memories of the past.

Please write as clearly as you can, and use a pen if possible. I have included an envelope to make it easier for you to send your responses back to me. If you are inclined to do so, you may answer digitally as well via email. Please know that I do not intend to publish this information publicly but that it will instead be available within our family. If there is anything you wish to remain completely private (i.e., only I would see it), please specify.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out!"

After this was done, I began printing and assembling my packet. In addition to the letter and the survey, I also included an extra manila envelope to help encourage responses and cut down on costs to my interviewees. Everything was packaged up and taken to the post office. 

Below is the final version of my questions (I removed my spacing so as to not stretch out this post):

Part I: You

Your full name:

Date and place of birth:

Were you named after someone else? Who?

Where/when you were baptized?

What is your earliest memory?

What schools did you attend when you were younger, and where were they? Elementary, High School, College, etc.

If you attended college, what did you major in?

Did you participate in any extra-curricular activities/sports/clubs when you were in school? What were they?

What is your profession, and what motivated you to join that line of work?

Where do you work/ where have you worked in the past? When?

Do you- or did you when you were younger- have any hobbies or special interests? Please describe them.

What is your favorite book?

What is your favorite color?

What music did you enjoy when you were younger? Now?

What is your favorite memory from when you were growing up?

Who were your playmates or friends when you were growing up?

Did you travel when you were young? On summer breaks from school? If so, where?

Did you serve in the military? Please describe your service. What unit did you serve in? Where did you serve?

Where/when did you learn to drive a car? Who taught you?

Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?

Who did you most admire when you were young? Why?

Who do you think had the greatest impact on shaping you into the person you are today and why?

What did you aspire to do or be when you were growing up?

Have you ever belonged to any organizations or groups? Which ones?

Do you have a philosophy of life you live by? Please describe.

Do you have religious leanings or beliefs? Please describe them.

Have you ever received any awards or honors? Please describe.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in your life thus far?

What do you most want to be remembered for by your descendants/other relatives?

What memories do you have of current events you have lived through (Great Depression, wars, assassinations, presidential elections, civil rights, other important national or international events)?

In your opinion, what are the greatest inventions or advances made by humanity during your lifetime? The worst?

How would you say the world has changed since you were young?

Do you remember your first contact with newer technologies (radio, tv, COLOR tv, computers)? Describe. When did your family first obtain these items?

Marrriage (if applicable):
Where and how did you meet your eventual spouse(s)?

Describe your first date(s):

Who proposed? How?

Who were the members of your wedding party?

Where was your first apartment/home together? Did you move during your married life? If so where and why?

How/why did you choose the names you did for your child(ren)?

What values did you try to establish when raising your child(ren)?

What do you think is the key to a successful marriage?

Part II: Your Family

Describe the house(s) you lived in while growing up.

Did your family move around when you were young? If so, where and when?

Growing up, did your family live near other family members? Who?

When you were growing up, did your family have any special traditions (on holidays, birthdays, other special times of the year, etc.)? What were they?

Describe a typical family dinner from when you were growing up. Who cooked? What kinds of food did you usually eat?

When you were growing up, did you mother/family have any traditional foods/recipes? What were they? Do you mind sharing them with me?

Did your family attend family reunions? Picnics? Other special gatherings with family?

What activities did your family do together?

What did your father do for a living?

What did your mother do for a living?

What is your favorite memory of your mother? What was she like?

What is your favorite memory of your father? What was he like?

Please describe any other memories of your parents that you wish to share:

What hobbies or interests did your father have?

What hobbies or interests did your mother have?

What were your parents' political beliefs?

Of all of the things you learned from your parents (or other family members) what do you feel was most important?

Part III: Extended Family

Have you noticed that any particular traits or characteristics run in the family? Describe them.

Growing up, did you know and/or spend time with your cousins? Which ones? What would you do together?

Who was the oldest relative you remember knowing or knowing about? Please describe.

Did you know your maternal grandparents? If so, what memories do you have of your maternal grandparents? What were they like?

Did you know your paternal grandparents? If so, what memories do you have of your paternal grandparents? What were they like?

Did you know your great-grandparents on either side? If so, who?

If you didn't know your great-grandparents, did you ever hear stories about them? What did you hear?

Did your grandparents or great-grandparents ever tell you any stories? What were they?

Did your grandparents ever tell you stories about their parents? What were they?

Did you ever hear any stories about the origins of certain family names or ancestors in your family? Explain.

Did you ever hear any stories about famous/infamous ancestors in your family tree? Explain.

Are there any special heirlooms that have been passed down in your family such as photos, bibles, or other objects? Please describe.

Did your family keep in touch with any distant relatives? Do you still? Who are/were they? Do you still have any old correspondence saved?  

Enjoy! I hope to be posting again soon!