100 questions to ask your older relatives at your next family holiday gathering

Christmas can be the perfect time to conduct genealogy interviews. Even though we would like to think grandma and grandpa’s tales of “Christmas past” will always be there for the retelling, it is important not to take that for granted. When your family gets together this year you can be ready with this list of Christmas genealogy interview questions. Then you will be able to preserve your ancestor’s holiday memories and stories before they fade away.

Remember to interview parents and great-grandparents too. It would even be a good idea to answer these questions about your own life.

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Tips for Great Interviews

Here are some tips for a successful Christmas genealogy interview.

Record your interview. Use an audio or video recording device or an app on your phone to capture not only the words but the tone and personality of the person you are interviewing.

Interview oldest family members first. Preserve the precious memories of the elderly before their memories fade or they pass away.

Interview other family members and friends. Even brief interviews with your great-aunts, 2nd cousins, or friends of your grandparents could provide invaluable insights into their lives.

Keep each recording brief. FamilySearch’s free app allows recordings of up to 15 minutes per story, but it is best to keep them to about 7 minutes or less to hold the audience’s attention.

Let them shine. Encourage the personality of the person you are interviewing to come through by giving them the freedom to tell their story in their own way. Be careful not to manipulate their answers or interrupt. Be an attentive listener.

Record live events. If your family member is giving a speech, telling a joke, singing a song, or playing a musical instrument capture it in a recording and attach it to your family tree.

Label your interviews and attach them to your family trees. Your interviews can be attached to a free BillionGraves tree as a supporting record or to a free FamilySearch tree.

Recording your loved ones’ Christmas genealogy interviews will allow your posterity of “Christmas future” to enjoy the “Christmas past” of their ancestors.

100 Questions for a Christmas Genealogy Interview

Here are 100 questions that will get your relative talking about their Christmas memories. Their answers will strengthen your family tree.

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about Memories

What is your earliest Christmas memory?

What is the first Christmas gift you remember receiving?

What is your most memorable Christmas? Why?

What was the first Christmas you spent with your spouse like?

What are some smells that you remember from Christmas?

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about People

Who did you celebrate Christmas with when you were young?

What were their full names and their relationship to you?

Where are these people buried? Would you like to go to their gravesites with me?

Tip: Download the BillionGraves app to your smartphone. Then when you go to the cemetery you can use the app to take photos of the family gravesites. The photos will automatically be tagged with GPS locations. The information will then be transcribed by volunteers and made available for free for other family members on the BillionGraves.com website.

What is the oldest family member you remember being present at your family Christmas celebrations? What do you remember about them?

Have you ever been kissed under the mistletoe? By who?

Who woke you up on Christmas morning? Or did you wake everyone else up?

Who was the first one to head for the Christmas tree in the morning?

Did you ever have any surprise visitors at Christmas?

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about Family Traditions

Did you ever go Christmas caroling? If so, who did you go with? Who did you sing to?

Was there any particular place your family visited during the Christmas season when you were young?

Did you believe in Santa Claus when you were little?

What traditions did you have about Santa?

When did you stop believing in Santa?

Did your family have a Christmas party? Who attended?

Did you go to other people’s Christmas parties? Whose? Where were they held?

Do you send Christmas cards, letters, or photos? What are they like?

Did you have a tradition of praying at Christmas?

What games did your family play at Christmas gatherings?

Did you go Christmas shopping with your family?

What did you do outside at Christmas time? Sledding? Skating? Snowball fights?

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about Food

What did you usually have for Christmas dinner?

What did you have for breakfast on Christmas?

Are there any traditional foods that came from our family heritage?

Do you have any recipes that were used by your ancestor’s at Christmas time?

Were there any foods that were only served at Christmas time?

Did you bake Christmas cookies? Who did that with you?

Did you ever make a gingerbread house?

What was your favorite food served at Christmas?

What was your least favorite holiday food?

Did you have a cookie baking day?

What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about Gifts

What were some of your favorite childhood Christmas gifts?

What was the best gift you ever gave someone else?

Who got to open the first gift?

Who passed out the presents?

What did you usually get in your Christmas stocking?

What was the best thing you ever got in your stocking?

Did your family open gifts one person at a time or everyone at once?

Was there a gift you always wanted but never got?

What gift did you not like getting for Christmas?

What kinds of gifts did you give your parents?

What kinds of gifts did you give your siblings?

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about Decorations

Did your family have a real Christmas tree or artificial?

If it was real, where did you get your Christmas tree? Did you cut it yourselves?

Do you prefer a real tree or artificial?

What did you decorate your tree with?

Who decorated the Christmas tree?

Were your Christmas ornaments hand-made or store-bought?

Where did you hang your stockings?

Did you have some favorite Christmas ornaments?

What were your favorite Christmas decorations?

Did your family put Christmas lights outside your house? Who hung them?

What day do you put up your Christmas tree? When do you take it down?

Did you have a nativity set? Who set it up? What was it like?

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about Places

Where did you usually celebrate Christmas morning?

Where did you usually have Christmas dinner?

Is your family home where you had Christmas’ as a child still standing? Do you have a photograph of it?

Did you go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas day? Where was it? What was it like?

At whose house did you celebrate Christmas with your extended family? What did the house look like? Who attended?

Where did you do your Christmas shopping? What were the decorations like?

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Christmas Genealogy Interview Questions about Favorites

What is your favorite thing about Christmas?

What is your favorite Christmas carol? Tip: Ask them to sing a little!

Do you prefer a white Christmas or a green one?

Where is your favorite place to be during the holidays?

What is your favorite Christmas movie?

What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Did you receive any especially memorable Christmas cards or letters?

What is your favorite Christmas memory?

If you could have one Christmas wish what would it be?

What advice would you like to leave your posterity about Christmas?

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3 Options to preserve the answers to your interview questions:

1) Create a family history binder. Putting a paper copy of your interview in a binder will allow others to look at it easily. And a binder is easy to display at family reunions. One of my earlier blog posts titled 3 Genealogy-Themed Christmas Gifts gives detailed instructions on how to create a family history binder.

But paper copies should not be your only repository for your interview. They can be thrown away, lost, or burned. You should also digitalize your interview so that it can be enjoyed for generations by your family. Who knows, it may even be enjoyed people you may not have even met yet – like 3rd cousins or a yet unborn great-grandchild.

2) FamilySearch Memories Recording an interview can bring your ancestors right back into your living room even years after they are gone. Download the FamilySearch Memories app or the FamilySearch Tree app to find a home for your relative’s stories before it’s too late.

3) BillionGraves Supporting Records The heart of BillionGraves has been – and always will be – photos of gravestones taken with the BillionGraves app that are automatically embedded with GPS locations. But did you know that you can also add supporting documents, such as photos taken with your own camera and uploaded from your computer? This can be important if the burial was in an unmarked grave, a cremation scattering, or if the gravestone has deteriorated beyond recognition.

 You can also add vital records to BillionGraves Supporting Documents, like birth, marriage or death certificates. Or in this case, the written answers to your Christmas genealogy interview with your relatives.

Each record you add is linked to your BillionGraves tree. If there is already a BillionGraves photo of your ancestor’s gravestone that will be linked as well. This method follows the genealogical standard of proof by first providing the original gravestone with GPS location and then adding any supporting documents. This means there will be no assumptions about the location, names, or dates connected to the gravesites. The evidence comes first.

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Using FamilySearch Memories

To add photos with the oral interview go to FamilySearch. Log in or set up a free account. Go the profile of the person you have interviewed. Click on “Memories” and upload your pictures. Include photos of:

  • The person being interviewed
  • Family members enjoying traditional food together
  • Gifts being unwrapped
  • Photos of the older family member as a child
  • Photos of the older family member as a parent
  • Current photos of the person being interviewedBillionGraves, Christmas lights, luminaries, genealogy, FamilySearch, family history

Using BillionGraves Supporting Records

To add supporting records to BillionGraves, click on the “Volunteer” tab. In dropdown menu select “Other Tools.” Next, choose a record type to add:

  • Burial Record
  • Death Certificate
  • Headstone Image
  • Historic Record
  • Memorial Plaque/Monument
  • Obituary
  • Other

Finally, there will be a field to choose a cemetery to which the record will be linked. Select “Other” to add your Christmas interview questions. Then for generations to come when relatives research your ancestor’s gravestone on BillionGraves they will also find the answers to your Christmas genealogy interview.

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Just Do it

Ask almost any genealogist and they will say they wish they had taken the time to conduct interviews with their older relatives while they were still alive. Being able to hear their stories from their own lips is a precious experience. Hopefully, this list will motivate you to take a little time during your family Christmas gathering to ask questions that will evoke answers that will echo throughout the generations.

Merry Christmas and Happy Interviewing!

Cathy Wallace