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Learn Your Family History With Meaningful Questions for Parents

Zsofia Corfmat
Passionate Linguist | Mother of Two

How well do we know our parents?  I have never taken the time to think about this, as I rushed through my life as a young adult until it was too late to ask the important questions I desperately needed the answers to.

I only realised how little I knew my mother just when she died.  Of course, I knew her favourite flower, her favourite cake, her hobbies and her personality. However, I knew so little about her life before she had me, not to mention the lives of my beloved grandparents.

My family heritage and a deeper understanding of my roots became important to me when I remained without any older blood relatives. I have always had a very close relationship and a great time with my mother, even in my adult years. Still, I am deeply sorry that I could not know her life history better and that I did not pose more questions about my childhood, about those years that I could not remember and about her life as a child and young adult. 

Two couples from family, from two different generations.

You can and should get to know your family members better and strengthen your bonds in your lifetime to understand who you are.

I’ve written this article which includes 57 questions for parents, to help you discover precious stories within your family.

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How Can You Deepen Your Understanding of Your Family Heritage?

You can learn about your family history before it is too late by taking the time to interview your grandparents and parents.

Family dynamics constantly shift, and gathering new information about your family’s history can strengthen your connection with your roots. Take the opportunity to ask specific questions about your family’s lives and experiences. Don’t delay and risk regret later on.

To navigate this process, create a list of questions for parents and grandparents, or use the one below. These questions can help you gain a better insight into your parents’ lives and create a keepsake that you can pass down to the next generation.

By getting to  know your family members better you not only  strengthen your bonds in your lifetime but you can better understand who you are and become a more confident person.

57 Simple Questions for Parents

To help you get started interviewing your family members, we have collected questions in 7 different categories. You can mix and match them, as some of the questions may be more relevant or interesting for you. 

Some questions might seem frequently asked, but even if we think about it, we often don’t or don’t want to ask them. Therefore, I have curated an extensive list with a mix of questions to have them all together in one place and not to forget.

1. Childhood and family history

"Memories from their formative years."
  • What was your home like when you were a child? Start by asking this to spark memories and stories.
  • What was your favourite occupation or toy as a child? Was there a toy that you always wanted, but never got? 
  • What was your favourite subject at school? Did you have any struggles with learning or with teachers?
  • Which snack from your younger years do you miss the most because it’s no longer available?
  • Who were your friends when you were a child? Have you managed to keep these friendships for life?
  • Were you a rebellious teenager? What were your interests and your clothing style at that time? Did you have a role model or idol?
  • Did you like reading as a child, and if yes, what was your favourite book?
  • Who were the best cooks in your family? What were the typical dishes in your family?
  • Throughout the years, which songs have held a special significance for you?
  • Do any amusing anecdotes from your childhood come to mind?
  • What was your favourite holiday and why?
  • Were you involved in sports during your childhood, and if so, what were your experiences like?
  • What activities served as the primary source of entertainment within your family during your upbringing? This can be a great way to get to know them better. (e.g., board games, radio listening, musical performances, reading, theatrical performances, etc.)

2. Milestones in life

"Moments when everything changes."
  • How did you decide where to go to college?
  • What was getting your first job like?
  • What was it like getting married?
  • How did it feel getting drafted into the war?
  • How was it serving in the military?
  • What was it like becoming a mother/father/grandparent?
  • How was it to fall in love for the first time?
  • How did you cope with the loss of a loved one for the first time?

3. Life lessons & life stories

"It's amazing what you have learned."
  • What lesson(s) do you most remember learning from your parents or grandparents?
  • What do you consider the best decision you ever made?
  • Was there a time when you felt that you had failed? How did you recover from it?
  • Can you recall a particularly embarrassing moment from your past?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What would my grandparents think about our family today if they were still alive?

4. Parenting insights

"Thoughts and memories about raiding children."
  • What other names were you considering for me? Did you have a name ready for me if I was the other gender?
  • How did you balance work and family life when my siblings and I were growing up?
  • If you could revisit a moment when we were kids again, which moment would you choose?
  • What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as parents, and how did you overcome them?
  • Can you share any parenting strategies or techniques that you found particularly effective or ineffective?
  • How did you handle discipline and setting boundaries when we were children?
  • What values and principles did you prioritise instilling in us during our upbringing?
  • Looking back, are there any decisions you made as parents that you would do differently now?
  • How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
  • Can you recall any memorable moments or milestones in our family’s journey that shaped your approach to parenting?
  • As grandparents now, how do you see your parenting style evolving or staying the same with your grandchildren?

5. Understanding family traditions

"Celebrations that connect your family."
  • How have birthdays been commemorated throughout your lifetime? Was there a specific birthday that was especially memorable for you?
  • What stands out as the most unforgettable present you’ve ever given or received?
  • In what manner have you and your family preserved your cultural heritage, whether through language, cuisine, or traditional customs?
  • Are there any Christmas or Easter traditions that you kept from your parents’ time?
  • Have you inherited any specific family treasures? What significance do they carry for you?
  • Does religion play a significant role in the fabric of your family? If affirmative, several follow-up inquiries exist to explore this avenue further.

6. Family legacy

"Look back at your journey through life."
  • If you could speak to your 20-year-old self, what advice would you offer?
  • What experiences helped shape your resilience?
  • What kind of impact do you hope to leave as your legacy?
  • Which principles or values do you aspire to impart to the next generations of your family?
  • Are there any inquiries you regret not posing to your parents?

7. Fun questions – if you have already gone through all the above

"Lighthearted family discussions."
  • Have you ever followed a style trend that you now view as utterly absurd?
  • If given the chance, which figure from history would you choose to share a meal with, and why?
  • If we were all characters in a cartoon, who would each of us be?
  • If you stumbled upon a device capable of time travel, which moment in history would you explore first?
  • If you could become invisible anytime you wished, where would you go for the first time?
  • For one day, if you could live as any animal, which one would you select?
  • What subject or skill would you choose to be an instant expert in?
  • If you could possess any superpower for just one day, which power would you choose, and what would you do with it?

What to Keep in Mind When Asking Your Parents Questions

Discovering family stories can be fun for you, but you should always remember that certain questions might bring up painful memories or may not feel comfortable for your family members. Therefore, I will share some tips on asking questions in the next paragraph.

Tips for starting exciting conversations with your parents

This seems easier said than done…

Sometimes there are hidden stories or specific situations in families that your parents might not be comfortable talking about. I never forget how long I have been collecting my courage to ask my mother about how she met my father, whom I never knew. We have never talked about it, but I have always had a feeling that this is a painful subject for my mother, therefore I did not want to hurt her feelings. In the end, I did not manage to pose my question very gracefully, just blurted it out after having coffee after lunch. It was a moment that didn’t go as planned but was a spark for an important conversation nonetheless. 

To ensure that you will be having pleasant and emphatic conversations, here are some tips that may help start these discussions:

  • Choose the right time: Pick a time when both you and your parents are relaxed and not preoccupied with other tasks. Avoid bringing up sensitive topics when they are stressed or busy. They might find talking easier in certain situations than in others.
  • Set the mood: Create a comfortable and inviting environment for conversation. This could be over a meal, during a walk, or while sitting in a relaxed setting at home when it is likely that they want to talk.
  • Start with small talk: Begin the talk with light topics or updates about your day. This helps to ease into more serious discussions without putting pressure on either party. Gradually, move on to more specific questions that will help you get a deeper understanding of your family’s history. Also, remember to ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions if the time feels right.
  • Express interest in their lives: Show genuine interest in your parents’ lives, experiences, and opinions. Ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Be a good listener: This is crucial when you’re trying to start engaging in discussions with your interview subject. Pay attention to what your parents are saying without interrupting or judging. Validate their feelings and experiences by actively listening and responding thoughtfully.
  • Share your own experiences: Opening up about your own life can help create a sense of mutual understanding and connection. Share relevant stories or experiences that relate to the topic at hand.
  • Be respectful and patient: Respect your parents’ perspectives, even if you disagree with them. Avoid criticising or dismissing their opinions, and be patient if they need time to express themselves fully.
  • Practice empathy: Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and try to understand their point of view. Empathising with their experiences can help deepen your connection and foster a more meaningful conversation.
  • Respect boundaries: Be mindful of your parents’ boundaries and comfort levels. If they seem hesitant to discuss certain topics, respect their wishes and avoid pushing them to open up.
  • Follow-up: After the conversation, follow up with your parents to show that you value their input and care about their well-being. This can involve checking in on how they’re feeling or continuing the discussion at a later time.

By following these tips, you can initiate and sustain engaging conversations with your parents, strengthening your relationship and fostering deeper understanding and connection.

Bucket lists

Do you have a bucket list

If you want to expand your list, consider asking your family some of the questions covered in this article. Talking about such wide-ranging topics will help ensure you really get to know them, while inspiring new ideas for everyone’s bucket lists.

There’s more to their life than you may think!

Unveiling personal histories

When unveiling personal histories, there is a dynamic process at play.

It’s not just about the static content of facts and dates; it’s about getting to know your parents deeper.

If you’re curious to know more about what drives your parents, I recommend asking your mom or dad have join you in an interview session so you can ask all these questions for parents. By doing so, you’ll see a side of your parents that you may have never known before. Hopefully, they’ll open up and share stories that will help you understand who they are underneath the facade you see each day.

This process can help strengthen your relationship with your parents and give you a sense of purpose by connecting with your family history.

How to Preserve Family Stories for Yourself and Future Generations

If you use the suggested questions for parents , you’re bound to discover an abundance of stories about your childhood and your parents’ lives; it may be practical to preserve them in some way. Not to mention that you can pass them on to your children and grandchildren, giving them a chance to understand their roots.

  • You can record the interviews to capture your parents’ voices and stories for posterity. With today’s technology, downloads are required for easy editing and sharing. Returning to these recordings, you’ll hear the emotion and storytelling in your parents’ voices.
  • You can write them down in your family journal if you enjoy keeping notes and creating story books.
  • If you are keen on saving these stories for yourself and your children, the Simirity app can help you store your cherished life memories. You can upload and safely store stories, photos, videos, audio recordings and more, before sharing them with your family. You can even ask your family members questions and have written answers or recorded voice replies.
Introduction to the Simirity App

If you would like to learn more about the Simirity app, visit our home page.

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