February 7, 2020

From Gerald R. Lucas
Revision as of 17:49, 7 February 2020 by Grlucas (talk | contribs) (Added more.)

A Biographer’s Questions

If I’m going to get serious about using this site for some ancestry work, then I have to put one a few unfamiliar caps. One would be that of the biographer. I have had a bit of experience with writing biographies for Wikipedia—like Mike’s and Susan’s—but I had the information I needed, really. I plan on basing my biographies here on Wikipedia—just without the “notability.”

If I’m going to get interesting details from my parents, I need some questions. I figure there are two types: questions to get facts and those to get meaning—like memories, hopes, fears, and philosophies. Both seem pretty important. Here’s a bunch.

Early Childhood

  1. When and where were you born?
  2. Do you recall any interesting stories regarding your birth?
  3. What is your earliest memory? Best memory? Worst memory?
  4. Who was the most influential person to you as a child?
  5. What adjectives would you use to describe your childhood? Why?
  6. Did you get into trouble? What was the worst thing you did?
  7. Do you have any siblings? What were they like growing up?
  8. What did you look like?
  9. How would your parent(s) describe you as a child? Why?
  10. Did you have any pets as a child? What kind?
  11. What did you do during the summertime?
  12. What was your favorite game?
  13. Who was your first best friend?
  14. Did you have any nicknames? How did you get it?
  15. What were you most afraid of as a child?
  16. How would you describe a perfect day when you were young?
  17. What did you think your life would be like when you were older?
  18. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  19. Describe a person or situation from your childhood that had a profound effect on the way you look at life.
  20. Do you recall any interesting stories related to you by any of your elder relatives that you have never forgotten and you think are worth telling?

Grade School

  1. Did you enjoy school?
  2. What kind of student were you?
  3. What would you do for fun?
  4. How would your classmates remember you?
  5. Are you still friends with anyone from that time in your life?
  6. What are your best memories of grade school? Worst memories?
  7. Was there a teacher or teachers who had a particularly strong influence on your life? Tell me about them.
  8. Who was your best friend?  Are you still in touch with them?
  9. Do you have any favorite stories from school?

High School

  1. What are your best memories of high school? Worst memories?
  2. Where did you attend high school?
  3. Who was your best friend? Are you still in touch with them?
  4. What was your favorite subject to study?
  5. Did you play on any sports teams?
  6. What was your favorite sport?
  7. Were you involved in any school clubs?
  8. Did you participate in your student body government?
  9. Is there a teacher that you remember having been particularly influential?
  10. How would you describe yourself as a student, both socially and academically?
  11. What did you like most about school? Least?
  12. What sort of extracurricular activities did you participate in as a teen?
  13. Did you earn any honors or were you recognized for any achievements?
  14. Did you have a teen idol? If so, who was it and how did they spark your interest?
  15. Who was your first boy/girlfriend?
  16. What was your favorite music/band/dance in high school?
  17. What would people you know find surprising about you as a teen?


  1. Did you attend college? If so, which one? If not, why?
  2. Why did you decide to (or not to) attend college?
  3. What are your best memories of college/graduate school? Worst memories?
  4. How were you able to attend college? Did you put yourself through school, or were you supported by your parents?
  5. Did you live in a dorm?
  6. Who was your most memorable roommate?
  7. Are you in touch with any?
  8. What subject(s) did you study and why?
  9. Did you get a degree? In what?
  10. What generation of your family were you to receive a degree?
  11. Was your family supportive of your decision to attend college? How so?
  12. How did your college experience prepare you for your later years?
  13. If you could do it again, would you take a different academic path, or are you satisfied with the route you followed?
  14. Did you go on to receive an advanced degree? If so, what was it and have you used it in your professional career?
  15. What on-campus activities did you participate in?

Military Experience

  1. How did it come about that you went into the military?
  2. Did you ever serve duty over seas? If so, where and for what reason were you abroad?
  3. How many years did you serve for?
  4. What rank were you while in the service?
  5. Did you form any long lasting relationships?
  6. What is your fondest memory while serving duty?
  7. What was the most difficult aspect of participating in the military?
  8. Were you ever in combat? Explain the circumstances.
  9. What is your opinion regarding war as a means to resolve conflict?
  10. Would you (or did you) encourage your child to enlist? Why or why not?
  11. What is your opinion regarding the government’s compensation for veterans?
  12. Do you consider your duty as having been a positive or negative life experience? Why?
  13. What did you learn from the military that benefited you most in life?


  1. What was your first job?
  2. What was your best job?
  3. What was your worst job?
  4. What is the longest amount of time you have ever stayed with one company? What was your position there?
  5. In addition to being paid money, how else has your career created value in your life?
  6. Do you have any regrets regarding your career path?
  7. What is your most significant accomplishment as a professional?
  8. How do you think your colleagues would describe you?
  9. Were you ever fired for unjust reasons?
  10. What do you consider to be the best possible work environment?
  11. Who was the biggest influence in your career?
  12. What would be your ideal job?
  13. What’s a typical day like for you?
  14. Do you have any favorite stories from your work life?
  15. What lessons has your work life taught you?
  16. If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?


  1. Who is your best friend?
  2. How important are friends in your life?
  3. What do you do with friends in your spare time?


  1. What does the word “family” mean to you?
  2. What role do you play in your family?
  3. Do you have siblings? How many, are they older or younger, and what are their sexes?
  4. How are your relationships with your siblings?
  5. Would you change anything about your relationships with them?
  6. Who are you closest to in your family?
  7. Who do you admire most in your family and why?
  8. Were you raised in a broken home? If so, who were you raised by and how did this affect you?
  9. Have you lost any family members to death?
  10. If so, what was your relationship to them and how did their death affect you/your family?
  11. Pets?
  12. What’s your most cherished family tradition? Why is it important?
  13. What’s the most memorable family vacation you took?


  1. What is your ethnic background?
  2. Do you know the meaning of your family name? Are there stories about the origins of your family name?
  3. Where is your mom’s family from? Where is your dad’s family from?
  4. Have you ever been there? What was that experience like?
  5. What traditions have been passed down in your family?
  6. Who were your favorite relatives?
  7. Do you remember any of the stories they used to tell you?
  8. What are the classic family stories? Jokes? Songs?


  1. What did you enjoy the most about your grandparents?
  2. What is your favorite memory about your grandparents?
  3. How was your relationship with your grandparents?
  4. How did you and grandma/grandpa meet?
  5. What advice did your grandparents give you that you remember best?
  6. Do you feel you’re like any of your grandparents? In what ways?


  1. What were your parents like as you grew up?
  2. What did they do?
  3. What was most important to your parents?
  4. Where did your father work?
  5. What is your strongest image of your father?
  6. How are you like your father? Unlike him?
  7. Did your mother have a job?
  8. What is your favorite memory of her?
  9. How are you like your mother? Unlike her?
  10. How was your relationship with your parents?
  11. In what ways have your parents influenced you the most?
  12. Which of your parents are you most similar to and why?
  13. Do you wish you had been raised differently? How so?
  14. What is your relationship with your parents like today?
  15. What advice did your parents give you that you remember best?
  16. What were your parents like when they got older?


  1. Do you have children? If so, how many and what ages/sexes?
  2. What is your goal as a parent?
  3. Do you have any regrets regarding the way you raised your children?
  4. In what way have you influenced your children the most?
  5. How would your children describe you as a parent?
  6. How do you describe yourself as a parent?
  7. How are your children like you? Unlike you?
  8. What is something funny or embarrassing one of your children said at an early age that you’ll never forget?
  9. What makes you proud of your children?
  10. How has manner in which you were raised affected the way in which you parented your own children?
  11. When did you first find out that you’d be a parent? How did you feel?
  12. Can you describe the moment when you saw your child for the first time?
  13. How has being a parent changed you?
  14. What are your dreams for your children?
  15. Do you remember when your last child left home for good?
  16. Do you have any favorite stories about your kids?
  17. If you could write a message to each of your children and grandchildren and put it in a time capsule for them to read 20 years from now, what would you write to each?
  18. What would you like your children and grandchildren to remember about you?


  1. Who was your first love?
  2. Do you have a love of your life?
  3. When did you first fall in love?
  4. Can you tell me about your first kiss?
  5. Have you had your heart broken?
  6. Have you broken any hearts?
  7. Do you believe in love at first sight?
  8. Have you ever been divorced?
  9. Describe your worst break-up.
  10. Who was your biggest crush?
  11. What role do you play in your marriage/relationships?
  12. Do you have any regrets regarding your love life?
  13. What was the most special way you’ve shown someone that you loved them?
  14. What was the most special way you’ve been sown you’re loved?
  15. What was your first serious relationship?
  16. Do you ever think about previous lovers?
  17. What lessons have you learned from your relationships?

Marriage / Partners

  1. Have you ever been married? To whom and for how long? (Dates?)
  2. Describe your courtship.
  3. How did you and your spouse first meet?
  4. How did you know he/she was “the one”?
  5. How did you propose/accept?
  6. Describe your wedding/honeymoon.
  7. What were the best times? The most difficult times?
  8. Did you ever think of getting divorced?
  9. Did you ever get divorced? Can you tell me about it?
  10. What advice do you have for young couples?
  11. Do you have any favorite stories from your marriage or about your husband/wife?


  1. What do you consider to be the most significant political event that has occurred during your life?
  2. What do you consider to be the most significant political event that has occurred in all of human history?
  3. Which political figure do you most admire?
  4. Which political figure do you least admire?
  5. What do you consider to be the most important war fought during your lifetime? In all of history?
  6. What do you consider to be the least important?
  7. What are some causes you care about?
  8. Have you ever fought for a political cause?
  9. What social movements have affected your social conscience and how?
  10. What would you like to see change in the current political/social atmosphere?
  11. Are you politically active?
  12. If you had to choose, what one political/social cause would you give your life for?
  13. If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be and why?


  1. What place does religion have in your life?
  2. Have you experienced any miracles?
  3. What was the most profound spiritual moment of your life?
  4. Do you believe in God?
  5. Do you believe in the after-life? What do you think it will be like?
  6. When you meet God, what do you want to say to Him?
  7. If you were re-born as an animal, what would you want to be?


  1. Other than the present, which historical era would you like to have lived in?
  2. If you could meet any historical icon, of the past or present, who would it be and why?
  3. If you could be anyone in history, who would it be?
  4. Where were you and how did you react to…
    • President Kennedy’s assassination?
    • landing on the moon?
    • the fall of the Berlin Wall?
    • the explosion of the Challenger?
    • Sept. 11, 2001?
  5. If you could travel into the future, would you rather see something that specifically relates to you, or something that relates to the future of the country in general? Why?


  1. What do you remember about your 20s? 30s? 40s? 50s? 60s? What events stand out in your mind? How was each age different from the one before it?
  2. There are some ages we don’t look forward to. What birthday were you least enthusiastic about? Why?
  3. If you could go back to any age, which age would it be and why?
  4. How do you feel now about growing old? What’s the hardest thing about growing older? The best thing?
  5. Did you have any expectations at points in your life about what growing older would be like for you?
  6. How should a person prepare for old age? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
  7. Do you think about the future and make plans? What are your concerns for the future?
  8. If you live another 20-30 years, what will you do? Do you want to live another 20-30 years?
  9. What do you look forward to now?


  1. What do you think are your three best qualities? Your three worst?
  2. Which do you think you have the most of: talent, intelligence, education, or persistence? How has it helped you in your life?
  3. Do you have any special sayings or expressions?
  4. What is your definition of “happiness”?
  5. What’s the highest honor or award you’ve ever received?
  6. What’s the most memorable phone call you’ve ever received?
  7. What’s the best compliment you ever received?
  8. What is the worst or best thing that has ever happened to you?
  9. What was your worst injury?
  10. What celebrity would you most want to meet?
  11. What book had the most impact on you? Why?
  12. What is your favorite movie? Why?
  13. What is your most memorable travel experience?
  14. What’s the farthest from home you’ve ever been?
  15. What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?
  16. What was your most rebellious moment?
  17. If you had to choose, what is the one thing you regret about the way in which you’ve lived your life?
  18. Are there times of your life that you remember more vividly than others? Why?
  19. What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted but still don’t have?
  20. What is your happiest memory?
  21. What is your saddest memory?
  22. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  23. If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
  24. How do you hope to be remembered?
  25. How do you think people will remember you?
  26. How do you want people to remember you?
  27. Who is your biggest fan?
  28. Whose biggest fan are you?
  29. Who is someone you admire, and why?
  30. What do you like to do in your spare time?
  31. When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
  32. What do you want the epitaph on your tombstone to be?
  33. What is your most embarrassing moment?
  34. If you could possess one super-human power, what would it be?
  35. What is your greatest fear?
  36. What is your greatest hope?
  37. What are you really bad at that you’d love to be great at?
  38. Do you have any phobias?
  39. What’s your favorite joke?
  40. What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
  41. What are the main lessons you’ve learned in life?
  42. What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were young?


  1. Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice for living? If a young person came to you asking what’s the most important thing for living a good life, what would you say?
  2. What do you feel have been the important successes in your life? The frustrations?
  3. What do you think happens after death?
  4. Over time, how have you changed the way you look at life/people?
  5. What have you thrown away in your life that you wish you hadn’t? What have you held on to that’s important and why is it important? What “junk” have you held on to and why?
  6. Tell me three pet peeves.
  7. Do you have any skills or talents that most people don’t know about?
  8. If you could be anywhere other than here, right this minute, where would you be? (Don’t overthink it!)
  9. If we went to happy hour, what would you order?
  10. Finish this sentence. On Sunday mornings, you can usually find me...
  11. What are three words that you describe you?
  12. What do you want to make sure you do before you die?
  13. What’s a goal you have for yourself that you want to accomplish in the next year?
  14. Name a few of your daily habits (other than a shower and brushing your teeth).
  15. What publications do you regularly read?
  16. What are you happiest doing, when you’re not working?
  17. What would be your personal motto?
  18. What do you see as your place or purpose in life? How did you come to that conclusion?


Questions and inspiration borrowed from:

  • Bosak, S. V. (n.d.). "Life Interview Questions" (PDF). Legacy Project. Retrieved 2020-02-07.
  • Furlong, Joanna (July 13, 2015). "Writing a Bio: My 20 Favorite Questions to Ask". Create Fully. Retrieved 2020-02-07.
  • "Great Questions". StoryCorps. 2003. Retrieved 2020-02-07.
  • Roffler, Joshua (n.d.). "Biography Interview Questions". Tempe.gov. Retrieved 2020-02-07.