One of the challenging parts of interviewing someone is knowing what to ask them. There are a number of websites that provide sample questions for interviews.
Here is a selection of sample questions to get you started:
- TheSmithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide. Sample questions on pp 22-27. (pdf file)
- About.com Genealogy: 50 Questions for Family History Interviews
- Grosse Pointe Historical Society: Sample Questions to Conduct an Oral History Interview (pdf file)
- T. Harry Williams Oral History Center (LSU University): Sample Interview Questions (pdf file)
- A personal webpage with some interesting topics and decade specific questions
- Veterans History Project: Sample Interview Questions for Veterans
While I happen to be conducting a large project, oral history interviewing could be as simple as talking to your mother or father over a cup of coffee. The key thing is to ask them questions and to record their answers so that you have them for the future.
While the above guides provide lots of sample questions keep in mind that the best topic isn't always going to be the most obvious topic.
For instance, during the course of my interviews I wanted to get a sense of how local residents were affected by major historical events. I used various events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the first landing on the moon. I had hoped that events of national or international scope would elicit responses from everyone.
I was wrong! Not everyone reacts the same way and with the same depth of emotion to major events. Ironically, it was a local event that really got my interviewees talking. The one event that generated the most dialogue and most passionate, animated response was the "Blizzard of '78" that hit the northeastern United States in the winter of 1978.
Perhaps there is a local event or storm that impacted your area. Create a list of a few possible subjects so that if you don't get much response with one topic you can move on to the next. When you find that "golden topic" that everyone wants to talk about, write it down so that you can continue to use it in the future.
Remember, once they get talking, sit back, relax and let them talk! Capture history and memories from their eyes. Your job is to record it and save it for the future.