Updated 6 Aug 2007

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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What should I ask?

What should I ask a very old person about their early life?
I asked members of DERBYSGEN first. These are some replies.

Emails on the subject

Hello Folks,
What should I ask a 90-year old lady, last child of 11?

I'm researching Lydia GOULD 1872-1947, who had 11 children,see: X490 Her last child, Phyllis, was born 1917 and is still alive.

Norman Buckley has already interviewed her, and his notes are on the link above. He asked what else he should ask her. Any suggestions?

Best wishes,
John Palmer, Dorset, England
Author of Wirksworth website


    My mother was the youngest of eleven. I interviewed her and her last surviving sister. I recommend that you tape the interview. Much easier than writing notes, and should be more interesting to future family. It was interestingto me that she didn't really remember her eldest siblings very well, as they had all left home. I asked simle things like what were the sleeping arrangements when the house was only 2 up 2 down - (answer - a curtain across the children's bedroom, boys one side, girls the other.)

    I took a drawing of the close family tree and went through them one by one, asking what she could remember of each one. Then I asked her about the street she lived on, who she remembered and then went wider, asking about the different areas of the village she lived in (Brinsley, Notts). An old map of the area might be a useful prompt. I also asked about her husband's family (ie my father and paternal grandparents), because my father had died before I started doing this.

    hope that helps,


    Hi John,

    Maybe this list is too simple for your needs, but it might be a starting point to expand or change to suit your needs. My local FHS handed out the list some years ago to give members a few ideas for obtaining information from living relatives to make the family history a bit more interesting or personal than just a lot of cold hard facts.

    Nowra NSW Aust.

    1.. What is your full name? Why did your parents select this name for you? Did you have a nickname?
    2.. When and where were you born?
    3.. How did your family come to live there?
    4.. Were there other family members in the area? Who?
    5.. What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms?
    Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
    6.. Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
    7.. What is your earliest childhood memory?
    8.. Describe the personalities of your family members.
    9.. What kind of games did you play growing up?
    10.. What was your favorite toy and why?
    11.. What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?
    12.. Did you have family chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite?
    13.. Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
    14.. What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
    15.. What school activities and sports did you participate in?
    16.. Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
    17.. Who were your childhood heroes?
    18.. What were your favorite songs and music?
    19.. Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names?
    20.. What was your religion growing up? What church, if any, did you attend?
    21.. Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
    22.. Who were your friends when you were growing up?
    23.. What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? Did any of them personally affect your family?
    24.. Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking? What were your favorite foods?
    25.. How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
    26.. How is the world today different from what it was like when you were a child?
    27.. Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
    28.. What do you know about your family surname?
    29.. Is there a naming tradition in your family, such as always giving the firstborn son the name of his paternal grandfather?
    30.. What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
    31.. Are there any stories about famous or infamous relatives in your family?
    32.. Have any recipes been passed down to you from family members?
    33.. Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
    34.. Are there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
    35.. What was the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
    36.. When and how did you meet your spouse? What did you do on dates?
    37.. What was it like when you proposed (or were proposed to)? Where and when did it happen? How did you feel?
    38.. Where and when did you get married?
    39.. What memory stands out the most from your wedding day?
    40.. How would you describe your spouse? What do (did) you admire most about them?
    41.. What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage?
    42.. How did you find out your were going to be a parent for the first time?
    43.. Why did you choose your children's names?
    44.. What was your proudest moment as a parent?
    45.. What did your family enjoy doing together?
    46.. What was your profession and how did you choose it?
    47.. If you could have had any other profession what would it have been? Why wasn't it your first choice?
    48.. Of all the things you learned from your parents, which do you feel was the most valuable?
    49.. What accomplishments were you the most proud of?
    50.. What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?


    John, In the past I have done a reasonable amount of interviewing connected with oral history and in very condensed form can I suggest;
    Record the interview.
    Have a literal typescript made.

    The great need of most older people is identifying what you want to know so questions need to be carefully thought out in advance. In many cases photographs or objects serve as points to start from. Photograph are good ways of focusing memories. What a person says may well be different from what you believe is the truth. Do not disagree with them come back to the subject latter. I once had two brothers who worked the same farm disagree on whether they had used prisoner of war labourers in WW2. Both had been there at the time so you may need to follow up what has been said in other ways.

    Stuart Jamieson


    Hi John, I can relate to this query - my Mum is 96 born in Brimington, Dby, (her vision is her only problem) one of 16 children - including one stillbirth (I found the burial record) and one son died at aged 3 months (also found the burial), my Mum did not know of these two births so always said she was one of 14 children - true I guess. She has told me how her Mum used to sing in French to them as children (her Mum - my grandmother spent her last year of schooling at a Convent in Belguim), her Mum went to Nottingham on the train each fortnight and would always take one of the children with her, the others received chocolate on her return. They did have someone to help with the cooking and housework, Mum was brought up in the Prince of Wales pub in Brimington, I have asked what she wore and what grandma wore, who did the garden, how they got to school (walked of course), games they played, Grandpa was foreman at 'The Works' (Staveley Iron & Steel Works), what they ate at home, how old was Mum when she left school, where did all her siblings work when they left school, how did they all fit into the Pub bedrooms, some of them helped in the Pub. She has told me of the Sunday School picnics, trips to see 'The Iluminations' at Blackpool,they travelled by train for those trips, how they used to walk for miles in the dales. Asking for dates does not work with the oldies (me included sometimes), I have tried to work how old she was when certain happenings occurred, although she said she was 15 when she finished school. Mum was the seventh child to her parents but was the 6th to her as the 3 month old son died before Mum was born. Mum and her younger sister now 84 are the only two living - there were 10 girls and 4 boys plus the 3 month old brother who died. Grandma was 83 when she died.

    I do hope this helps in someway and sorry for rambling on a bit,

    happy hunting
    Annette WATSON


    Ask her what she/her family thought about the big outside events going on in her childhood: how did they affect her? did they impinge on their lives? how did they get the news?

    Were prayers said at home? did father read the bible out loud - or mother - on Sunday evenings? when did they go to church? who went to school?

    Did they go to parades? she may not have attended any in 1918, but what about the older siblings? Peace? Coronation?

    Did she see MPs on the hustings? did she/they deliver the leaflets?

    When did she/they go on their first train? Did they travel by canal barge? could she ride? did she go to market - to sell or to buy?

    What was the first big department store she went into? Where? When/where was the first time she had her hair done in a "professional" hairdressers? Did the family make their own clothes? Did they buy in a shop - what sort of shop?

    What was "sunday best"? what was her wedding dress like? where did she get it?

    Did her father/family get involved in Unions? what about friendly societies?

    gee I could go on!!!


    You could ask her if she knows how her parents met



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