Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Activity: Oral History Interviews

Family Folklife Interview

Photo of large extended family eating outdoors at table laid with linen and china

Interview a family member

Collect family stories ("folklore") to discover your important family traditions ("folklife").

Choose your questions from the following topics:

Everyday Family Life

  • What kind of apartment or house did your family live in? What was the neighborhood like?
  • What were family meals like? What kinds of foods were served? What foods were family favorites? How did they become favorites?
  • What did Saturday mean to the family?
  • What did Sunday mean?
  • Did your family belong to a religious group? What religious group did your family belong to? How important was religion in your lives?
  • What special words, sayings, or nicknames are used in your family? How did they come about? Do any come from your ethnic background?
  • How was your family like or different from other families in town? Why?


Celebrating and Having Fun

  • What did your family do for entertainment? What sports were played or enjoyed as spectators?
  • Who visited your family often? Who did you visit? What did family or friends do during visits?
  • What were some favorite rhymes, chants, jokes, or songs you remember?
  • What was considered "lucky" or "unlucky" in your family? What family "luck" stories have you heard? What trips did your family take? What form of transportation did you use? Why? What family trip do you remember best?
  • What holidays or festivals did your family celebrate? What holidays were most important? Why?
  • How were these holidays celebrated? What was "traditional" about these celebrations? What new ways did your family "invent" to celebrate the holiday?
  • How were special times like birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, etc. celebrated?
  • How and where were marriages, funerals, christenings, bar mitzvahs and other "once-in-a-lifetime" celebrations held?
  • Does your family hold reunions? Who organizes them? Who comes?
  • What usually happens at the reunions or other get-togethers?


Good Times and Bad Times

  • What big events or upheavals occurred in the life of your family or your town?
  • What family stories have been told about good times or hard times?
  • What stories are told of natural disasters like floods, tornados, blizzards, etc.?
  • What courtship or wedding stories have been passed down in your family?
  • What stories are told about "heroes" or "cowards" in your family?
  • Who did you admire most in the family? Why? Who was your hero outside the family? Why?



  • Describe the town where you lived (or the one nearest to you). If you lived in more than one town, which one do you think of as "home?" Why?
  • What was the most important form of transportation in town?
  • When, if ever, did the family need to make a trip to a larger town? How did you travel there? What memories do you have of those times?
  • What clubs or organizations did family members belong to? How important were these clubs to the family?
  • What community events or celebrations do you remember?



  •  From what foreign country or area of the United States did each branch of your family come?
  • Why did they emigrate or migrate?
  • When and where did they arrive? How did they travel? How much did it cost? How long did it take?
  • What did they know about their destination before they came? How did their new home live up to their expectations?
  • What difficulties did they have when they arrived? Where was the first place the family lived in this country? How often did the family move? Where and why did they move?
  • As time passed, what old customs and values were kept? Which were not? Why?


From Toward a Better Balance: Curriculum Guide for Multicultural Education, Susan K. Donley (Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania Ethnic Heritage Studies Center, 1988) ©1988 Pennsylvania House of Representatives.


About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2013 Johnstown Area Heritage Association