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20 Questions to Ask the Important Women in Your Life

Create your family history with your mother, your grandmother, and your aunts (bring your tape recorder or video camera!)

  1. Whom are you named after? Whom am I named after? What was she or he like?
  2. What was the house you grew up in like? Who lived with you? What was your neighborhood like? How did you relate to your non-Jewish neighbors?
  3. What languages were spoken in your home? By whom? To whom? What kinds of newspapers and books did you have in your home? Who read them?
  4. What about your family felt Jewish? How was your Jewishness expressed?
  5. How did you celebrate Jewish holidays? American holidays? What special roles did the women in your family play in holiday preparations and observance?
  6. What special foods do you associate with your family and family celebrations?
  7. Where did you go to school? Did you like it? What were your favorite subjects?
  8. Did you go to religious school? If so, where? What was it like? How meaningful did you find your Jewish education?
  9. What did you want to be when you grew up? Why? What options seemed open or closed to you?
  10. What did you do for fun as a teenager? As a young adult?
  11. How did you spend your summer vacations? Did you go to summer camp? Did you like it? Did your family vacation together? Where did you go and what did you do?
  12. (If married) How did you meet your spouse? What were your courtship and wedding like? What were your expectations about roles and responsibilities within your marriage? If you didn't marry, was this a conscious choice or did your life just take that turn? How do you feel about it in retrospect?
  13. What volunteer or paid work have you done? How has it been important to you?
  14. What has been important to you as a daughter? A sister? A life partner? A mother? A grandmother? As a friend? As a member of a community?
  15. Who have been your role models? What about them do you admire?
  16. What words of wisdom did your mother/grandmothers/aunts share with you?
  17. Who are your favorite cultural heroines? What appeals to you about them?
  18. What world and national events have significantly influenced your life?
  19. Women's roles in Judaism have changed dramatically over the past several decades. Have these changes had a personal impact on you? What do you think of them?
  20. What in your life has brought or given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again?

Please tell us your thoughts on our list of 20 Questions

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3 Comments

Thanks for the list of questions. They will work even if the person whose story you want to write has died. These questions when asked to living family members will bring out a myriad of memories that would have otherwise remained untapped My grandmother was brought here from Russia by my grandfather's mother to marry her son. A man my grandmother did not know and had never met. Her life over a one hundred and four year span was more than interesting. I have been thinking about how to begin and these questions helped.

Thanks for these! I know that some of them will be helpful in assisting my 98 yr.-old mother in writing her memoir, especially since we're just getting started w/it. Of course, some of these questions won't apply to her, but some (if not most) of these will be helpful. B'Shalom, Yona

This is more than 20 questions, y'all. ;-) But seriously, this is a great list of questions for non-Jewish people, and not just to be asked of women, especially for people who wish to capture the history of their families. I suggest sitting down with a microphone and some kind of recording device and getting it all preserved for the future. Keep it raw, as it can all be edited later. Also, remember that these questions will lead to other questions, tangential lines of thought, and enlightening (and entertaining!) anecdotes and stories. Surf Wisely.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "20 Questions to Ask the Important Women in Your Life." (Viewed on September 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/stories/how-to/20questions>.

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