Uncovering Life Stories Through Thoughtful Interview Questions

Conducting interviews to learn about people’s life stories can be an incredibly rewarding experience By asking thoughtful questions, we have the opportunity to gain insight into how major historical events, cultural changes, and personal experiences have shaped someone’s worldview and identity over their lifetime

In this article, we’ll explore how to prepare open-ended lifespan interview questions that encourage people to open up and share details that allow us to reconstruct their life journey.

Why Lifespan Interviews Are Meaningful

Interviewing someone about their entire lifespan provides a holistic picture of that individual. We get to learn about their childhood school years, early adulthood middle age, and elder years. The goal is to illuminate the critical events, relationships, hardships, and accomplishments that define who they are.

Hearing life stories promotes empathy and understanding between generations. It helps us appreciate how society and culture have evolved. For the interviewee, reflecting deeply on the past can be therapeutic and instill a sense of purpose. Their memories and wisdom are validated when shared.

Creating an Interview Guide

To extract rich life stories, you need an interview guide. This is a pre-planned list of open-ended questions that probe important life stages and experiences.

Well-crafted questions should encourage people to provide details and elaboration, not just quick yes/no answers. You want them reconstructing scenes in their mind and explaining the significance of events.

Here are some tips for creating an effective lifespan interview guide:

  • Cover all life stages – Ask several questions about early childhood, school years, young adulthood, middle age, and late life. This provides a complete life view.

  • Ask about relationships – Family, romantic, and friend relationships profoundly shape our lives. Asking about important bonds helps uncover formative experiences.

  • Explore personal identity – Ask about personal values, life philosophy, biggest accomplishments, and how they see themselves. Identity questions reveal self-perception.

  • Probe challenges – Learning about hardships and how they were overcome provides insight into character and resilience.

  • Inquire about historical context – Explore their memories of major historical events to understand the times they lived through.

  • Focus on memories – Early memories reveal what made an impression. Asking for favorite stories yields meaningful insights.

Example Lifespan Interview Questions

To demonstrate how effective lifespan interview questions are structured, here are some examples:


  • What is your earliest memory from childhood?
  • What was your family and home like growing up?
  • Who would you say had the biggest influence on you as a child?
  • What interests and hobbies did you have?
  • What adventures and misadventures do you remember from those early years?


  • What school experiences stick out in your memory from your teenage years?
  • How would you describe yourself as a teenager?
  • What did you do for fun with friends at that age?
  • What new privileges or responsibilities did you have as a teen?
  • Who were your role models or heroes?

Early Adulthood

  • What was your first serious romantic relationship like?
  • How did you decide on a career path?
  • How did major current events at the time impact you?
  • What were your biggest life goals and dreams back then?
  • What do you feel were your key accomplishments in early adulthood?

Middle Age

  • How did you meet your spouse and decide to marry?
  • What was parenthood like for you? What were the highs and lows?
  • How did your worldview change from young adulthood to middle age?
  • What was your proudest achievement in middle age?
  • What do you feel were your main responsibilities and priorities at that time?

Later Life

  • How was the experience of retirement for you?
  • What are the most rewarding aspects of your life today?
  • What are your proudest accomplishments looking back?
  • What advice would you give your younger self if you could?
  • How do you want to be remembered by loved ones?

Conducting Meaningful Interviews

Once you have a thoughtful interview guide, arrange to meet with your subject in a comfortable, quiet setting free of distractions. Here are some tips for conducting the interview effectively:

  • Spend time building rapport and explaining the purpose before diving into questions.

  • Ask open-ended follow-ups like “Can you explain more about that?” to get more detail.

  • Don’t interrupt stories. Let them describe scenes and experiences fully.

  • If they are having trouble remembering, give cues like years or locations to prime their memory.

  • Avoid inserting your own experiences. This is about them, not you.

  • Let silences happen. It gives interviewees time to reflect before continuing.

  • Clarify any confusing statements. Don’t make assumptions about meaning.

  • Express gratitude for their openness. These stories are gifts to cherish.

Preserving the Stories

Lifespan interviews often uncover family histories and personal insights that need to be preserved for future generations. Consider recording audio or video of the interview with the subject’s consent. Transcribe the recording to create an enduring written record.

You can also collate photos, documents, and other artifacts mentioned to compile a rich archive of their life story. These preservation steps ensure their memories get handed down long into the future.

The Reward of Understanding

There is something profoundly touching about listening to someone recount their entire life journey. Lifespan interviews provide a unique window into how remarkable lives unfold. We get to know our subjects deeply—their values, dreams, challenges, losses, triumphs, and legacies. This understanding breeds compassion across differences and generations. By taking the time to ask thoughtful lifespan interview questions, we can uncover incredible stories.

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions Sample Answers


What is a lifespan interview?

The purpose was to document the subject’s lifespan history with recollections of important or significant events in her development.

What questions are asked in a life lesson interview?

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person or those people teach you? Can you tell me about a moment when a person’s kindness made a difference in your life? What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

What questions do you ask in a life interview?

Life Interview Questions – Childhood What year were you born? On what date? What day of the week was it? Did your parents tell you anything about the day you were born? Where were you born? Why were you given the first (and middle) name(s) that you have? What’s your first, most vivid memory? What was the apartment or house like that you grew up in?

What is the interview process like in late adulthood?

Instructions: The student will interview an individual in late adulthood using the questions below, then the student will relate the information they gained from the interview to theories and concepts in class, lastly they will reflect on their experience. Interview Questions For this interview, use the following required questions: 1.

What is lifespan Exam 2?

Lifespan Exam 2 Study Guide – Chs 5-8 Lifespan homework chapter 7 and 8 Preview text PSYC 2314 SPRING 2019 Concept: To explore and better understand the physical, cognitive, and socioemotional changes and development during late adulthood on a realistic level. Interview someone in late adulthood (age

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