More people travel home for the holidays than at other times of the year. We are all likely to have some time to sit down with parents, grandparents, siblings, and even long-lost cousins over the coming week. So after the presents have been opened and before everyone is tucked in for a long winter’s nap, FIND the time to do just that.
Invite the older members of your family to sit around a table and set up a recorder (the one on your phone or iPad will work in a pinch) but also ask a couple of people to take notes. This doesn’t have to be a formal interview. The most important thing is to get people talking. Start with a few general questions and go from there. When an interesting topic comes up, ask for details: When did this happen? What did you feel about it at the time? What did others in your family do about it? Why did you do what you did?
Don’t worry if one person’s story seems to contradict another’s. You can work out the details later. Besides, memory is a subjective thing: Aunt Lottie, who spent Thanksgiving 1962 in the kitchen preparing dinner for 16, and Uncle John, who spent the afternoon showing off the farm to the cousins, might have very different memories of that holiday, and that’s okay.
Here are some questions/story starters to get your family conversations going.
- Depending on the age of the elders in your gathering, pick something significant from history and ask what each remembers about that time. Where were you when you learned WWII was over? What did you think when man first walked on the moon? Did you go (or want to go) to Woodstock? A little advance research about the times your elders lived in will provide you with topics for questions.
- Ask about school days: Who were your best friends and why? What is your favorite memory of a school football game? Who were your favorite (or least favorite) teachers? Tell me about your high school sweetheart.
- What was your first car? How did you acquire it? When and how did you part with it?
- What did you do with family on holidays when you were young? What were the holidays like when your children were young?
- What was your first job? What did you like most about it and why?
- How did you meet your spouse?
- What were your children like when they were teenagers?
- What advice do you have for your children and grandchildren?
Let one question lead to the next, and give everyone who wants to talk an opportunity to do so. Most families have talkers as well as listeners, so don’t leave anyone out. Don’t be discouraged if you only get partial stories. Any story saved is better than a story lost. But once you have started the ball rolling, you may want to turn this task over to one of the members of the Association of Personal Historians who can ensure that your family stories are saved in a thoughtful, professional manner.
Remember, it is never too early to tell your story, but it can easily become too late. Don’t let your family stories be lost. Yes, it’s time— it’s time to save the stories of your life, and you can start today.
~APH: Life, Stories, People~
About today’s contributor: D. Fran Morley is a freelance writer and editor on the Alabama Gulf Coast who frequently teaches workshops in personal history writing. She is Content Editor for the Association of Personal Historians.
Credit: Photo “Grampa’s Visit on Christmas Morning,” by Griffith & Griffith. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.