You have strong, exuberant women in your family.
Maybe you already know your nana’s favorite game show, your great-aunt’s secret cherry pie recipe, and your older sister’s love for sewing. You know how your mom likes her coffee and your grandma’s favorite Sunday drive excursion. But how well do you really know your family? Most of us don’t know much. In fact, we hardly scratch the surface of our loved ones’ life stories. Do you know what your grandmother spent her childhood days dreaming about? Do you know about your aunt’s wild college days? Do you know where your parents went on their first date? There’s a heart wrenching African proverb that says, “Every time an old man dies, a library burns.” And it’s so true.
Your family’s history affects you and future generations, taking steps to preserve it is important. It’s up to you to ask questions and extract stories. The task of preserving family history is easier than you think. It involves asking questions and recording answers. If you don’t unearth and preserve your loved ones’ personal histories, who will?
First things first, you need to make sure your loved ones actually want to tell their stories. Here are some tips on getting your mother or grandmother or aunt or other loved one to open up:
Worth. Explain that her stories are invaluable and one-of-a-kind, since only she lived her life’s journey. Tell her that recording her memories will create a lasting heirloom that will encourage and inform future generations.
Comfort. Talk to her in a relaxed setting, such as inside of her home.
Timing. Choose to talk to your loved one on a day when she has adequate time to share without feeling rushed. If she has many stories to tell, divide the interviews into two-hour increments.
Guide. Before you meet up, compile a list of prompts and then guide her from her early memories to most recent ones.
Now that you know how to smooth-talk your way into hearing the stories that shaped your life in the right atmosphere with the right timing, here are some prompts to help you get your interview started:
- What’s your earliest memory? Describe your childhood home and town.
- Name your parents, grandparents, and their years of birth.
- Describe your siblings and best childhood friends.
- Tell me about some trouble or mischief you got into as a child.
- Tell me about your elementary school, how you got to and from school, and special memories of school.
- What were your favorite games to play and favorite places to visit as a child?
- What were your favorite holidays and how did your family spend them?
- Describe your teenage years, including activities, friendships, and school.
- Tell me about meeting your spouse, your dating days, and your wedding.
- Describe the home and town in which you raised your family.
- List your children and tell me about a special memory from each of their childhoods.
- Tell me about jobs you’ve held and about your career.
- List the most memorable places you have visited.
The above list is just the beginning. When it comes to asking the beloved ladies in your life for their stories and documenting answers, the opportunities are immeasurable. Add your own prompts to the list or, once the conversation starts, just follow where your loved one leads.
Finally, all you need to know now is how to preserve all this newly discovered history.
Here are a few ideas:
- Turn on your phone’s recording app and record verbal stories.
- Press record on your phone’s video camera and film the storytelling.
- Whip out an old-fashioned pen and paper and write down stories as you hear them.
- Type up the stories told.
Article by Olivia Savoie of Raconteur Story Writing Services, life story writers in Louisiana