Telling Your Story
Children learn about family history and traditions through stories told by older generations.
Written by Jill Biggins Gerbracht
He spotted her from across a crowded room at a college fraternity party and said to his best friend, “I’m going to marry that girl!” This is one story I treasure, knowing about how my parents met. They recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary, so I guess my dad knew what he was talking about in that moment over six decades ago!
Family history is one of the most precious gifts in life, and it doesn’t cost anything to share. Taking time to ask a loved one important questions about what their life was like when they were growing up can be rewarding for both of you.
Plus, there are untold benefits in recognizing the value of life reflection. For seniors, the chance to tell their stories is said to improve cognition, lessen depression and improve behavioral functioning. It can also build a sense of pride and respect.
Did you know October is National Family History Month? What a great opportunity to talk about your family history and make sure your story is remembered for decades to come. If stories, traditions and history are not passed down from one generation to the next, eventually they will be lost and forgotten.
Although I have not been intentional about creating these stories in my own family—yet— I want to act and begin to document what I can from my parents by way of questions and looking at old photographs and personal memories. I know the story of how my parents met, but I would love to have more stories like that in my arsenal to share with my own kids and grandkids one day!
As we get older, we realize the importance of family—not just the people we grew up with or raised but the broad, extended family of great-aunts, third cousins twice removed and great-great-grandparents. Learning more about the generations who came before us and are no longer with us may teach us much about our families, our history and ourselves.
How does one begin the process of helping a family member reminisce about treasured life memories?
Use the following tips to successfully prepare for the interview:
- Prepare the questions in advance.
- Set aside a quiet time and place free from interruptions.
- Use your phone or other digital recorder (tested in advance) to transcribe the dictation.
- Listen attentively and gently and ask clarifying questions if something isn’t clear.
Now for some conversations starters:
- Bring old family photos as a great way to get things started. Viewing old photos together can help identify relatives you might not know about and tell stories of their own.
- Use open-ended questions like “What do you remember about your grandparents?” or “What was life like when you were in grade school?” to allow for more free-thinking answers.
- Don’t forget closed questions like “What street did you grow up on?” or “Where was your mother born?” to provide concrete details about their history.
20 Reminiscing Questions for Seniors
- In what ways do you think I’m like you? And not like you?
- Which person influenced your life the most?
- Do you have a lost love?
- Which new technology have you found most helpful in your life? Which do you find to be the most annoying?
- Is there anything you have always wanted to tell me but never have?
- Is there anything you regret not having asked your parents?
- What was the happiest moment of your life?
- What are you most proud of?
- How did your experience in the military mold you as a person?
- What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
- What is your earliest memory?
- Did you receive an allowance as a child? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
- Who were your friends when you were growing up?
- What was your favorite thing to do for fun?
- What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? What did you eat for lunch?
- What school activities and sports did you participate in?
- Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothing?
- What world events had the most impact on you?
- How would you like to be remembered?
- Is there anything you would do over if you could?