Capturing Your Family History

Why Is Recording Family History Important?

Recording your personal or family history helps put your life’s journey in perspective and offers insights into the themes and meaningful events in your life. It’s a process that can touch you deeply and create a strong feeling of satisfaction.

There may be other discoveries for you, too, in the course of remembering past years. By exploring the lives of your parents and grandparents, for instance, you might gain insight into your family’s health history or discover talents and affinities that run in the family. Your story can provide a link with the past for future generations—a priceless gift for loved ones that will be treasured beyond material goods.

By recording your experiences of living through certain times and places, your children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren will be able to see the past through your eyes, enriching them immeasurably. They will have a model for overcoming hardships or seizing opportunities because you were willing to share the lessons you learned and the values you developed.

When you are finished, consider donating a copy of your story to the Historical Society. We’ll add it to your family file for future generations.

Where should I start?

You can start by interviewing a family member. If you are going to interview someone, get permission and set up a time. Be sure to bring a working audio or video recorder with an external microphone if possible.

You should have a list of topics in mind, not specific questions, word-for-word, and not a specific sequence. You may, however, want to have a start-up list of questions to get your interviewee and yourself comfortable before you change to your topic list.

Start the interview by asking basic biographical information and include the date and location of the interview.

Ask questions one at a time.

If the narrator’s response triggers more questions for you, don’t interrupt, just jot them down and ask them later.

Allow silence to work for you. Wait.

Be a good listener, using body language such as looking at the interviewee, nodding, and smiling to encourage and give the message, “I am interested.” Try to avoid verbal responses when ever possible.

Unless you want one-word answers, phrase your questions so that they can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Ask “essay” questions that prompt long answers whenever you can. Find out not only what the person did, but also what she thought and felt about what she did.

Be sure to ask for clarification when necessary, especially if the narrator is referring to objects or actions not common today.

Remember, the interview is about the narrator, not the interviewer. You should do as little talking as necessary to keep the narrator sharing his or her stories.

Telling Your Own Story

If you want to tell your own story, you can start with the sample questions in this brochure. You can work through your life starting with your childhood or your ancestry. Most people find it easier to start by writing the stories they are most eager to share and build from there. (You can always re-arrange the stories later if you wish.)

Consider who you are writing for: your immediate family, extended family, historical records, and/or the general public. This may influence the way you write or the stories you tell. For example, you may wish to focus more on family members and relationships for immediate family, while general readers may be more interested in changes in community or historic events.

Don’t Forget Photos

Family photo albums can be a great place to start your stories. You (or your narrator) can describe people, places and events pictured in your albums. Then the photographs can be scanned and added to your family history book or files. By scanning photos and saving to CD’s, you can make sure that every family member has a copy of the important images from your family’s past.

If you don’t have a scanner, places like Target  or can help you scan your photos.

Sample Questions

These are general questions

to get you started on your interview or memoir.

Please tell me your name, your birth date, our relationship, and where we are.

What was the happiest moment of your life?

Who was the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

What are you proudest of in your life?

How long have you lived in _____?

How has it changed over those years?

What was it like when you grew up here/first moved here?

What do you miss most about the way it used to be?

Who are some of the great characters from here?

Do you remember any great stories or legends about our town?

Where did you grow up?

What was it like?

What is your earliest memory?

Who were you parents?

What were your parents like?

Who were your grandparents?

What were your grandparents like?

Do you have any siblings? What were they like growing up?

Did you have a nickname? How’d you get it?

Who were your best friends? What were they like?

Did you enjoy school?

What would you do for fun?

How would your classmates remember you?

Are you still friends with anyone from that time in your life?

What are your best memories of grade school/high school/college?

How did you meet your husband/wife?

How has being a parent changed you?

What do you do for a living?

How has that industry changed through the years?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

What lessons has your work life taught you?

If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?

Have you been involved in community or church activities? Please talk about them.

Who were your favorite relatives?

Do you remember any of the stories they used to tell you? Please share them

What are the classic family stories? Jokes? Songs?

Were you in the military?

How did the war change you?

What lessons did you learn from this time in your life?

Where have you traveled in your life?

Talk about the changes in technology you have seen. Transportation, Communication, Electricity, Water, Computers.

Have you ever taken a train?

What was your first car?

What appliances did you have in your house growing up?

What challenges have you faced in your life, and how have you overcome them?

What advice would you like to share with future generations?

Is there anything you wanted to talk about that we didn’t get to?

Is there anything we didn’t talk about that you would like to add?

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