Family gatherings are the perfect time to start conversations that matter —and to collect stories. After the bird or ham has been carved and the casserole dishes scraped empty, we loosen our belts. And, often, we loosen our tongues.
This holiday, as Aunt Ida and Grandpa start to exchange familiar stories, make the most of the time with your loved ones. Jump (calmly and unobtrusively) into action.
Draw out New Information
Instead of simply laughing, nodding, and adding stories of your own, draw out new information by asking questions and listening carefully.
Getting the Details
Often, we know the gist of the stories. What we don’t know is the exactly where and the approximate when. As stories come out, ask follow-up questions. This isn’t just to nail down the story and convert an oral history into a somewhat more accurate written one. Those details often lead to new stories or sub-plots, and greater context.
Collect New Stories
The familiar stories cover a lot of ground, but not everything. Ask questions to ferret out new information and little known stories. Crestleaf.com’s 30 Family History Questions You Need to Ask Your Older Relatives is a great place to start.
Caveat: It always helps to go in with a plan. Jot yourself some notes so you know the questions you want to ask.
Pull that notepad out of your back pocket—or use the one on your smart phone, and record the details.
Start Conversations that Matter
Having meaningful conversations will allow you write stories that forge bonds. Go beyond the who, what, and where. Ask your loved ones deeper questions and start conversations that matter. Later, when you record their stories and memories, in addition to passing down information about relatives, you’ll be extending connections to those individuals.
For example, you could ask older relatives:
- When you were a little girl/boy, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
- When you look at your grandchildren (great-grandchildren), what are your hopes and dreams for them?
- What worries you about youth in today’s society?
- What do youth today have that you wish you’d had?
- When you look back at your life, how do you think your values differed from those of your parents or grandparents?
- When was the first time you knew you wanted to marry your future spouse?
- If you had one do-over, what would you redo?
- What was your proudest moment?
Keep it going:
Don’t limit these conversations to the dinner table. They can happen anytime you’re spending time with loved one–cooking, fishing, looking through old photos, or just watching TV.
Give a gift that gives back. Give your loved ones a fill-in book memory book or a guide to collecting memories like Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. (Hint: You can combine the guide book with a journal or inexpensive digital recorder.)