Gathering Your Family Stories

Family stories are tales about people, places, and events related to your family and your ancestors. Every person has a story to tell.

The memorable stories of our lives and of others in our family take on special importance, even if everyone tells different versions of the same event. These tales are family heirlooms held close to the heart. They are a gift to each generation that preserves them by remembering them and passing them on to future generations, and will become some of the most valuable and exciting information you can document about your family history. We call these family stories oral history, which is history the way our parents and grandparents remember it.

There is some urgency in collecting these precious family stories because older people will obviously not be around forever. Often, a parent, grandparent or great aunt is the last living person who knows these stories, and if they pass on before their story is recorded, it is lost forever and may never be known.

By gathering your family stories, and learning more about the personalities and heritage of your ancestors, they become more than just names and dates. They become real people with real struggles and dreams and triumphs in their lives just like you.

It doesn’t matter if your family was famous or just regular people like most of us, there is great value in getting to know them. Start with older people who you believe might not be able to wait for you to get around to gathering their story. Decide what you would like to learn about from each family member, and don't delay in interviewing them. And don't limit yourself to one person, collect several perspectives on the same subject by getting lots of stories from different family members.

One thing you can count on, your family stories are guaranteed to become absolutely priceless possessions in your family for many generations to come.

Conducting an
Oral Interview

Whether your interview is in person, by phone, or by mail, there are some important steps which will encourage a more open and thorough interview.

Older relatives can be very helpful in piecing together your family’s history. Often there is at least one person in a family who has assumed the role of family historian – the keeper of the flame – and may already have accumulated and organized a great deal of genealogical information. Get reacquainted with family members through family history interviews.

Here’s an an excellent article about how to prepare and conduct an oral history interview.

Capturing the Past -
In the article, they provide four main steps in conducting an oral interview with family members:
- Planning the Interview
- Preparing for the Interview 
- Conducting an Interview 
- Preserving the Interview

Some of the things you will need to conduct an interview are: tape recorder or camcorder, cassette or digital tapes, and a list of questions to help you remember what things you want to know about this person. You can listen better if you don't have to be thinking about your next question.

Usually, the less talking you do, the better the interview. So don't interrupt when they're telling their story. And usually limit your interview to 1½ hours so they don't get worn out. Store the tapes in a safe place and make a transcription as soon as convenient.

Use your pedigree chart to help determine what you want to learn from your interview with a family member.

Interview Tips

- Prepare your questions in advance (see interview questions below) 
- Check to make sure your recording equipment is working properly and that you have enough tape, batteries, and other accessories for the interview. 
- Give the person you are interviewing time to prepare for the interview, at least a week if possible. 
- Ask the person you are interviewing to start gathering family photographs, documents, letters, or any other items that will help them share their memories with you. 
- Bring someone with you to the interview if possible to handle the camera or tape recorder so that you can keep your attention focused on the person you are interviewing.                                                                                                                 - Store the tapes in a safe place and transcribe the interview to help preserve it.
- Enter the information you gather in the interview on your pedigree chart, family group record, and research log.

Suggested Activities

Identify your oldest living relatives and decide which one you would like to interview first. Schedule a time for a personal visit. Look at the information you have recorded on your pedigree chart and make a list of questions to ask your relative that will help you fill in the blank spaces on your chart. When you have completed the interview, record the new family history information on your pedigree chart, family group record and research log.

Interview Questions

Here's a list of possible questions for your interview, but don't feel bound by them. Write down other ideas and questions you can ask at an appropriate time.

Tell me about or what
do you remember about?...

- Your early home life
- The home you were raised in
- Special items in the house/favorite possessions/toy
- How it was heated and lighted?
- How you got water/when you got indoor plumbing, electricity or gas, phone, TV
- Hosehold chores
- Favorite pets
- Area/neighborhood where you lived/was there a railroad/post office/stores or shops?

- Your memories of your parents
- Father's work/occupation
- Mother's work
- Physical characteristics that run in your family/serious illnesses
- Any memorable traditions your family practiced
- Any stories that you can remember you were told as a child
- Close friends of the family

[photo of kids from p.7 of 2nd edition]
- How the family obtained food
- From the farm/garden
- From a general store (prices?)
- Family's favorite meals/special family recipes
- Special foods eaten on certain occasions

- How the family did laundry
- First automatic washer
- Washboards/clothes lines/soaps

- Bathing/grooming
- Saturday night bath
- barbershops

- your clothing as a child
- long underwear/button shoes/hats
- different from today's fashions?

- Your family's religious affiliation
- Where you went to church
- What religious ceremonies you took part in
- Did you have godparents or sponsors?

- School days
- Where you went to school/how you got to school
- Studies and homework/favorite subject- discipline
- Your friends when you were growing up

- What you did for fun
- Favorite games or sports/hobbies
- Favorite toys

- Family entertainment at home
- Musical instruments/favorite songs
- Radio programs

- Movie theaters
- Prices
- Favorite movies and film stars

- Family outings/vacations
- Family reunions
- Amusement parks and swimming spots
- Holidays/community celebrations
- Picnics/camping
- Road trips

- Transportation
- Horse and buggy/wagon
- First automobile/specific make, model, color
- Street cars and trolleys
- Trains/ships
- Any other inventions or developments that changed your life, and how

- Excursions to the "city"
- Favorite department stores/five and dime stores
- Favorite restaurants

- Your dating, courtship, and marriage/how did you meet?
- Wedding reception/invitation/music
- Favorite dating/dancing spots
- Popular music/dances

- World War I
- Relatives who fought
- Patriotic events

- Life during the Roaring Twenties/Depression
- World War II
- Where were you for Pearl Harbor/D-Day?
- Effect on your family
- Other historical people and events/events that stand out in the memory of your childhood (historical, personal, familial, storms or disasters, fire, etc.)
- Sinking of the Titanic
- Assassination of John F. Kennedy/Martin Luther King

- Changes that have occurred during your lifetime
- Technology
- Roles of men and women
- Family life

More personal questions

You can ask more personal questions about the person's life if you think they’re comfortable about it. Such questions might include:
-  Your most important achievements
-  Your biggest disappointments
-  What you wish you had learned before it was too late
-  What values and principles you consider most important
-  What advice you would give to future generations
-  Most important lessons in life
-  The most wonderful thing that has happened to you in your life / the worst
-  The most adventuresome thing you have ever done
-  Your personal secret for happiness
-  What bring you the most joy and peace
-  Faith-promoting stories in your life
-  What advice would you give to future generations
-  What would you like to be remembered for

Get started in creating your legacy today! Do It!


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