Five Questions to Kickstart Your Family History

Although telling family stories was something we did quite a lot of in my family, every once in a while someone asks me a question about my Mom or Dad, and I find myself saying sadly, “I don’t know. And it’s too late to ask.”

Most of us regret not having asked our parents, grandparents, or other family members who are no longer with us some of the questions that only they can answer, while we still could.

While the specific questions vary from family to family, here are a few questions that might help open interesting conversations in many families.

Where/how did you meet Dad/Mom, Grandma/Grandpa?

When did you know you were meant for each other?

What do you remember about the day I was born?

What is the most important thing you learned from your Mom/Dad?

How is this town different now than when you were young?

Ideally the answers to these questions will suggest additional, follow-up questions. (What is a drive-in movie? What was a box-lunch social?)

Gathering family history doesn’t have to be a formalized, scheduled activity. You don’t have to sit down with a recorder, or identify a special time for doing so. In fact it’s often best if these conversations occur naturally.

What are some of the things you wonder about in your own family? Go ahead and ask. Then, when you have the answers, write them down! Or, at the very least, find ways to share the knowledge you’ve gained with others, so that the answers won’t be lost with you.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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