Listen up! I’m about to tell you something that you will not regret, and you’ll definitely look back on it and thank me for nudging you to do it. Are you ready? Here goes, but first let me tell you a little story.
When I was a senior in high school I took American History. I had a teacher who certainly wasn’t my favorite for various reasons I shall not go into here. But he did something for me for which I will be forever grateful: he assigned extra credit. This was wonderful not because of the few extra points it earned me, but because of the assignment itself. The assignment was to interview an older person about their life. The lucky thing about this assignment was that my paternal grandfather happened to be visiting us at the time from Monahans, Texas. He came for a few days twice a year, and luck was on my side. Since my grandmother had passed away the previous year, this was one of his only trips by himself. I say “only” instead of “first” because as it turned out, he passed from this life unexpectedly a few months later and never made the trip again. He seemed healthier than ever at the time of this interview. Anyway, it just made perfect sense to interview him. I think that at the time extra points were my focus more than any motivation to preserve the family history. The post An Interview With My Grandpa Moss contains that interview.
Several years later, as my maternal grandmother started to succumb to dementia, I sat down with her to do a similar exercise. The post An Interview With My Grandma Stafford contains that interview.
Both of these lovely human treasures have now passed from this life, but I have some marvelous jewels written down from these two efforts: dates, names, and mainly stories. These are stories that couldn’t be made up; they’re much better than anything that could be made up. In the next couple of posts I’ll be sharing some of the great true stories they told me.
So how does this affect you?
Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up. Chances are, in the next month and a half, you will see people from your family that you haven’t seen in a long time and may not see again for just as long. This may even be the last time you see some of them. So, as you gather with loved ones this holiday season, please take a few minutes with a matriarch, a patriarch, an elder, and let them talk to you about “the good old days”. There’s a good chance you’ll wonder why in the world they’re called “good old days”. You’ll likely hear some amazing stories. Some will be funny, and others sad, amazing, heroic, and surprising. You may even find a skeleton or two in the closet. Whatever the case, record those memories on an iPhone or on a piece of paper or some other way of recording these priceless gems. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. Just do it in a way that can be saved and passed on. Most people, especially older ones, love to talk about their lives and will be glad to have someone listen to their stories.
Below are some possible questions to ask. (Many more can be found with a quick Google search of “Family History Interview Questions”.) These are meant to be simply a starting place. Add other open ended questions to get them talking. If you don’t already have them, get birth dates of siblings, parents, and grandparents. I personally already had most of than, and the personal stories were what I was looking for. If you are young, it may help to have another person older than you (maybe a child of the person being interviewed) sit in on the session and help by feeding leading questions such as “Tell us about the time that you…” But if nobody is available that fits in that category, do it anyway. Here are some questions to help you along your way.
What is your full (maiden if it’s a woman) name?
What is your date of birth?
What is/was your spouse’s full (maiden if it’s a woman) name? When and where were you married? How did you meet?
How many brothers and sisters did you have? What was your birth order: were you oldest, youngest, or in the middle?
Where did you live? What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
What kind of games did you play growing up? What was your favorite toy and why? What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?
What world event most impacted your childhood? Adult life? How did it impact your life?
What was your final level of formal education? What was your profession? What was your first job? How much did it pay?
What were your parents’ full names? What were your grandparents’ full names? What did they do for a living?
Tell me some funny stories that happened to you or someone in the family.
What else would you like me to know?
Come back and comment on this blog and tell me how it went. If I forgot something, tell me that too.
Then share it around. If it’s in an audio file, transcribe it or get someone else to. Make copies. Pass it around. And you will not regret it.