An old family secret you’re finally ready to know. The wisdom of your elders. The story about that time grandma’s brother caught an alligator and left it in the tub. If you have the courage to ask, you never know what you might discover about your nearest and dearest.
As you gather with loved ones for the holidays, think about preserving their memories and life lessons through oral histories. Here we’ve gathered some questions that can lead to meaningful conversations about family and values, along with tips to get you started.
1. What’s your favorite place to visit in the world?
2. Are there any funny stories you want to tell me about?
3. What was the happiest moment of your life?
4. What are the most important life lessons you’ve learned?
5. What do I need to know about our family’s medical history that could affect my health?
6. Tell me about some traditions that have been passed down through our family. When and how did they get started?
7. How would you like to be remembered? (This can help spark a discussion about end of life wishes, if it’s something you haven’t spoken about before.)
8. Is there anything you have always wanted to tell me but never have? (This can also be a jumping off point for practical considerations, such as where estate planning documents are kept, or long-term care arrangements.)
The questions above can help inspire conversation even in an informal setting – but consider taking things a step further by preserving those memories via audio or video.
If so (and if your family member is willing), decide whether you’d like to conduct your interview one-on-one or in a group setting. Then, arrange a time and place and select questions that will get your loved one talking.
Once you’ve chosen your questions and you’re in a quiet and comfortable location, begin your recording (hint: you can use a smartphone app like Evernote to record audio). Start by stating the date and the name of the person you’re interviewing. Then begin with lighthearted questions to break the ice.
If your interviewee isn’t exactly chatty, you might need some cues to get the conversation going. You can break out old family photo albums that might spark memories. Or make it a game: you can buy card decks with questions to ask family members and grandparents, or you can use an app like Conversation Starters.
Once you’ve captured the interview, ask whether you may share it with other members of your family such as children or grandchildren. You might even consider using the StoryCorps app, which allows you to upload your recording to their archive at the Library of Congress, which is full of interviews about the lives of everyday people.
With a little effort, you can turn the stories of the people in your life into treasured keepsakes – portable insight that can be passed along from generation to generation. “If we take the time to listen, we’ll find wisdom, wonder, and poetry in the lives and stories of the people all around us,” says StoryCorps founder David Isay. “We all want to know our lives have mattered and we won’t ever be forgotten.”