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Hints to Get Grandma to 'Talk'

grandma--old-ladyWith the family getting together over the next few weeks, this is an excellent opportunity to learn about some the family tales, stories and legends. Of course that is not always easy to get a grandparent, great aunt or uncle to open up and starting telling some family stories.

So here are a few suggestions to get the conversation started. First it is the holidays, ask a relative about their fondest Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration. If they have a problem starting, select a time period, such as their first Christmas after they were married, or had returned from military service or after the birth of the first child. That will spark some memories. Of course be prepared to write notes or record what is covered. grandma-OldDesignShop_SilhouetteFamily1912

An excellent ice breaker is an old photo. Be prepared ahead of time with one or two of the most interesting, funniest or unusual photos you can find. Ask details, what is happening in the photo, why was it taken, who are all the people and where was it taken. Photos in fact can keep the conversation going for quite a while, so bring extras.  

grandma-siblingsIf the relative had sibling — now you have a ‘hot topic’. Ask about if the shared a bedroom, who ‘hogged’ the bathroom, who was considered a popular teenager, what was the meanest and the sweetest thing that sister or brother ever did for them.

Cover about a person’s time in school; elementary, high school and / or college. What were their favorite subjects, teachers, activities, sports or friends? Remember as you ask one question, others related to that topic will increase the relative talking more.

Ask about the oldest relative the person ever met. Did they know them for a long time or only meet them briefly. Ask details — person’s full name, about when they were born, where they lived, their occupation. True you may not get full details and you will have to do some research, but they just might come up with an ancestor you did not have on the family tree already. So this is a great question to ask.


The key is to take some time, an hour or so and start the dialog. There is quite a bit to learn from our living relatives.

Related genealogy blogs:

How to Ask the Right Questions

Who Would You Like to Talk to?

Recording Family Tales


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