Where should you begin when you start writing down your family history? Some people start with a relative’s earliest memories, and work forward. Others pick a significant experience in an ancestor’s life and start there. Another option is to start by asking your relatives a question that will naturally lead to a story. Here are some interesting questions to ask your relatives.
What fads were popular when you were a teenager?
This question is fun, and light, and will very likely be one that a relative will be happy to answer. The question lets your relative go back in time to when they were young and “relive” some of those memories. You might be surprised about the fads that were popular before decades ago.
The fad could be a particular hairstyle that all the cool kids were wearing (like a ducktail haircut or a mullet). The fad might be something people wore (like a poodle skirt or a feathered roach clip hair accessory). It might be a game that kids were playing back then.
The best thing about this question is that it leads right into a story. What was the fad? Why was it so popular? Did your relative participate in this fad? If not, did your relative feel left out for not participating? Did this fad cause your relative (or their friends) to get in trouble at school? How old was your relative when this fad was popular?
The answers to these questions will give you insight into what your relative was like when he or she was a teenager. It also shows you what was popular with young people several decades ago. In addition, it will probably include a description of what the social expectations were at that time.
What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you personally?
This is a very serious question that your relative might not be comfortable answering. Allow him or her to opt-out if they would like to. Nothing good comes from pushing someone to recall and share a traumatic experience.
Relatives who choose to answer this question might have a scary story that includes adventure, quick thinking, and that more than likely ended well. It could be a story from a camping experience and an encounter with a wild animal, or from their days in the military, or an experience with incredibly bad and scary weather.
Your relative that once was a tornado chaser might have audio, video, or photos that go along with their story. There could be military badges or awards that your relative earned as a result of the scary experience. Some relatives may want to show you a scar that they got while the scary event was happening.
Image by Julie Rybarczyk on Flickr
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