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Things to Ask Your Older Relatives. Four Interview Prompts.

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There are a lot of families that have a collection of stories that are handed down from one generation to another. In addition, there are stories that haven’t been as wildly shared, but are also important to record. It can be difficult for family historians to figure out where to begin or how to learn more. Start with these four questions that you should ask your older relatives.

How did you and your spouse meet?

Information about a relative’s marriage can be found in all kinds of “papers”. There’s the wedding certificate or marriage license, newspaper announcement, and photos from the wedding and reception. What cannot be easily discovered is the story about how your relative and their spouse first met.

Ask your older relatives for stories about how they met the person they ended up marrying. This is bound to bring back some happy memories. It also gives you a glimpse into what your relative was like when he or she was young.

Will you tell me that story again?

Ask your older relative to tell you that story that has been handed down for generations and that everyone has heard a thousand times. People tend to take these stories for granted, assuming that the story teller will always be there to tell it. Record that story before the opportunity to do so passes you by.

Where were you when…?

There are certain historical events that create vivid memories in the minds of people who lived through them. Ask your older relatives to share their experiences with you. Where were you on 9/11? Where were you when the Berlin Wall came down? Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you when the Challenger exploded?

Those that are willing to talk to you about their thoughts and experiences on a day when something extremely significant happened will, undoubtedly, have an interesting story to share. Some people may become emotional when talking about these kinds of topics, so be prepared with tissues and compassion.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

This question is wonderful for so many reasons. It gives you a look at what your older relative was like when he or she was a little kid. The world has changed since then, so their story is bound to include things that you have never experienced. For example, some relatives may have had an icebox instead of a refrigerator.

Ask for details about the games they played, how they dressed, and what they did all day. Ask what it was school was like when they were children. Together, this tells you about your relative and the world that he or she was a child in.

Image by Steven & Courtney Johnson & Horwitz on Flickr.

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