It is a fact of life that every now and then we are obliged to visit our older relatives and in-laws. We may love these people very much and yet we quite often look forward to these visits with annoyance, if not actual dread. To have to listen to the same old stories yet again seems almost unbearable.At the same time we may regret that we didn’t get more information from our grandparents and other relatives who have passed away. Why did they never tell us about their childhoods or when they got married? Perhaps we never asked!
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Don’t be content to listen to the same stories of your living relatives, but ask them for more information before it’s too late. When they tell you the same story about what somebody else did then don’t just nod sympathetically but ask for more information:
- What did you say or do?
- Why do you think he did that?
- What happened next?
- What did _________ think/say/do?
- Did that happen often?
- What was the usual custom?
I’m sure you can think of other examples, depending on the situation. Think of a story right now that usually comes out during a visit and think up some relevant questions. If you use them you may be surprised at what new information comes out.
You can also be more systematic in your approach. Instead of waiting for the old stories to come out, you can ask for new ones. Be prepared before you get there with specific questions to ask, depending on your interest and theirs.
A few questions to ask family members could include:
- Where did you grow up?
- What was your school like?
- What did you do after school?
- What did you do in the school holidays?
- Describe the personalities of your family members.
- Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
- How well did you get on with each of your siblings?
- Who was your favourite grandparent/aunt/uncle/brother/sister?
- Who was your least favourite grandparent/aunt/uncle/brother/sister?
- Can you remember any stories that were told to you as a child (fictional, folklore, or real life)?
- Did your family have any memorable holiday or other traditions?
- What did your mother cook for special occasions?
Special Interests / Hobbies
- Did you have any hobbies when you were growing up?
- What kind of games did you play?
- what did you do instead of watching TV?
Courtship / Dating / Marriage
- Where did you meet your husband/wife?
- How did he / you propose?
- Did your parents approve? Did his/hers?
You could write down the answers (before you forget) or even record the whole thing. A PDA or MP3 player may be able to record voices, or a voice recorder. A video camera would be even better; even the one in your new digital camera or mobile phone would be better than nothing. The results would be a priceless record of the history of your family. Explain what you are doing and why, and ask permission first.
You could transcribe the interview (because that’s what it will be) when you get home and distribute copies to interested siblings and other relatives. You could burn the voice or video recordings to CD or DVD and distribute these as well.
Don’t just do it the once. Make it a regular thing if your relative is willing. He/she may enjoy telling different stories, and you will certainly enjoy hearing them. These visits can be a fantastic opportunity to get some information out of your relatives; don’t waste them!
Source for questions: Survey Reveals Americans’ Surprising Lack of Family Knowledge, 24-7 Family History Circle, Ancestry.com, 7 Dec 2007.