Preserve your family history by writing your family stories

“Everyone has a story to tell.” It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. After working as a newspaper reporter for more than eight years, I know that everyone, in fact, has a story to tell.

But even before I started working as a journalist, I knew that life experiences make for interesting stories. Consider my parents.

My mother was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants and her grandfather took over our dairy farm in Wisconsin in the late 19th century. My father was the son of German and Scottish immigrants. When Dad was a little boy, his parents worked as cooks at a logging camp in northern Wisconsin. As he grew up, Mom and Dad would tell stories about their own childhoods. When Mom was little, the whole family slept on the screened porch on hot summer nights. The Indians also used to stop at our farm and the Gypsies camped nearby during the summer. When Dad was a little boy, he enjoyed spending time in the kitchen at the logging camp because all the cooks knew that little boys needed special treats during the day: a piece of key lime pie, a slice of chocolate cake, or a couple of cookies. of extra large sugar. When Dad wasn’t staying with his parents at the logging camp, he lived with his grandmother, a tiny, tough-as-nails German woman who owned a German shepherd named Happy.

Unfortunately, I never wrote any of those stories, and I never asked Mom and Dad to sit down with a tape recorder and tell those stories. My mother died in 1985 at the age of 68 and my father passed away in 1992 at the age of 78. Most of his stories, except the few I remember, are lost forever. Your family stories don’t have to share the same fate.

Here are some tips for writing your family stories:

  • Decide which person you want to interview first (grandma or grandpa, mom or dad, aunt or uncle), and then tell that person your plan to write a collection of family histories and ask permission to conduct an interview.
  • Set a formal date and time for the interview. This will give your interviewee a chance to mentally prepare and recall several stories you’d like to talk about.
  • Provide a list of questions several days or weeks before the interview. This will also give your interviewee time to recall various stories.
  • Focus on a single topic or event on your list of questions: school, holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July), birthdays, seasons (spring, summer, winter, fall), the list is endless.
  • Ask open-ended questions and not “yes or no” questions. “How did you get to school?” is better than “Did you walk to school when you were little?”
  • Use a tape recorder to record the interview. Recording the interview will help you gather details that you might miss if you are just taking notes.
  • Chat about something else for a while if the person you’re interviewing seems nervous about being recorded. Your interviewee will soon relax and won’t even notice the recorder. And once the interview begins, you’ll find that one topic will lead to another and one question will lead to another.
  • Transcribe the tape and write your notes after you have finished the interview. This in itself will provide an excellent record of stories being told ‘in their own words’. And he’ll be in good company: Studs Terkel’s oral history books are written that way and are fascinating to read. Terkel’s books include Division Street (1967), Hard Times (1970), Working (1974), The Good War (1984), The Great Divide (1988), and RACE (1992).
  • After you have finished all of your interviews and have written the stories, print out the stories from your computer and put them in a three-ring binder. Make multiple copies and give them to family members as gifts. Or maybe you want to consider publishing the POD (print on demand) stories. There are many POD companies, and for a price starting at a couple of hundred dollars, you can publish the stories in trade paperbacks. To find POD companies, do an Internet search using the keywords “print on demand.”

Here are some sample questions to help you get started with your interviews:

Subject: school

  1. Where did you go to school when you were little?
  2. Tell me about any funny or unusual incidents that happened on your way to or from school.
  3. What kind of clothes did you wear?
  4. How many students were in your class? How many students were there in the whole school? How many degrees?
  5. What was your favorite topic? Why?
  6. What was your least favorite subject? Why?
  7. Who was your favorite teacher? Why?
  8. Who was your least favorite teacher? Why?
  9. Tell me about your best friend.
  10. Tell me about your happiest moments at school. What was your best achievement?
  11. Tell me about your worst moments at school. Did you learn something from your worst moments?
  12. What advice would you give students who are in school today?

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