Just in time for Family History Month, here are 21 family story starters, prompts to aid you in collecting precious memories and family lore.
Remember, the Key to Family Story Starters Is Your Follow Up Questions:
In addition to Tami Koenig’s excellent advice in How to Start an Oral History Tradition, remember to follow up with open-ended questions. Don’t put words in your family members’ mouths. Instead, channel your inner four-year-old. By that I mean ask “why” and “why not”?
Of course, the other “w” questions are great too. Who cooked the recipe first? What made it so special? When was it served? You get the idea.
Root out the Context Behind the Stories
Asking things like, “What else was going on in history at this time?” will help you determine the historical context. In addition, we also want to collect the social and cultural context. Ask whether attitudes and taboos were normal for that time period, family, or cultural group. Did the family mindset run counter to the rest of the community? Rest of the world? Were family members behaving more as a product of their times or as trailblazers?
Don’t overlook the emotional context either. Ask how people felt about or reacted to events.
Family Story Starters Based on Superlatives
- What’s the best family recipe? (Who cooked it first? Who cooked it best? What made it so special?)
- Who is the oldest relative you ever met?
- What the best family romance story?
- Who’s the bravest or most courageous family member you can remember?
- Who’s the bravest or most courageous person you ever met?
- When was the coldest winter that the family ever had to suffer through?
- When was the hottest summer that the family ever had to suffer through?
- What’s the best story that was passed down from the “old country” that you remember?
- What’s the most scandalous family story you know of?
- Who was the most religious of all the relatives you can remember?
- Who was the most adventurous relative or ancestor?
- What’s the most touching immigration story in the family?
- Who is or was the most successful family patriarch that you can remember?
- Who is or was the most successful family matriarch that you can remember?
- What was the most uncommon family talent and who in the family had it?
- Who is or was the funniest relative you can remember?
- When you were a child, which adult was the easiest to talk to?
- Who was the most musical family member or ancestor you know of?
- What was the longest moment of your life?
- What is your family’s best trait?
- If you could go back in time to meet an ancestor, who would you choose to meet?
What questions would you add to this list? Which ones yielded you the most stories?
If you need more help on collecting, telling, and sharing stories, check out Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life.