Quick Overview

Whether you’re writing down some of your own stories, or capturing stories of other family members, it can be a simple collection of stories from any time of one’s life. Memories and stories can be grouped in several ways:

Single Stories
— “Surviving the Depression,” “Life on a Farm,” “My First Year as a Mother,” “A Conversation that Touched my Life,” “1 Girl and 6 Brothers!”

— life in the 1930s…1940s…1960s…
Life Stages
— early childhood, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, parenting, retirement
— childhood play, travel, raising a family, serving in the military, owning a business, sports, music, best friends…

Add Variety by Including Family sayings or expressions, humorous family anecdotes, legends, tall tales, folklore, those stories “you keep hearing…”

  • Quotes from letters, diaries, journals that you wrote or received
  • Maps or drawings of important places (ie. childhood home, the farm, your barracks during the war, your travels…)
  • Photographs
  • Samples of poetry, writing, calligraphy, artwork you’ve done
  • Favorite family recipes and traditions (especially holiday traditions)
  • Memorabilia including birth certificate, awards, honors, newspaper clippings, piano recital programs, lists of classmates from school…
  • Lists that capture in a nutshell your individual character (ie. favorite belongings, places you’ve lived, favorite songs, books as a child, accomplishments, embarrassing moments…)
  • Description of what life used to be like — a wonderful way to preserve day-to-day living history.
  • Chronology of events — a listing of your life’s events serves as a summary and source of reference. Events would include birth, graduations, marriage…but also the unique events (the day you got your first puppy or drove a car or won that prize at the fair or broke your leg, or went to Disneyland…)Samples and expansion of these ideas.
  • Who Stories for and about Family — Mom, Dad, grandparents, brothers and sisters, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. . .Stories for and about History — documenting day-to-day life, first-hand experience of world events, tales of survival. . .
    What Stories can be — A simple collection of favorite vacation memories; an elegant hardbound tribute for an anniversary; a detailed chronology of one’s military experiences; a floor plan of your childhood house; a handful of recipes and treasured photos; a couple of Dad’s fishing stories — or anything in between!
    When Family and life stories can be captured and shared throughout our lives whether we’re 9 or 90!
    How Find creative, easy ways for the whole family to start sharing and capturing their stories at any time of the year — Holidays, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Mother’s/Father’s Day; Summer vacations. . .

    Photos showing variety of individual life moments

Gathering the Memories

  1. START MAKING NOTES. I can’t emphasize this enough. Memories are illusive and fleeting. What you remember today, you may not recall tomorrow, and vice versa. Writing down your memories triggers other thoughts and helps keep your focus. The more you can commit your memories to paper (especially while they are somewhat fresh) the more you keep them free of time’s erosions and distortions. Make lists or organize folders or just collect scraps of paper. BUT START MAKING NOTES.
  2. BEGIN LISTING A CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS. A chronology of events helps to kind of organize your memories. Just start with a list of the important dates first:
    • Birth
    • Kindergarten
    • School events
    • Graduation
    • First Job
    • Military Service
    • Courtship and Marriage
    • Birth of Children

    Then start adding more whimsical or unusual dates, such as:

    • The time you caught the prize Northern
    • The day you bought your first puppy
    • The time your mother made you wear that awful outfit
    • Your first date and who it was with
    • Getting your tonsils out
    • The high school football game when you scored the winning touchdown
    • The day your 2-year-old flushed his toy down the toilet
  3. BROWSE THROUGH OLD PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM. A wealth of information can be retrieved by looking through old photograph albums. Our childhood awareness and attention span frequently fuzzies up our memories, but just seeing yourself wearing a favorite outfit or holding a Christmas toy or standing in front of a building can trigger thoughts. Look at the pictures closely for details:
    • the painting on the wall
    • the curtains
    • the way you wore your hair
    • the license plate on the car (what year?)
    • the dress your mother is wearing
    • the look on Grandpa’s face
    • the piano in the corner
    • the dog sleeping on the rug
  4. LOOK THROUGH THE TITLES ON YOUR BOOKSHELF. Your favorite books and authors will stir up thoughts about specific times. Where did you read your “Bobbsey Twins” books? How did you feel about your college biology teacher? What thoughts does your family Bible bring back? Or your first cookbook? What about magazines or comic books? Who was your favorite, “Superman” or “Dick Tracy”? What about your favorite poet?
  5. DRAW DIAGRAMS OR MAPS. Our childhood to early adulthood years are often the richest storehouse of memories. These were usually happy times and these memories (while innocently distorted through the passage of time) are often vivid, striking, lasting, optimistic, innocent. A good exercise is to draw the floor plan of the first house you lived in:
    • What did it look like?
    • Where were the rooms?
    • What was the floor like in the kitchen?
    • What kind of curtains? Wallpaper?
    • What kind of sink did you have?
    • What kind of table? How many chairs?
    • What could you see out the front window?
    • Where was the back door? the toaster? the step chair?

    Then move to the yard. What did the yard you spent your childhood in look like?

    • Did you have a sandbox or swings?
    • A garage? A shed? Barns and outhouses?
    • How did the coal man get to the house?
    • Where did Barbie and Ken play house?
    • Where was the croquet game set up? Badminton? a ball diamond?
    • Were there hills you could slide on in the winter?
    • Was there a garden? What did you grow?

    You can make diagrams of anything. It can be the barracks where you had boot training. It can be your lake cabin. Your grade school building.

  6. THUMB THROUGH YOUR RECORD COLLECTION OR SHEET MUSIC. Make a list of your favorite records or singers or songs. Where were you when you heard them? What were you doing? Who were you then? Who were your friends?
  7. SORT THROUGH YOUR “KEEPSAKE BOX.” What memorabilia do you have? What’s the story behind it?
    • Programs and ticket stubs from plays or theater or sporting events
    • Programs from grade school piano recitals
    • Dog tags and foreign money from the war
    • Class list from high school reunions
    • Memorials or funeral cards from relatives
    • Baptism certificate
    • Cards and letters — paper dolls — report card
    • Yearbooks
  8. TALK TO FAMILY MEMBERS. Sometimes talking to family members is like a gold mine. If you’re fortunate to still have living parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles, talk to them. You’ll be delighted at the stories they’ll recall of your childhood:
    • silly things you said or did
    • places you went to as a family
    • your personality as a child
    • family secrets you were too little to know

    Likewise, your brothers and sisters, whether younger or older, will have memories you’ve forgotten — and don’t assume it’s always the oldest that remembers everything. Sometimes your little brother or sister (or even your daughter or son) will come out with a memory you’ve totally forgotten about, only because you might have been thinking about other things at the time (like a new beau…)

    Friends are another great way to stimulate some great memories. Think of the “remember whens” you could trigger with old school chums or fishing buddies or next-door neighbors or the gang up at the lake…

    A wonderful exercise is gathering family members together, especially brothers and sisters, and simply reminiscing. I guarantee you and your sister will have totally different versions of many events. But that makes it fun. We all remember in our own way and for our own reasons.

    It’s so exciting to suddenly be given a memory you’d forgotten because it might not have been important to you. But it is now. It’s a precious gift to give someone, like a voice from the past.

  9. VISIT YOUR PAST HAUNTS. If you’re fortunate to be geographically near the area you spent your childhood or earlier years, drive by some of the places that were important in your life — your childhood house, grade school, first factory job, high school baseball field, the first house you bought, etc. often, seeing the actual site or building helps to clarify our thoughts and remove some of the fuzzy distortions. “Oh, I guess the door WAS on that side” or “I forgot how little the playground was,” and “boy, does THIS bring back memories,” etc.
  10. READ THROUGH A LIST OF MAJOR EVENTS.  There are many books available which chronicle the major national and world events of our lifetime. Likewise, magazines such as LIFE often commemorate events of the past. Browse through some of these reference materials and see what pops out at you.  SEE:  Historical eventsWhen does your memory and awareness of certain events (ie. stock market crash, World War II, the first man on the moon, etc.) kick in? How did you respond? Do they trigger memories of what life was like then? What society was like? What values and principles were important then?Think of the inventions you’ve seen in your life time. What was life like before them? (How was toast made before toasters were invented? Was there really life before television?) Are there “old-fashioned” ways of doing things that you miss?

    You may think nobody’s interested in hearing you talk about ice boxes or gas lights or pre-Xerox machines — but you’re wrong! To you, this may be ordinary, but to future generations, it’ll be fascinating. A person born in the 50’s may think it silly to record what happens on Halloween — but Halloween was different 25 and 50 years ago and will be different in the future. Yet, that same person may be totally fascinated hearing how they used to harvest ice from the lakes or what it was like to drive up to Canada on the “super highways” of the 1920s!

    In setting down the things you remember you’re actually recording history for those who follow — the kind of homes people lived in, how doctors treated illnesses, how people traveled, what they wore, how food was prepared (especially before electric stoves and microwaves!), the games people played, family and religious customs, jobs… You may think your great-grandfather or your dad lived exciting lives, but think of all the things that have occurred during your lifetime, events you’ve witnessed. Your heirs deserve to know how you responded to these events or how they changed your life. And even if you can’t really recall how you felt or reacted at the time, by noting some of these events, it helps to provide a historical reference to your stories.

  11. GO TO THE LIBRARY. Most major libraries and historical societies have old newspapers, photographs and magazines on microfilm which are open to the public. You’ll find yourself spending hours looking at these because they recall so many memories. And it’s usually possible to get copies made of many of these documents. They also have a variety of city directories and maps (including plat maps), as well as genealogical material like census records, etc.You may also find it helpful to go to historical museums or antique shops. These are wonderful places to see items that were everyday objects in our past but which we may not recall because we’ve long since thrown them out. After all, how many people have kept old cereal boxes or cookie tins or 78′ records? Yet, they may trigger some interesting memories for you.
  12. START MAKING LISTS. Sometimes, the easiest way to start is simply by making lists:
    • favorite toys
    • clothes you wore
    • accomplishments
    • cars you’ve owned
    • hobbies
    • dreams and fears
    • favorite literature
    • recipes
    • places you’ve traveled to
    • pets you’ve owned

    This is often one of the best ways to break through a mental block. Whether you’re a gifted writer or just the neighborhood mailman, it’s a lot easier to start listing items than it is to sit down and create a great piece of literature so don’t be afraid to include a few simple lists. SEE:  Story Themes and Ideas

  13. MAKE A LIST OF IMPORTANT PEOPLE. Think of the people who were important or influential in your life. Whether it’s a school teacher, a childhood chum, a boss, your next-door neighbor or your Uncle Huggins. If they’re still living, call or write them. It’s amazing the stories and details and events they’ll remember. How wonderful to have someone say, “Do you remember the time we…?” and pull out a priceless memory you’d long forgotten.
  14. WHAT WAS IT LIKE IN THE OLDEN DAYS? Another method is to think to yourself: “If my grandchildren came and asked me what it was like in the olden days, what would I tell them?” because, really, that’s what your stories are all about — simple, casual story telling about everyday living.
  15. Also, check out some of the sites in our Enriching the Experience section. We’ve got a growing list of sites that should stir up the nostalgia as well as the memories. If you are ready to build you own website then see: Island Web Solutions.

Writing it Down

  • TELL A STORY — that’s all you have do to! Few folks are professional writers so don’t worry about literary style. The important thing is not how it’s written. After all, if you found your grandpa’s diary, you wouldn’t care about spelling or punctuation. What matters is HE wrote it and it tells who he was and what he thought. Write your story as it you were sitting at the kitchen table swapping tables — be relaxed and informal. Have fun!
  • INCLUDE LOTS OF DETAILS — Stories come alive when they contain lots of names and dates and details. What was the NAME of the school or the STREET your house was on? How OLD were you and HOW BIG was the fish? What was your friend’s NAME and what YEAR was it? WHO was on first base when you scored the winning run? What was the man’s NAME who owned the store?
  • Grab a tape recorder or a notebook and find a family member to gather stories from — Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Mike, your brother or sister…
  • Ask them about a special time in their life. Ask “detail” questions — what YEAR was it? how OLD were you? WHO else was there? What was the WEATHER like? What were you WEARING? How did you FEEL? What did it TASTE like?
  • Have them draw a map describing the scene. And, if applicable, have them draw simple diagrams of items in their story — the treasure chest, the icebox, the design of the dress, the bridge…
  • See if they have other items that tie in — newspaper clippings, photos, certificates, awards, programs. . .

Samples of a variety of memorabilia

A resource for helping people capture their family and life stories.