November is National Family Stories Month, a great time to compile those family stories everyone cherishes - before they're gone.
Family stories are tales about people, places and events related to the members of our immediate family or their ancestors. Family stories casually chatted about at the dinner table, or regaled again and again at family gatherings can parallel great epics or notable short stories. The memorable stories of our lives and of others in our family take on special importance because they are true, even if everyone tells different versions of the same event. These tales are family heirlooms held in the heart, not the hand. They are a gift to each generation that preserves them by remembering them and passing them on.
The first step to collecting family stories is to become a good listener. Good listeners encourage great storytelling. When a speaker feels that the listener is interested, he or she is more inspired to communicate generously. A good listener gives full attention to the teller, does not interrupt or contradict the facts of a story as it is being told and offers the teller encouragement with an interested facial expression and body stance. When a teller feels encouraged by an interested listener, there is joy in the telling.
An effective way to hear family stories is to ask questions. Family stories can be collected by interviewing a family elder. Make a mental or written list of topics that might generate some questions to ask the elder.
Thanksgiving and Christmas, in particularly, are great times to collect family stories. At a family gathering, such as a holiday celebration, a birthday party or a family visit, take time to tell stories about the family. Or, arrange a special visiting time when an interview session can happen. Making a recording of family stories is an enjoyable way to listen to the stories again. Be sure that the device used for recording can be inconspicuously placed so as not to make the speaker nervous. Pay as little attention to the recording device as possible and give full attention to the teller.
Questions might include:
n Places to remember. This could be a favorite family vacation spot that the family has revisited year after year. Why do you keep coming back? What's the attraction of the place? What memories does it hold?
n Remember how Uncle Joe always used to . . . That's how great stories begin.
n How about when Aunt Mathilda had triplets during the blizzard of '88. (That could be either 1888 or 1988, of course.)
n How about that rifle from the Civil War. Who owned it. How was it used.
n Can you describe the house in which you lived when you were a child?
n Do you remember the room in which you slept as a child?
n Can you describe the houses in your neighborhood?
n Where was your favorite place to visit when you were a child?
n Where did you go to school? What was in the classrooms?
n Where did you go to worship?
n Describe the house you lived in when you were first married.
n What was Grandma and Grandpa's "song" when they were courting. Do they still play it today? How does it make them feel now.
Collecting family histories is like scrapbooking lives. As the number of World War II veterans continues to dwindle, and even those from Korea and Vietnam, it's important that we continue to collect and record their stories. What was the Great Depression like, and how can the lessons we learned then apply to today would be a wonderful story to record.
The instruction we can receive from such stories is invaluable. And it can make all our lives all the more richer.