Questions for capturing memories
Think of a time your family all got together for a meal. Who did most of the cooking, and how do you remember it tasting? What was your favorite dish as a child?
Did your family grow a garden in your yard? Were you required to help tend it? What other responsibilities did you have around your childhood home?
Did you ride a trolley, streetcar or city bus as a young person? Where did you go most frequently? Did you ride alone? How much was the fare?
Did you have a “favorite” relative growing up? An aunt or uncle – or maybe an older sibling? Someone who made you feel special and did things with you? What were some of the ways this relative helped you?
As a child, what were some of your favorite activities after school or in the summertime?
Did you have a favorite toy as a child? Were your siblings envious of it? Did you ever lose it? Does thinking of the toy now stir any feelings or special memories?
Did you play made-up games? Organized sports like Little League? Were you competitive — or did you have a hero who was an athlete? Did you trade marbles or baseball cards? Did you play with Barbie dolls? How about board games?
Maybe there were people in your hometown who became celebrities? Did you know or go to school with them?
How many students attended your high school? How many in your graduating class? Who was the most colorful character in your class? Do you remember any teachers, fondly or painfully?
Were you a good student? Or were you bored at school or a troublemaker? What subjects did you enjoy most/least? Was there a special class, field trip, high school friend or extracurricular activity that, in retrospect, influenced who you are today?
When you were in high school, did you have an after-school or weekend job? What did you do, and what was your wage? Who was your boss? Can you think of any funny or unusual stories from your first job?
Do you remember your family worrying about having enough money? Did you have to work to help your family keep up with the expenses of living? Do you remember really wanting something and not being able to have it? Or saving your own money to buy it? What was it and what did it cost?
Did you have any collections as a young person? Stamps or coins or picture postcards? Are any of those collections still in progress today? Did you inherit any collections from your parents or grandparents? Will you pass collections or the love of collecting on to your children?
Did anyone ever make you a special gift – perhaps for a birthday? What was it, and do you still have it today?
Did you ever make anything by hand – knit a sweater in home-ec or 4-H? Rebuild an engine in auto shop? Make a derby car in Scouts? Build a tree house or fort with your pals? Think of a story about that experience. Do you still have the item you made today? Will you pass it on to your kids or grandkids?
Do you remember any stories your parents or grandparents told about how they met, their courtship and marriage? Were they high school sweethearts? Did they have an arranged marriage? Did their parents approve of their marriage? Or was there tension surrounding their union? Now think through the same set of questions relative to your marriage and spouse.
Was religion a big part of your upbringing? Or did it play a minor role? Was your place of worship a center of family activity? Or did you visit only on holidays and important occasions? Do any memories stand out when you think of your religious life? Are you more or less religious today than when you were young? Have you changed religions? How has that impacted your life?
Were you in the military? What branch? Was it peacetime, or did you serve during a war? What stories have you told all your life that took place? What stories have you kept to yourself? How did your military service shape your ideas and attitudes?
Who were your favorite musicians or singers as a young person? Did you attend concerts? Was there dancing? Think about how excited you were and try to remember who went with you and what you did afterwards.
Did you buy music at a record store as a kid? Think about that experience and how it differs from the way your children and grandchildren purchase music today. Remembering music will help you recreate the experience of an event taking place as that music was playing.
Did you ever have a brush with fame, no matter how minor? Were you ever interviewed by the local newspaper, or were you the lead in the school play? Were you prom king or queen? Did you ever win any kind of award? Write a few notes about how that experience made you feel.
Did you marry someone from your hometown? Someone you met in college — possibly someone from a faraway city? Is your spouse of your same ethnicity and/or religion, or are you from different cultural backgrounds? How do you think your differences and similarities defined your relationship?
Have you ever traveled abroad? What countries have you visited or have you dreamed of visiting? Think about some of the unique experiences you had overseas and jot down a few things that come to mind. They could be as simple as foods you ate, souvenirs you purchased and tours you took.
Did you have pets growing up? What kind and how many? What were their names? Did they live in your house or outdoors? Were you responsible for taking care of them? Do you remember any special events involving your pets? Do you still have the same kinds of pets today? How do you think having pets (or not having pets) affected your life?
Did you live in the same house the whole time you were growing up? Or did you move once, twice – maybe many times? How do you think that impacted you?
What did you parents do for a living? Did they enjoy their work? Did they each have one job their whole lifetime, or many jobs? Did you ever move because a parent lost his or her job or got transferred to another city? What was that experience like for you and your family?
Were you a healthy child, or did you have medical issues? How do you think being ill while you were young affected who you are as an adult?
Do you remember any special trips you took with your parents or your whole family? What was your favorite or least favorite?
Do you remember volunteering for anything as a young person? Did you ever pitch in at a soup kitchen or at your church, work on a political campaign, help clean up the neighborhood, tutor school kids or coach younger kids’ sports?
Have there been any natural disasters that affected your family such as a tornado, flood, hurricane or earthquake? Where were you at the time, and what do you remember about the experience? What was the outcome? Was anything lost or was anyone close to you hurt or killed?
Did you marry young? Later in life or not at all? If you had it to do over again, would you change any of the circumstances of your marriage? For example, maybe you would have waited to get established in a career before you married?
Maybe you had children right away after getting married – or perhaps you were a single parent or didn’t have kids. Was there a memorable event or discussion between you and your spouse when you decided to have children – or not to? Or was it always just assumed you would/wouldn’t?
Did you adopt children? Do they know they are adopted? Are there stories you would like to tell them about the circumstances of their adoption?
When your children were born, were their any complications? Were your kids healthy? What was it like bringing your first child home from the hospital?
Did your family members have particular hobbies? Did you? Was anyone a voracious reader? A woodworker? Did someone raise animals or sketch or play piano? Did any of these hobbies turn out to be vocations for you, your siblings or your children? Or were any of them lifelong hobbies, still practiced today? What do your hobbies mean to you today?
While you may not remember much, can you think of any experiences you had with your great-grandparents? Maybe you can describe them, how they dressed or how they spoke?
Did any relatives you grew up with speak a language other than English? Was your household bilingual? If so, do you still speak both languages? Or have you learned other languages as well?
When you were growing up, was there ever an “unofficial” member of your family? A neighborhood friend who spent so much time with your family that he or she was almost like a brother or sister? Or maybe there was a bachelor uncle or a boarder who lived in your home who was almost like a big brother to you? What does thinking of this person make you recall?
Did your mother or grandmother have any “signatures” that people remember her for? Did she have a favorite dress or brooch, did she wear a certain perfume or bake a famous dessert? What about your father or grandfather? What do you think your kids will remember as your “signature”?
Was there a tragedy in your life you would like to get down on paper? Perhaps the sudden death of a friend or relative? A car accident you were involved in? A serious illness that affected you or your family? An argument you had with a friend or family member that left you estranged? These things aren’t always pleasant to write about, but putting them on paper can often be a relief.
Do you have a secret you’ve been keeping that someone should know about after you’re gone? Or perhaps you’re privy to a little-known fact about your family history that you want to be sure is remembered across future generations? Jot it down!
Now think of your adult life: Have you achieved any milestones or won any honors you’re particularly proud of?
Have you enjoyed your career? Has it been multi-faceted, or have you been dedicated to one path of work your whole life? Are any of your children following in a “family business” – or has any of them become an entrepreneur?
As an adult, what are your favorite activities? Do you like to travel, enjoy theater, play sports or cook? Are there family activities you particularly look forward to?
Do you have grandkids? How did you feel about becoming a grandparent?
When your parents were your age, did you think they were “old”? Do you think of yourself as “old”? What age seems “old” to you today?
What are a few of the goals and dreams you hope to realize in the rest of your life? Do you have any hopes for your kids and grandkids?
Looking back over your lifetime, are there any particular changes in how the world operates that astound you? Do you feel life is easier or harder today than when your parents were your age? Have you learned anything in adulthood that surprises you?