Friday, June 22, 2018

Your Loved One’s Story: Part of Your Family History

Learning, collecting, and then recording your family’s history can seem like a daunting task unless it’s broken down into parts.  It’s much more than time spent on ancestor websites or recording information off headstones, though.  This month on #familyhistoryfriday we have looked at many aspects of a family history:  family stories, your own life story, “our” stories (such as love stories), and more.  These are “bites” of family history, and they all matter!

You are the person best-equipped to tell your own story, so starting there is perfect.  Who do you know and love who might need a little help or encouragement to record his or her story?  It only takes a couple of generations before someone’s life story is lost to the world.  

My grandparents died before my children were born, so it falls to me to make sure my children know about my grandparents.  I can leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the form of a written story!  Today we will look at a few ideas to help you tell the story of a loved one.

Photos and Reminiscence Therapy

Sometimes all it takes to begin telling a story is a photo.  If you are writing your grandpa’s life story, ask him for photos of him as a baby, as a teenager, in the military, at his wedding, etc.  Simply asking questions about the photos and recording his responses is a great way to get started.  Reminiscing itself can be very sweet.  Looking back on good times in life (or even hard things you overcame) is good for the soul.  Even people who might balk a little at being “interviewed” for a life story can open up easily when pictures are involved.

Have you ever heard of {Reminiscence Therapy}?  According to a study in Geriatrics and Gerontology International, Reminiscence Therapy can be an effective way to enhance the cognitive capacity of those with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  We learn from the Alzheimer’s Association that with this particular disease, memories are lost in reverse order.  In other words, a person can’t remember yesterday but can still access the areas of the brain that house memories from 40 years ago.  Reminiscing reaches back to older memories, which are easier to access for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Whether your loved one has memory struggles or not, photos are a wonderful place to start telling a story.  {Simple prompts} about each photo might include:
  • Who is in this photo?
  • When was it taken?
  • Who took this photo?
  • Where was it taken?
  • Tell me about the people in this photo.
  • What do you think about this photo?
  • What was your life like when this photo was taken?
  • How old are you here?
Questions to Ask

When trying to learn more about a person, it’s important to ask questions.  Even for people who are talkative or forthcoming with information about their life stories, having a list of topics and questions can ensure that you don’t forget about something you wanted to cover.  These two articles have several resources and links within them that will give you a great collection of questions to ask when you’re preserving a loved one’s story:
 It doesn’t need to feel official or stuffy– in fact, it shouldn’t– but the better prepared you are to know what you want to ask, the easier the life story can be told.

You can take notes or have a voice recorder or video recorder running in the background so you don’t miss anything.  Each of these options gives you something to refer to later.
"We need each other.  Those of us who are old need you who are young, and hopefully you who are young need some of us who are old."  -Marjorie Hinckley
Publishing Their Story

Once the story is told, there’s still one more important thing to do.  A personal story should not be just left on a computer.  Aside from the risks of computer crash or unreadable files, family members may not even know that special story is there or be able to find it among many files.  A story needs to be printed or published so that it can be read and shared.  I feel that publishing it in a special way with pictures included makes it a true gift.

2021 UPDATE:  Photo and Story Treasures recommends only heirloom-quality publishing with companies that will save your digital photo-storybooks in your account.  Both Forever and Heritage Makers prioritize quality, and you can learn more about them here.  Between the two companies, you can choose from 4 different platforms for creating books, so watch the videos at that link and see what works best for you.  

Alternatively, I can be the hands behind the physical putting together of a digital book for you.  Just {contact me} for information.

My Experience

I have written {my own life storybook}, which I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago.  It was a neat experience –kind of like extended journaling– to look back on my life and see what I have done, learned, and appreciated.  

The only other life storybook I have written is {my mom’s} (shown below), which I wrote a year after she passed away.  It was very healing and cathartic for me, and it really felt like a very special way to pay tribute to my mom.  And I loved that my whole family could enjoy it for years to come, too.

There’s just not a greater gift than to have something tangible to hold in your hand when someone is gone.  I pulled out my mom’s book on Mother’s Day this year, and it was a joy to focus on her talents, who she was, and my time with her when it would have been easy to focus on my loss.

Write your story.  Write your loved one’s story.  Someone needs it more than you know. 

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This post was originally published at on June 22, 2018, by Jennifer Wise.  Find more #familyhistoryfriday posts about stories, memories, photos, family, and connections by clicking the hashtag below next to Labels.


  1. This is excellent. Important link between memory and mental health.
    -Memory Angels

  2. Thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. It's really fascinating and powerful stuff that we don't often stop to consider.


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