Talking Memoir Question Guide: What to ask your parents about their lives. Part 2 of 3


You have realized that your family history is priceless and want to record your parents’ life stories. The problem is where should you start? We created The Talking Memoir Question Guide to help.

Include Favorite Stories

There are probably a few favorite stories that you will want to make sure are included in your recording. To do this, make a list of those stories with the approximate year they would have taken place. When you get to that part of The Talk (see Suggested Questions below) prompt your parent to tell that story by saying something like “I remember hearing a story about (fill in the blank). Would you tell it?”

To set the mood, we suggest asking your parent to imagine the photo album of their life being full of images of the people they have loved and the experiences they treasure.

Suggested Opening Line:

“My name is (your name) and I am here with (parent’s name), my (relationship) to learn about his/her life experiences”.

Begin at the beginning. Start with your parents’ oldest memories.

Members of “The Greatest Generation” can be humble, so sometimes it is easiest for them to start by talking about someone else. Many people have special relationships with their grandparents. Ask about theirs. (This section may be repeated for all of their grandparents)

Suggested questions:
• What were your grandparents’ names?
• Where did they live?
• Describe each of them, what were they like?
• How did you spend time with them?
• Do you remember any stories they told you? What are they?
• Did they give you any advice about life? What was it?

Now move forward in time. Ask about their parents and childhood. (This section may be repeated for all parents/step parents)

Suggested questions:
• What were your parents like?
• Do you remember any stories they told you? What are they?
• Did they give you any advice about life? What was it?
• Tell me about your home and neighborhood as a kid?
• What was your relationship like with your brothers and sisters?
• Did you have any special holiday traditions? What were they?
• Describe your school day. Who were your friends, what did you do together?
• What are your favorite memories of your childhood?

This will naturally lead into adulthood. The busy years – Love, work and family.

Suggested questions:
• When did you leave school? What did you do after you left school?
• What caused you to make that choice?
• How did you meet your spouse?
• What was your courtship like?
• How did you become engaged? What was your wedding like?
• How did you feel when you first became a parent?
• Describe your family life?
• What type of work did you do?
• What did you do for fun?
• Did you have any hobbies? How did you get interested in that?

Ask them to reflect back on their life experiences. What do you think of it all?

Suggested questions:
• What are you most proud of in your life?
• What experiences changed the course of your life?
• Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance?
• What do you feel has given your life the most meaning? Why?

Now look to the future.

Suggested questions:
• What lessons have you learned that you would like to pass on to future generations of our family?
• Is there any advice you would like to give them?
• Do you have any hopes and dreams for your family?
• Are there any messages you would like to give to anyone in particular?
• Is there anything else you would like to share?

Everyone’s Life is Unique

Most likely some of the suggested questions will not be appropriate for your family member. After all, this is just a guide. Feel free to skip over the ones that don’t fit and add questions that do make sense for your family. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead, ask your parent to describe people and events, and to share specific memories.

Next time we’ll discuss photo selection.  A Picture is Worth 1000 Words