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by | Dec 27, 2021 | Beyond | 0 comments

Family gatherings are an important part of the holiday season.  They are a time for bonding, sharing traditions, and celebration.  One thing that I’ve come to respect and appreciate is that it is also precious time with the elders in our family.  Far too often I’ve learned the details of the lives of the elders in my family at their funerals.  Reading fascinating too short stories of the snippets of their lives boiled down to a one-page description.  One of the greatest gifts was getting to help my grandmother fill out a will questionnaire.  Those questions opened up a whole different dialogue that allowed me to learn so much about my grandmother and her life directly from her.  So to share that gift with all of you I wanted to create a conversation aid for holiday gatherings, in-person and virtual, to deepen that connection with your family and roots.  This holiday season, as many of us debate what safely celebrating looks like, we continue to innovate how we celebrate.  Some folks will go home as planned, some will zoom, and some of us will be in quarantine due to the spike.  The one thing that we can still do near and far is talk to each other and sharing that family history.

Questions About Childhood 

  • What is your full name? Why did your parents select this name for you? Did you have a nickname? 
  • Who else in your family shares the same name as you? What is their relationship to you?
  • When and where were you born?
  • How did your family come to live there?
  • Were there other family members in the area? Who?
  • Describe the personalities of your family members.
  • What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
  • Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
  • What was your childhood bedroom like?
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • What kind of games did you play growing up? And which was your favorite?
  • What was your favorite toy and why?
  • Did you ever learn to ride a bicycle and who taught you?
  • What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, go to the beach, etc.)?
  • Did you have family chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite?
  • Did you receive an allowance? How much? Did you save your money or spend it?
  • What was school like for you as a child? What were your best and worst subjects? Where did you attend grade school? High school? College?
  • What school activities and sports did you participate in?
  • What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?
  • Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothes?
  • What was your relationship with your parents like as a teenager?
  • Who were your childhood heroes?
  • What were your favorite songs and music genres?
  • Did you have any pets? If so, what kind and what were their names?
  • What was your religion growing up? What church, if any, did you attend?
  • Were you ever mentioned in a newspaper?
  • Who were your friends when you were growing up?

Questions About the Family

  • What world events had the most impact on you when you were a child? Did any of them personally affect your family?
  • Describe a typical family dinner. Did you all eat together as a family? Who did the cooking? What were your favorite foods?
  • What is the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?
  • How were holidays (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) celebrated in your family? Did your family have special traditions?
  • How is the world today different from what it was like when you were a child?
  • Who was the oldest relative you remember as a child? What do you remember about them?
  • Has anything ever happened at a family function or event that you’ll never forget?
  • What do you know about your family surname?
  • Is there a naming tradition in your family, such as always giving the firstborn son the name of his paternal grandfather?
  • What stories have come down to you about your parents? Grandparents? More distant ancestors?
  • Are there any stories about famous or infamous relatives in your family?
  • Have any recipes been passed down to you from family members?
  • Are there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles, or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?
  • For an adult: When you were a teenager, which family member did you go to for advice? Looking back, was it good advice? For a kid: Which family member have you recently received advice from? Was it good advice?

Questions About Their Adult Life

  • What was the full name of your spouse? Siblings? Parents?
  • When and how did you meet your spouse? What did you do on dates?
  • What was it like when you proposed (or were proposed to)? Where and when did it happen? How did you feel?
  • Where and when did you get married?
  • What memory stands out the most from your wedding day?
  • How would you describe your spouse? What do (did) you admire most about them?
  • What do you believe is the key to a successful marriage?
  • How did you find out you were going to be a parent for the first time?
  • Why did you choose your children’s names?
  • What was your proudest moment as a parent?
  • What did your family enjoy doing together?
  • What was your profession and how did you choose it?
  • If you could have had any other profession, what would it have been? Why wasn’t this your first choice?
  • Of all the things you learned from your parents, what do you feel was the most valuable?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?
  • What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
  • How did you get your first job?
  • Have you ever feared for your life?
  • What photograph do you most regret not taking when you had the opportunity?

Hopefully, these questions help spark some wonderful family conversations. I highly recommend recording this with audio or video to send everyone as a keepsake as well as pulling out any recipes or other family traditions to continue to share and pass down.   I regret never getting my grandmother’s skillet biscuit recipe directly from the source.  This period has been a serious reminder of just how short life is and to enjoy the precious moments we have and make the most of them.