The Surprisingly Simple Trick to Getting Your Loved Ones to Talk about Family History
Every year on January 1, millions of people around the world vow they will start journaling and documenting their life. Hundreds of people also commit to asking their loved ones about their lives and family histories. In fact, journaling is one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions. But by March, most people have given up on journaling and asking their loved ones about their lives. Does this struggle sound familiar to you? Why do so many of us commit to documenting our lives, and our family history, yet drop the ball? Because it’s hard. Life gets in the way. But hang in there –we’re about to share the surprisingly simple trick to getting your loved ones to talk about family history.
Imagine this scenario: you sit down eagerly on the morning of January 1, 2018 to write in your new Moleskin notebook. A cup of hot tea or coffee sits beside your pen. You’re full of ideas, memories and family history to jot down. Up until this moment, words have been swirling through your head; you can’t wait to put pen to paper and start leaving your legacy behind. But just as you’re about to start, you hit a mental wall. You find yourself staring at the blank page and it feels more like a black hole. All of those ideas you were excited to share seem mixed up, or lost. Writing is hard. Really hard.
When I faced this problem in my own life, I made a new resolution: make it easier for folks to capture their stories.
That’s how my company, Pass It Down, was born. As we got to work building Pass it Down, I was deeply committed to helping solve the problem of documenting life stories. My team and I were determined to make it easier for individuals and families to preserve their history. Knowing how to tell your own stories – let alone how to capture a relative’s story – is a daunting process.
So how do we make it easy to tell stories and journal? By asking great questions!
The secret to journaling is to do it one question and subject at a time. If I were to ask you, “How would you describe your childhood home? What did it look like? What did it smell like?,” a flood of memories would likely rush back. You’d probably write and write until your hand began to ache. Simple, to-the-point questions help you to remember rather than create. Questions break the ice and get storytelling started. That’s why they are so critical to helping you tell your own story, and get your loved ones to share their stories.
My great grandfather always used to say, “Your worst ink pen is better than your clearest memory.” And he was right. It’s important to write about our lives because every day, our memories get a little fuzzier and a little less clear. Our brains are remarkable, but they do fill up like a hard drive. Details are some of the things we tend to throw out to make room for new memories.
I realized if I didn’t start talking to my relatives, asking questions, thinking back to my own beginnings, there would come a time when those people wouldn’t be around to help me look back and remember. –Jacqueline Woodson
If you’re ready to start writing your life story and your family history, we invite you to check out Pass It Down. Reach out to us; we want to help you make your family history projects more fun. Pass It Down has been built upon hundreds of writing prompts, created by some of the world’s top biographers. Above all, we have designed our service to always give you fresh ideas to talk about. Here’s a set of simple questions to get you started today.
About the author: Christopher Cummings is the founder of Pass It Down, an award-winning digital storytelling platform launching in 2017, that makes it easy to capture and preserve your family memories. Pass It Down finished as one of the six most innovative startups in the nation, out of 15,000 companies, in 2016 in Miller Lite’s Tap The Future contest judged by Daymond John.
Christopher is renowned for his public speaking and is a six-time collegiate state champion in public speaking and debate, a national champion speaker and winner of over 100 speaking competitions. He received his JD from the Paul M. Hebert LSU Law Center and has clerked for numerous judges, including, the honorable Chief Justice Johnson of the Louisiana Supreme Court. He received a double BA in Political Science and International Relations from Louisiana State University.