family has years and years of stories happy, sad, exciting, humorous,
adventurous, historic, good, bad, and ugly. These stories are often shared
when the family has holiday or annual get-togethers, but without being
recorded on tape and/or paper, they are soon forgotten and never enjoyed
by the following generations. Dont let that happen to your precious
Start with the elders in the family. Before your parents, grandparents, and/or aunts and uncles are no longer here, sit down with them and ask lots of leading questions. If you say, Tell me your story, they will answer, Nothing exciting ever happened to me. Theres nothing to tell. On the other hand, if you ask thoughtful, open-ended questions about places theyve lived, people theyve known, teachers theyve had, places theyve traveled to, their remembrances of first dates, embarrassing moments, and happenings and important events that made a difference in their lives, they will fill up tapes and books with interesting stories. You will have much more than you need for meaningful stories, but you can always edit later.
Where can I find good questions to ask? Donald Davis, master storyteller of personal stories, has written an excellent book filled with thought and story provoking questions called Telling Your Own Stories: for Family and Classroom Storytelling, Public Speaking, and Personal Journaling. Another great resource for questions and getting family members to recall and tell you some of the most surprising and revealing stories is the game, LifeStories. For ages 6 to 106, LifeStories is different and interesting every time. The more people and the more generations who participate, the better it gets. Players take turns moving and drawing. Cards ask you to share Memories (Describe something you and your father did together. Tell about an aroma you recall from childhood), Valuables (With what famous person do you wish you could spend some time? Why? What is your favorite time of year? Why?), Etchings (Tell about an incident with a key. Name a fad from the decade when you were born). If you don't care to share what's on your card, draw from the Alternatives pile. Just make sure you or someone else present records the answers.
Once you have the information, its time to create the story for posterity. This is the most fun, but also the most demanding part of the storytelling and story capturing process. You will have many extra details and facts that will detract, rather than enhance, the final story. Keeping in mind the attributes of a successful story time, place, character(s), conflict, crisis, change, and resolution you will pull everything together for a story that will interest, entertain, and last. It is OK to embellish and add the emotions you felt when listening to the story for the first time. Once you have it in a tellable and/or readable form, start sharing it with others in the family at get-togethers and reunions. You will soon discover the parts that work and dont work. Make note of reactions and points of laughter and tears. Ask for feedback (dont listen to negative remarks).
Create a written version. I know that this whole process sounds time consuming and like a lot of work. It is both, but once you have these treasures written in final form, you and the whole family will be delighted. You cant give a better gift to family members beginning with the whole process of gathering and listening to the final product of sharing.
Remember, everyone in the family who takes part will be excited and proud, and, hopefully, will continue the process of capturing family stories for posterity.
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