10 Tips for Treasure-Chesting Your Family Stories

Grandmotherly woman washing vegetables at the kitchen sink.
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

A week or so ago, I was in Arizona with my daughter-in-law and granddaughters visiting her mom and step-dad. Several times throughout the week the girls watched Coco, a delightful story about a young boy, Miguel, who journeys to the Land of the Dead to meet his idol, the famous musician, Ernesto de la Cruz.

One of the most powerful scenes is when Hector, who happens to be the boy’s deceased grandfather, explains to Miguel that once there is no one left to remember them in the Land of the Living, they are gone forever. Miguel’s grandmother is Hector’s daughter, and once she passes, Hector will pass over to the land of the forgotten.

With the holidays upon us, it’s a beautiful time to reflect upon family traditions, those moments of challenge, and moments of triumph that we’ve witnessed in our own lives, or in the lives of our parents and grandparents.

While the pandemic might keep us from physically visiting with our loved ones, we can always schedule a phone call or a Zoom or FaceTime call to have a conversation. During our stay in Arizona, Ray and Gail shared many stories about their camping experiences, their youth, and more. I watched as their faces come alive with excitement in retelling their story. Ray’s mother traveled from Wisconsin to South Dakota by wagon train. That’s just one of the stories he shared that if kept alive within the family will ensure that his mother’s memory lasts forever.

  1. Make a list of the people you want to speak to about their experiences. While my parents are not alive, I still have two living aunts who can share tidbits of my father’s life — and of my grandmother’s, grandfather’s and great-grandparents. We have been having a lovely conversation on a family Facebook page about calling pigs, learning to drive “fancy” cars over tractors, and more.
  2. Carve time out in your schedule to write down a list of people whose stories you might want to share with your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
  3. Make a list of memories you have for each of those people. If these people are alive, ask them questions.
  4. Mind map everything you can remember about the event. Who was involved?
  • What happened?
  • When did the event occur?
  • Where did it occur?
  • How has this event impacted your life?

A mind map for me might look like:

Mind map showing topics that I might include in a legacy story about dinner at Grandma’s house.
Mind map showing topics that I might include in a legacy story about dinner at Grandma’s house.

5. Decide which points are the most important. Often we don’t write down every little detail.

6. Organize your mind map notes into an outline.

7. Write your draft.

8. Polish Your Draft.

9. Share your story with someone you know and trust. However, remember that your memories might differ from someone else’s. Don’t feel compelled to change your perception of an event. But consider the feedback your reader offers present you with an insight you hadn’t considered.

10. Find a way to share your story with other family members. Perhaps start a blog on WordPress and invite your family to read your stories. Or start a family Facebook page, as I have.

I believe capturing our family legacy stories is important. Without understanding the stories of the people from our families, we might never really know ourselves — why we have the likes and dislikes we do, why we have certain traditions and more. Once we have an understanding, we can pass our lessons onto our children and grandchildren as well.

An award-winning author, leadership and empowerment expert, and university professor, Kathy Sparrow is the CEO and Publisher of A Writable Life Publishing.

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