Sharing Family Traditions and Stories
Courtesy of Generations United
Every family has unique and treasured family traditions and stories. The oldest members of extended families are often the keepers of these riches and pass them from generation to generation. The greater the connection with the generations that came before, the more traditions and stories there are to share with the next generation.
Family traditions vary from culture to culture and family to family. They may include recipes, holiday celebrations, songs, books, or games. These traditions are the legacy one generation can leave for the next. But traditions can mean so much more, when the older members of the family share the stories behind the traditions, the reasons why the family tradition exists. Family stories help to provide valuable perspective and understanding of the past and the present, as well as strengthen family ties across the ages. One way to capture these stories is through oral history.
Oral history is a method of gathering and preserving historical information through interviews. For families, it is a wonderful way for young people to interview older relatives about their personal stories, family history, and cultural traditions. Through oral history interviews and conversations, older relatives give children a better understanding of who they and their family are and the forces that shaped the family's identity. Children and youth give older relatives love, time, and the knowledge that they and their experiences are valued.
Sharing stories through oral history is also fun, but preparation is needed to make sure it is successful. Make sure to take time to prepare, plan questions in advance, respect the schedules and privacy of older relatives, and think ahead about ways to help the older relatives feel comfortable taking about the past. Older children and youth should take notes and following the interview, write down the stories they learned from their older relatives. Younger children can draw pictures or make collages illustrating the stories they heard. Young people can tap into their creativity by composing poems, songs, or skits based on their conversations with older relatives. The whole family can get involved by performing the song, skit, or play that portrays the family stories.
Tips for Oral History:
Plan conversations around the older relative's schedule and what times of the day are best.
Find an activity to do together while talking - cooking, cleaning, gardening, taking a walk, or playing a game.
Use a 20th century timeline as a conversation starter and to spark children's interest.
Make a list of questions - see sample list below. Give children and young people the opportunity to develop their own questions. Having questions on hand during the interview can serve as a reminder of subjects to cover and help to revive a conversation if it starts to slow down. Questions should be simple and planned around family or historical events. Ask how things looked, smelled, and sounded. Children should know that they can skip questions and ask questions not on the list during the interview.
Think about using meaningful objects to help get the conversation going - photos, books, quilt, and other family heirlooms.
Think about other things older relatives can share - songs, recipes, poems, jokes, family sayings, letters, and newspaper clippings.
Make sure to have all necessary equipment before starting - pen, pencils, crayons, paper, and tape recorder, if using one. Consider using tape recorder or video camera to record the conversation - make sure the older relative is comfortable with recording before starting. Make sure all equipment works and bring extra batteries and tapes.
Enlist the help of other relatives - siblings, cousins, parents, aunts, and uncles.
Remember to thank the older relative for taking the time and energy to share valuable family stories.
Sample Questions for Children and Youth to Ask Older Relatives:
Where were you born?
Where were your mom and dad born?
Where did you grow up? What was it like?
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Where did you go to school? What was it like?
What subjects were you good at in school?
What was your favorite thing to do with your family when you were my age?
What kind of games did you play?
Who did you play with?
What was your house like?
What was your favorite food?
What were holidays like in your family?
What kind of chores did you do?
Did you have pets?
What was your first job?
What is your earliest memory?
What was your favorite possession/toy/gift someone gave you?
How did you meet your husband/wife?
What is the bravest thing you ever did?
What is the scariest thing you ever had to do?
Who do I remind you of in the family?
If you could be any age again what age would you chose? And why?
What do you like the best about this time in your life?
For additional information on multigenerational families or grandparents and other relatives who are raising children, please visit the Generations United website at www.gu.org.
About Generations United
Back to Generation Gap
Generations United (GU) is the national membership organization focused solely on promoting intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies. GU represents more than 100 national, state, and local organizations, representing more than 70 million Americans and is the only national organization advocating for the mutual well-being of children, youth, and older adults. GU serves as a resource for educating policymakers and the public about the economic, social, and personal imperatives of intergenerational cooperation. GU provides a forum for those working with children, youth, and the elderly to explore areas of common ground while celebrating the richness of each generation.