So you've delved back in history a couple of hundred years. You have all the names and dates, the places of birth and some old family photos thankfully saved from the tip or the fire. You've got the relationships sorted out and everyting is neat and tidy on your genealogy tree...... And yet still something's missing.
If only you could go back in time and see how your ancestors really lived. What were their thoughts? What did they really like and what did they loathe. How did events of the day affect them? What was it like for them to leave everything behind to go where there was no-one they knew, loved or valued. If you are fortunate to come across an old family journal or diary you are luckier than most and might just have that insight, but for the rest of us, we will never really know.
In one hundred years time your descendants or mine might just be thinking the same thing unless we take the time to write down or record some very particular and personal information before it is too late.
In regards to photos, we all have so many stored on various devices today, that they have become almost immaterial in family history; they are viewed in the moment or soon afterwards and then consigned to the cloud; they are rarely afterwards viewed or appreciated. Perhaps the solution is in sifting through and making relevant photos we actively choose to value and remember, by connecting them with real information straight from the people they're associated with.
The following questions and ideas are just examples for inspiration in recording family details for future generations. Answer them as best you can and any others you can think of before you carry out any interviews with relatives. If you are inspired to investigate further remember to tailor your questions to the person you are talking with. Don't just interview older relatives, talk to your siblings as well; they may have different versions of events you remember. Have a list ready but don't stick rigidly to it or you may miss out on previously unknown anecdotal stories - and don't forget to take your phone/device with you and hit the record button.
While this is your history, it's also the history of everyone you mention. Bear in mind that one day the people you write of will no longer be around to defend themselves! It takes several generations to pass before it is fair to disclose or record family secrets and maybe not even then........
1. Your name
. Are you named after someone? If so, why?
. Not just the date and place of birth. Write about your earliest memories of them. What did they look like to you? What part did they play in your life? Were they kind, grumpy, absent or fun? What hobbies did they have? Where did they go to school? What were their clothes like? Did they make their own? Did they grow their own food? Write down all of the stories they have told you of their life when they were younger.
. Write about the good times. The funny stuff. Write what you want people in the future to know about them but keep in mind also what your parents would want known.
. Describe your siblings. Write about the games you played and holidays together. Write what you like best about them. Be generous about the good times and circumspect about the bad.
5. Home town memories
. Think back to the place you grew up. Remember the long summer holidays, the beach, picnics and friends. Describe your home town as you remember it. What were the shops like? Were bread, milk and groceries delivered to the door? What were some of the events, shows, fetes and sporting events you attended? Remember the favourite place you liked to go? Did you ride a bike there? Recall the scent of the gardens and trees, the noise or the silence, the sun on your face and nostalgia for places no longer there. Remember swimming carnivals, Anzac Day Parades, Wattle Day, April Fool's Day and Cracker night.
6. Your House
. Describe the house you grew up in. How many bedrooms did it have? Was there a garden? A tree to climb? A Hill's Hoist to swing on? Did you have to do chores for pocket money? Make your own bed? How much were you paid? Did the tooth fairy come to you? What was your favourite toy? What was your bedroom like when you were a teenager? What was the lounge room furniture like, the TV? How did you keep warm in winter. Did you have a fireplace? What were your neighbours like? Did you have a pet?
. How did your family celebrate Christmas? Did you have a 'real' Christmas tree (a bush she-oak in my case!) or a store bought one. Did family gather from all over? Were there disagreements and hurt feelings or good cheer all round. Think of some of the amusing times you had, some of the gifts you remember, the food that was special to you. Do you still re-create some of those things today?
8. Sport and Hobbies
. What sports did you play as a child? Did you receive trophies? What hobbies did you have and did you have a favourite thing you liked to do, like collecting sea shells on a summer holiday, searching for four leaf clovers, making model aeroplanes or elaborate cubby houses, collecting stamps ? Did you learn dancing or a musical instrument?
. Describe some of your childhood friends, the lifelong ones and some of those you left behind. Write of the games you played together, the fun you had.
. Where did you go on holidays? Overseas? The Beach? Camping? Take yourself back to those days and write it all down. The places, the fun, the weather, the clothes you wore. Write down where you went and who was there.
. What was your favourite food as a child? Did you have to eat everything on your plate? Did you enjoy Vegemite, Arnott's Iced Vo Vos and Aeroplane Jelly? Write down some of your favourite recipes that your mum or dad used to make. Did you have big family gatherings? Who came? Find some old photographs to jog your memory.
. Was your family big on birthday celebrations? What were some of your birthdays like? Parties? Picnics in parks? Dinners out? Fairy Bread? Can you remember some of the birthday cakes made for you over the years? Which was your best birthday, and which was the worst, and why?
. Where did you go to school? What was it like? Did you have a nickname? Write down your teachers' names if you can remember them. Describe them. Were they kind and funny or bossy and harsh? How did you get to school? By bus, train, car, bike or did you walk? What did you take for lunch? Write down a typical school day. Did you do your homework? Who helped you with it? Did you skip rope, play hopscotch or shoot marbles? What did you like best about school and what did you hate?
14. World Events
. What do you remember about the world from when you were a child. Look up a time line of some of the most significant events of the last few decades. How did they impact on you as a child? As an adult?
. Did you have to move around as a child. Write down what it was like to leave everything familiar and sometimes those you loved too. How did you stay in contact, by phone? by letter? Did you have a penpal?
16. Television and Movies
What television shows did you watch growing up? Do you still remember the theme songs and actors? Which were your favourite movies and actors? What treat did you have at the movies? Jaffas? Minties? Fags?
. What were your ambitions? Who or what inspired you? Family members? Neighbours? TV Actors?
18. Teenage Years
. What was your life like as a teenager. Describe your clothes, favourite music and books you liked to read; the concerts and dances you went to. Write of the everyday items that are no longer around. How old were you when you got your drivers licence? How many times did you try? Who taught you to drive? What was the first car you ever had? The number plate? Was driveway service at the garage still around? How much did petrol cost? What was the most challenging thing about being a teenager back then? Exams? Dating? Friendships? Parents? What other challenges did you face?
19. Leaving home
. How old were you when you first left home? Did you travel? How much did it cost? Did you go to Uni or get a job? What was your first job? What wage did you receive?
20. Family Stories
. Everyone has funny family stories they remember from childhood. Write yours down. Write down the ones you remember your mother or father telling you about the things that happened to them too.
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