For many of us, our most vivid memories are sensory. We can see ourselves in front of the small television in our childhood living room, feel the shag carpet or cold Italian marble beneath our feet at Nonna’s house, smell the coffee brewing or the Sunday sauce simmering on the stove at Mom’s. Maybe it’s feeling the wind in your hair as you cruise down the forbidden hill around the corner from your house.
In all of these examples, the scenes depicted are in familiar places—your childhood home or the comfort of a loved one’s place. That’s because many of our earliest memories formed in those formative settings, and are most easily accessible when we think of the settings themselves.
I often advise memoir or life story clients to gather some childhood photos to use as memory prompts, and I implore you to do the same. Start a project like this by selecting a handful of images that depict one or more of your homes over the years. Remember, it’s not the quality of the photo that is important here—a blurry or poorly composed shot is perfectly fine, as long as it elicits some feeling or memory.
Here are a few more specific tips to get you started on a memory keeping session.
Prepare Yourself for Story Sharing
- Gather a few childhood or current photos inside or outside your family home(s). Select pictures that transport you back in time, and make you feel like you’re “back home.”
- Either turn on a voice recorder OR set yourself up to write your memories using whatever you are most comfortable with – a pen and paper or a computer. There are many free apps for capturing digital audio files on your smart phone if you don’t want to write them out.
- Choose a time when you are least likely to be interrupted, and when you are relaxed and mentally prepared to get lost in your memories.
- Compile a list of questions to get you started. (See the list below.)
Then, select a few questions from your list to ask yourself. Some of them will relate to the photos you have gathered and others will not, but having them nearby to help you set the scenes mentally will prove helpful.
Questions to Ask to Get the Memories Flowing
- Describe your childhood room. Was there some aspect of the room that really stands out in your memory—the color of the walls, the feel of the floor, a toy or game you kept there?
- Did you have a secret hiding place in your childhood room or home? Where was it? What did you hide in there? How old were you?
- Were there many or few books in your house? Did someone in particular pass a love of reading on to you, or read books aloud to you? Did having books (or not having them) … make you value them? …or dream big? …or escape from reality? …inspire you to write?
- Describe a view out one window in your home. What do you see? Who is in the scene? How does it make you feel? Have you seen that view again as an adult?
- What was the kitchen like in your childhood home? Was it a gathering place? Small or big? Whose domain was it? Did you learn to cook there? Were there certain foods that always brought you comfort? Describe the room in as much detail as possible, including textures and layout and smells.
- Did you ever run away from home? Tell the story. Include why you felt compelled to run away, where you ran to, how you ended up back home. Was there a lesson there?
- Did you share your bedroom with one or more siblings? Describe what it meant to either have your own personal space (if you had your own room) or to share the space with a family member. How did that experience shape you?
- Did you live in a rural, suburban, or urban area? Describe the neighborhood in which you grew up. Share some specific places, whether they were among your favorites to hang out or were places you weren’t allowed to go.
- Was watching television something you did together as a family? Was it a special ritual or gathering time, or a way to keep the kids busy while the adults gathered in another room? Were there favorite or memorable TV shows from your younger years?
- On holidays, was there a separate kids’ table, or did children get to eat at the main table?
- As an adult, have you tried, consciously or not, to replicate any aspects of your childhood home in your current home? Why or why not?
- How many times did you move growing up? Has that same pattern played out into adulthood? Did moving (or staying put) impact your personality in any special way? For instance did it make you more or less outgoing, introspective, good or bad at making friends?
These questions are merely jumping-off points. Use them to formulate more specific questions for yourself, or as reminders for other stories that sorta-kinda answer the questions but that hold genuine interest and meaning for you.
Pick a question to start with, and begin writing or speaking your stories!
What to Do with Your Stories
Once you’ve gathered a few of these stories of home, what to do with them? There are myriad ways to share them with loved ones and preserve them for the next generation. A few ideas:
- Post a photo and accompanying written memory on social media. Sharing memories often invites others to share their own, which is a fun and worthwhile result!
- Turn your stories into a family history or life story book. There are plenty of DIY options, or you can enlist the help of a professional personal historian to help you shape the narrative and organize presentation for a most engaging read.
- Host a family potluck where you ask others to bring along one or two photos and their own accompanying memories, then share them around the dinner table!
- Input meaningful stories into a digital platform that you can share with other family members, like FamilyScrybe™ or Family Search.
We’d Love to Hear from You
What will you do with your stories? What rooms in your home prompted the most vivid memories? Please share in the comments—we love to hear the family history stories that result from such reminiscence sessions!