Contributed by Renée Bellefeuille, I may have mentioned before that my mom lives in New York, and I usually visit her two times per year. We usually talk over the phone two times per week and on a recent call she was very happy that she was invited to a family gathering. The gathering was a baptism for one of her late cousin’s great grandchildren. She would be the oldest family member attending. While she was talking with the relative who invited her to the gathering, he mentioned he had so many questions he would like to ask my mom regarding his extended family. While my mother is not the historian in the family – she will be 83 years old in a few weeks; she does have many interesting stories to tell.
This conversation caused me to think about the many times as a young person, I half listened to the stories my grandma told about arriving in NY (through Ellis Island) in 1921 at the age of 23, living with relatives in a predominately German immigrant neighborhood, working in a knitting mill and learning to speak English. I also regret not asking my father for more details on his arrival in NY, at the age of 18 in 1945, after World War II. Both my grandmother and father have passed on, so I can no longer ask more questions about their early years in the United States. However, on my next trip to NY, I promised myself I’ll ask my mom some questions about our family history.
I did some research on the proper way to interview my mom. I found a few interesting websites that gave me some useful pointers on how to conduct my interview questions. For example, some sample questions that may provide the most insight to my mom’s youth and past are:
- Who were your childhood friends?
- What did you like about high school?
- Who did you admire growing up? And why?
- What historical event impacted you most?
- What was your favorite holiday? What were some of the traditions associated with the holiday?
In addition to learning what questions to ask, I also learned the benefits of creating “life stories”, not only will this information be useful to create a story for future generations to share – the process could be one of self-discovery for my mom. The process of reviewing one’s life is a part of the normal aging process. Many people may think they have nothing to say, or their family or friends may not care about their life stories, but that should not be the case. I think we all may wish we knew more about the people who came before us. Don’t we wish we had asked a few more questions? According to the website www.lifebio.com there is no better time than the present and no better gift to the future.
Life stories, unlike financial assets on a balance sheet may have no dollar value – but they are priceless!