Category Archives: Family Treasures

Compiling Your Family History

The following advice is from www.familytreemagazine.com’s 20 Questions for Interviewing Relatives, 7/21/10. You can also find a more extensive list of questions from the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research Family History Sample Outline and Questions at www.oralhistory.library.ucla.edu/familyHistory.html.

The best tactic for oral history interviews is to ask open-ended questions (rather than ones with yes or no answers), and to focus on people’s memories and experiences. It’s much more interesting – for you and the interviewee -to talk about the stories and emotions behind the events in your family’s past. Use these questions as a springboard for planning your interview:

  1. What’s your first memory?
  2. Who’s the oldest relative you remember (and what do you remember about him or her)?
  3. How did your parents meet?
  4. Tell me about your childhood home.
  5. How did your family celebrate holidays when you were a child?
  6. How did you meet your spouse?
  7. Tell me about your wedding day.
  8. Tell me about the day your first child was born.
  9. What were your favorite school subjects?
  10. Tell me about your favorite teacher.
  11. Tell me about some of your friends.
  12. Describe your first job.
  13. What did you do with your first paycheck?
  14. What was your favorite job and why?
  15. Who are some of your heroes?
  16. Where were you when you heard that President Kennedy was shot? (Add or substitute other important historical events.)
  17. What is your experience with or opinion of computers? (Add or substitute other modern conveniences, such as television, microwaves and cell phones.)
  18. Tell me about some of your favorite songs (also books, movies and television shows).
  19. Tell me about some of the places where you’ve been happiest.
  20. What haven’t we talked about that you’d like to discuss in the time we have left? (This is a good way to begin wrapping up the interview.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Family History, Family Legacies, Family Treasures

From Family Treasures to Art

A Creative Inspiration article by Christine Saari

It all began with letters. Letters my father had written to me, his five-year-old daughter on an Austrian mountain farm, before he fell on the Russian front in April 1944. Heartrending letters about being a soldier far away. Letters of love and longing. Letters I could never read without dissolving in tears.

These letters were long my private treasure. But every time another war started somewhere, in Bosnia, in the Gulf, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, I thought of all the soldier fathers who missed their children, of all the children who feared for their fathers’ safety, of warriors who did not return.

One day it struck me – I knew I needed to share these letters, with my grandchildren, with young students, with as many people as possible.

That was the beginning of the inspiration to create “Family Album,” a collection of artful boxes, suitcases, bags and books that would incorporate family letters, documents and artifacts.

These mixed-media pieces would not only tell the story of three generations of my European family, but also the story of others.

They would tell the story of life and death, of celebration and grief, of childhood memory and the journey of immigration, of tradition and change.

I have been working on this project for nearly 20 years now and I keep being inspired in unexpected ways. When my father-in-law died and we found his WWII letters he had sent from Europe, I was struck with the recognition that our fathers were enemies. The result was “Make Love, not War”: three boxes containing letters – my father’s, my husband Jon’s father’s and our own love letters. When my grandson was baptized in the gown my grandmother had sewn, I created a triptych showing three generations of children wearing the same dress, three mothers in different parts of the globe linked by this dress. When we received Finnish Bibles after an aunt of Jon’s had died, I knew they needed a place to be kept. This became “Lutheran Songbooks and Bibles.” That led to “Catholic Childhood,” another container for treasures to honor my father’s and my own upbringing.

Frequently, the inspiration has come from an occurrence that jogged my memory of photographs and artifacts that needed to be in their own shrine. Maybe you have old letters, photographs, your grandfather’s shaving mug, your great aunt’s hair comb or hat? Don’t throw them out! Don’t leave them in a cardboard box in the closet! Honor them. Preserve them for your grandchildren and their children. Find a way to bring them out into the open, to make new from old. If you let yourself be inspired by the spirit of these items, ideas will come to you on how to create a visible record of your family story. You will see the links between the past and the present and you will feel connected to the rest of humanity.

And, do write letters, real letters, written by hand, sent in an envelope with a stamp. They will be priceless keepsakes for your descendants. They will tell them who you were, and remind them of their own place in the long chain of generations.

Christine Saari is a Marquette, MI artist, an Austrian and American citizen, and a packrat.

Reprinted from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2010 – 2011.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Christine Saari, Creative Inspiration, Family Legacies, Family Treasures