The Non Storyteller’s Guide to Sharing Family History

Not a Storyteller? No worries, there are many ways to pass along your family’s history and legacy to future generations.

The importance of telling your family’s story to each new generation has been studied and proven. According to New York Times Article – The Stories that Bind Us:

“Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

Marshall Duke, did a study with Dr Fiush at Emory University to come to that conclusion. The Times article notes other studies as well that support the importance of knowing your family narrative.

But what if you aren’t good at telling a story. I put people to sleep with mine! What if your family members don’t get to talk to one another very often? Life is busy, especially for folks with jobs and young kids. Even if you are in the same city, you may not be talking. When you do get together, perhaps you only have time to catch up with current happenings, and can’t squeeze in family history lessons. This is currently the case with my family.

Here are some ideas on ways (other than family history lessons) to pass along your family legacy.

Play a game.

Several years ago I found a game called Life Stories at a garage sale. On a whim, I bought it and we have played it with multiple members of the family. This board game sends each player to squares that ask the player to relate different things about their life. One question, for instance, was “Tell about a time that you were punished”


I’m working on building questions to present in a family trivia game and hope to either include them in a new family letter or use them as part of our next family meeting (once we find time to have one!). I’m going to include questions with short answers about family members, their values, occupations, things and etc. One question I’ve thought of will be “Name 3 people in the family who had their own business” (since I’m trying to encourage the idea of entrepreneurship in the grandkids!).


This could be a family reunion or holiday game. It is just the old standby you played as a kid, using just family information to whisper to the next guy.

If you aren’t familiar with the game of telephone, the first person whispers a sentence into the ear of the next person in line, each of several (6 or more is best) passes the sentence along and the last person says out loud what they heard. The first person then states what they actually said and tells a short story about it.

For example, you might start with something like Grandpa George was a mayor. Then at the end you would just say a few sentences about how he got there, where he was mayor and any significant accomplishments while in office.


Again, you could do this one in a family meeting, as part of your holiday – or even in a newsletter. Pictures of family members as babies are presented. Everyone present guesses who the picture is. The winner is the one who guesses correctly. Hopefully this game will spawn stories about things that happened during birth or childhood to that person.

You can do a similar story with really old family photos. Family members guess where/who/what then owner of the photo tells the story.

At Thanksgiving last year, I asked that adults and children alike come prepared to share a paragraph about a person (someone NOT in the room lest we make folks uncomfortable) they admire and why they do. It was completely voluntary, but I had participation from all of the adults that came and from one of the 4 tweens. I hope the younger kids will join next year – this is the start of a new tradition for us.


With digital video so easy to capture and share these days, parents and grandparents can record oral history fairly easily. Combine it with interview questions and capture the great-grandparents memories as well.

Picture albums with comments.

My Mom’s family was big on making picture albums. Her parents, though, weren’t so great about labeling the pictures. She and her sister corrected that error in their own albums. I have recently been given custody of their extensive collection of albums/movies/slides and magnetic tapes of family conversations. I’m glad to have them, even though it has been difficult to sort through so many and find an appropriate place to store them in our home.


If you aren’t good with verbal stories, try writing things down. It is super easy to create a book these days. You can do it yourself in many formats. You can even include copies of pictures you have in digital format. A few of these formats include:

  • Paper and pen – hand written by you
  • Text document using WORD or Open Office
  • PDF document
  • Vanity book created through an online site to which you upload text and documents and pictures (such as (I created two Financial Fables books – one for each of my grandchildren – to pass along family values)
  • Kindle format via Amazon Direct Publishing (my new book Choose Wealth! Be a Millionaire by Midlife is available in Kindle format.
  • Nook format via Smashwords conversion to ePub or
  • Paper format (from one of many sources such as Create Space, Lulu and more)
  • Presentation using Microsoft or Open Office products (I used one of these in one of our family meetings – including photos of my parents that the kids had never seen before).

Plays and puppet shows.

Kids love a puppet show, especially if they get to help produce it. Why not write a script about family history and act it out in the show for the parents? Kids, parents and grandparents might all learn a thing or two.

Family Newsletter.

If you have the time and are proficient in a word processor, you could compose a periodic family newsletter. My Dad started one (handwritten back in the 1980s) to try to educate my brother, my spouse and I about finances. I haven’t yet done this but will do so this year. The kids do seem to read what I send, but often don’t have time to respond.

Hand written notes about the things in your family.

If you have something that is especially meaningful to you – perhaps a beautiful brooch that has been passed down since great-Aunt Matilda saved it during the war – consider putting a handwritten note with it.

One of my Aunts did this with most of her things. Although we thought it odd at the time, now that she is gone I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness she expended to pass along that information to me. I cherish her notes not only for the information, but also because they bring her back alive as I read them.

Working together on projects.

If you are more of a doer than a sayer, consider a joint project. Helping your family get something done while the act of helping passes along some of your values and your skills to your work partner is a great way to pass along family legacy and build new family history.

Write down favorite things.

If you don’t know where to start, just make a list. Add to it over time. What are the special family foods that your family has at holidays? What traditions do you keep? What are favorite family quotes, vacation spots, activities, memories, events and etc. Share your list with family via email or letter.

Additional resources:

  • The Stories That Bind Us
  • What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories
  • Legacy articles on our site

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