Connecting With Your Elders: Stories of the Past

Every life is made up of a million stories and experiences. Each ancestor’s life is another chapter in the story of where we came from. So, it’s only natural that more and more people have taken an interest in their story through the study of genealogy.

Books, historical documents, and (more recently) websites can help in that study. If our elders are still alive, we can find a unique insight into the more recent chapters of our stories through their living history. And we can bring great joy to our seniors as we sit next to them, intrigued by what they are telling us.

If you get DNA tests done, you may find surprises which may open more conversations and inspire you to dig deeper into your past. As you learn more and share it with your elders, they, in turn, may remember other stories.

To begin, you can use photographs to start the conversation. Or you may find the information in vital records for relatives (birth or baptism, marriage, death, divorce), which may evoke memories and trigger stories. If your relative has memory problems, often it’s the short-term memories that are most affected. Asking questions about growing up, which draw from long-term memories, may be a way to have meaningful conversations. When possible, record your conversations or have someone take notes.

If you have school-age children who are interested in learning more about their origins, encouraging a conversation between a grandchild and a grandparent, or a grandniece and a granduncle, may be a way to help them connect.

Rebecca recently had a wonderful interaction with her 9-year-old grandson who wanted to know the story of where he came from. Rebecca has been doing genealogy since she was his age, so she was thrilled to work on this project with him. She created descendant trees, beginning with their oldest known ancestors, down to her grandson. Together they reviewed the charts and he created a list that was meaningful to him—showing how many generations from him back to each of the more interesting characters in his tree. It was a special afternoon.

Does your relative still have a living sibling, cousin, or lifetime friend who can be invited over? Together, they may reminisce about their childhood. You can be a listener, asking questions to egg them on.

Besides the joy of learning about your past, on the practical side, knowing your relative’s background is also helpful when speaking with a trusts & estates attorney. In order to best serve their client’s interests, attorneys usually want a family tree going back to the client’s grandparents and their descendants.

Your conversation may be clear and informative, but it may also be limited to ramblings. Pressure to remember can be stressful to your loved one and counterproductive. By relaxing and appreciating the time together, you may glean a combination of stories and emotions, as well as facts; and your relative will feel the warmth of being with you and having your attention.

Click here for a printout of some questions to ask. (Tipsheet)

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at Eddy & Schein in New York at 212-987-1427 or in Los Angeles at 626-395-7572. 

Rebecca Schein Gideon Y. Schein,
Rebecca R. Eddy
Gideon Y. Schein

Eddy & Schein
212. 987.1427


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