Treasure: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come

I dropped off a box of books at an area used book store this week and came home with a treasure. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

This wonderful little corner book shop is run by volunteers who carefully categorize and shelve thousands of donated volumes that come through their doors each month. Every genre known to man is represented in those narrow walkways. It’s a literal treasure trove of reading material and one of my favorite spots for digging up out-of-print titles.

The best part is that all proceeds from the sale of used books are donated to our local animal shelter. As a family who has loved many shelter dogs, we’ve always been willing to both donate books and restock our shelves by making a donation to the shelter.

But this time, after I set my box of books on the counter, I told myself I should just turn and go right back out the door. Or maybe I’ll just head down this one aisle….

Tucked on a shelf under the sign “Writing” was a gem that fits nicely into my theme for the month: To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Stories for Generations to Come by former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene (found here on Amazon).

I had to have it.

From the front flap:

“Long lives yield many treasures:pictures, keepsakes, property, or savings, the standard currencies of inheritance passed on from generation to generation. But there is another precious legacy, one that is often lost: memories, the closely held images of people, places, and things that are the blueprint of a life.”

Greene (who has a checkered past but was and is an excellent writer) co-wrote the book with his sister, journalist D.G. Fulford. It’s an attractive guidebook that “makes recording a personal history as uncomplicated and easy as writing a letter.”

The book begins with a couple of introductory chapters before it launches the reader into 30 short chapters which are simply lists of questions to answer in various categories. Among them are:

  • Your Family and Ancestry
  • The House of Your Growing Up
  • Romance and Relationships
  • Moments from Your Adult Life
  • Your Community
  • Everyday Life
  • Travels and Leisure Time
  • Moods, Attitudes, and Philosophies
  • Looking Back, or 20/20 Hindsight

The final chapter is titled “Hard Questions: Extra Credit”.

Here are a few sample questions:

  • Do you like your birthday or do you dread it? What birthday do you remember the most from your youth? What kind of parties did your parents give for you?
  • Did you have a mentor? Were you a mentor? When did you realize that there was someone looking up to you as a professional person in your chosen career?
  • What is the last book you read? Why did you choose that one? Where were you sitting when you read it?

In tips for getting started, the authors emphasize that the questions (hundreds of them) should be thought of as a menu. “Choose which ones you want to address yourself to, and which ones you can do without.” Another tip: “Don’t ever worry whether your writing is interesting enough. It is.”

Considering how much value I place on capturing and sharing life stories, I could have written this paragraph myself:

“Maybe you have never considered that the stories from your life are important. But be assured that they will be cherished far beyond anything money could buy. Whether you write your history, or speak it into a tape recorder (!), your stories will be eagerly awaited by the most appreciative audience of all — your family. Far into the future, your family will read your words or listen to your voice and be grateful you took the time to put this gift together for them.”

If you’re planning to capture your life stories to preserve as family legacy, you’ll love this book!


Life stories knit us together, whether to family or to others who just need to know they are not alone. In these 31 days of October, I’ll be exploring the importance of STORY. You can read all 31 days by following the links under “31 Days of Story”. And, you can read blogs from other writers taking the #Write31Days challenge by visiting the website here.

Tomorrow: One of Many Ways to Tell Life Stories


  1. Carri

    I find prompts invaluable as I work to record my stories. This looks like a great book!


      It’s very thorough in coming up with topics and questions that will create lasting family memories. Glad you enjoyed this!

  2. Connie Gochenaur

    I need to borrow this book! What a find!

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