Questions to Inspire Memories and Life Stories

August 25, 2016
August 25, 2016 Theo Brainin

Questions to Inspire Memories and Life Stories

A great way to learn about someone’s past is to start by asking them questions about their early life. It’s not always easy to know where to start, so here’s a few ideas of questions you could lead with to inspire rich memories and life stories.


For most people, preserving both their own stories and those of friends and family is very important, after all, that’s how we remember people after they’ve gone. Storytelling has forever been the most effective way of sharing knowledge, and as soon as we, as humans, began to record these stories, civilisation was effectively born. Some of the earliest forms of recorded storytelling came in the form of cave paintings and hieroglyphics which were later succeeded by the written word.

Before pictograms and text however, some of the most effective methods of sharing stories was through songs and telling folk tales.  Spreading messages verbally allowed for many people to receive the same information simultaneously and hence stories could be spread faster, even if some parts got altered along the way.

Telling stories also literally provides the tale with a voice. We’re able to tell of events from our own unique perspective, showing how we understand them and also how they make us feel. Tone of voice provides an emotional insight into what, on paper, could seem like a completely emotionless event, yet when we, often unwittingly, use a bored or excitable tone, we give the story a whole new layer of meaning.

Asking Questions:

As telling stories verbally gives us so much insight, interviewing someone or even asking yourself questions aloud, can help someone to recall rich, detailed memories. Therefore, recording these responses using audio or video is often the most effective way to capture the memory in its entirety.

In general, the best place to begin when asking people about their lives is at the beginning, so stories from childhood are a good place to start. Here are a few examples of subjects you could begin with, and related questions you could ask:


  • Can you describe the home you grew up in?
  • Who lived in your home with you?
  • What was your favourite thing about your home?
  • Did you have a garden or outside space?


  • Where did you go on holiday as a child?
  • Who went on your holidays with you?
  • How did you get to your holiday destination?
  • What did you do whilst you were there?


  • Did you enjoy school?
  • What was your school uniform like?
  • Did you ever get in trouble whilst at school?
  • What kind of games did you play?

It is often more beneficial to begin with a vague, open-ended question that has the possibility to inspire any number of responses, then, dependent on the answer, you can continue to the line of questioning that will gather the most detailed memories.

Remember, the process of recording memories through interviews does not need to be reserved only for preparation for getting a biography written. Recording memories should be a process enjoyed and conducted by those who want to learn more about their family and friends, whilst in the process, creating a record that can be shared with generations to come.

For information on how you can convert these recorded memories into a beautiful bespoke biography visit Story Terrace, or, for ideas on how to create your own family history book visit The Genealogy Guide.

A Story Terrace infographi on questions to inspire memories and life stories.

Written by Amber Hicks

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