Family Questions with Answers for a Lifetime

Make your photos talk.

By Kurt Rump

Think about the last time you sat down with a family elder (or a bunch of them) and you passed around some old family pictures. Maybe they were of people and events familiar to you, or maybe they were recently unearthed photos that you were hoping to learn something about.  

What comments did you all make as the conversation took place? What questions did you ask? 

And… what did you want to know? 

Think about that for a minute. 

And have you ever seen an old family photo posted on social media and started reading the comments under it?

Think about that, too. 

The most fun comments to read, and the most enlighteningare usually the ones sparked by questions, don’t you think? 

There are the questions that uncover basic facts about the photo: 

Who is that?
Where was this photo taken?
When did this happen?

And there are the questions that probe into the story behind the photo: 

What on EARTH were you kids doing? (You totally read that in a parent’s voice, didn’t you?)

Why are you so dirty? Why are you all dressed up?  

How did you and Grandma meet, Granddad? Where did you meet? Was that your first date? How long did you date before you knew you’d get married? 

These are all open-ended questions. They are more fun… and more enlightening… because they are conversation starters. So much richer and more inviting than a simple “Great picture” comment, don’t you think? 

Are you channeling your “inner journalist” yet? 

Who? Where? When? These will initiate conversations about facts, and it’s always good to collect thoseLearning the basic facts will help you determine what questions to ask next.  

What? How? Why? These will uncover stories. And for that reason, these are my favorites. When you ask what, how, or why, you cause others to pause and think, and their answers start to peel back the layers. The first answer often leads to the next question. The back-and-forth continues. Stories unfold.  

Conversations that tell stories can become downright magical the memories and stories often go way beyond the photo itself. You transcend the basic facts about a photo to arrive at a deeper understanding. The things you learn are worth remembering and, more importantly, worth preserving for the benefit of the generations that will follow 

Now, truth be told, not every photo evokes that kind of magic, but that’s part of the funIt’s a bit like a treasure hunt… like panning for gold. 

You’ll see something that glitters, only to discover that it’s not worth much. But you keep panning, you trust the process, you keep asking questionsand soon you’ll hit the mother lode… a rich vein of memories and stories. You’ll know you’re there when, in response to your questions, you start seeing or hearing comments that begin like these:  

I remember when…. 

Did you know… 

I will never forget… 

Responses like those invite you to dig deeper and see what else you can uncoverThe conversation thread might evolve something like this: 

(Aunt Betty) – I will never forget that wedding. It was the most beautiful one I’ve ever attended. Such a special day. 

(You) – You have been to a lot of weddings, Aunt BettyWhy did this one stand out from the rest? 


(Grandma Rose) – That was the first time I met Cousin Merle. What a great guy! 

(You) – What was it that made Merle such a great guy? 

The value of these conversations is magnified when family elders are participating. 

There comes a time in the lives of many elders when they begin to feel they have little left to offer, when in fact they have SO much to give… and we have SO much to learn! Engaging them in questions and conversations around old family photos allows them to reminisce, reflect on their lives, share special moments with loved ones, and impart pearls of wisdom. The joy it brings them is reflected through the sparkle in their eyes, and it is nothing short of a treasure for everyone involved 

Numerous people have created lists of questions to ask parents and relatives so you can preserve the family history. A quick internet search will find everything from 56 Family History Questions for Your Parents” to “50 Questions for Family Interviews” to “Life Interview Questions” and more. Any of these can give you ideas about the questions you might want to ask to get conversations started with family members. 

They’re all good guidelines, for sure. And you can collect some great information. But wouldn’t it be great to connect those stories to your family photos?  

We’ve always said that a photo, by itself, is not a memory. It’s just a picture a moment in timeHowever, in the right hands, a photo will surely trigger a memory. Memories are in the stories behind the photos. So, keeping them connected – or creating those connections – makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

When you see a picture of a kid making a quick retreat from a battered old wagon in a barnyard, while a second kid shields his face and a third looks on from a presumably safe distancewhat questions come to mind? 

Or, were you one of those kids? What memories spring up for you? Do you remember the smell of the gunpowder that coated your hands after a few hours of “playing with firecrackers on an adventure-filled 4th of July? The sizzle of a lit fuse? The adrenaline rush that accompanied the few seconds between ignition and explosion?

Sharing those memories make the photos talk.

Asking the right questions cause the conversations that will be cherished for generations to come. 

What would people LOVE to know about the pictures you share? 

What would YOU love to know about the pictures that other family members share? 

Think about that for a minute.  

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