Conversations to Have with Your Parents Before It’s Too Late

Conversations to Have with Your Parents Before It’s Too Late

In this age of technology you can research your ancestry and get your DNA tested online which will give you a lot of data about your family, but it will not provide you the anecdotes that are some of the most important pieces of their lives and your family history.  You want to get these pieces before it is too late.


When I was 17 my mother died suddenly; my father died when I was 31.  My mother came from a large family and nearly everyone lived within 10 miles of each other so I’d heard lots of stories and thought I knew my family’s history well.  But 15 years ago I realized that wasn’t the case.  Living far away, I asked my last uncle to dictate thoughts and memories about his childhood and anything else he could remember.  I sent him a tape recorder and cassettes.  I learned so much that I never knew.  Then in 2011 I moved to Florida to take care of my last aunt who had congestive heart failure and had about a year to live.  I found out much more, such as who in my family had the hazel color eyes that my sister and I had; it was my grandfather.  I am so grateful for the time we spent together.


If you are one of the lucky ones who has one or both parents alive start having regular conversations now: on the phone, over FaceTime/Skype or in person.  Here are some questions you can use.

  • What was their childhood like?
  • What they were like in high school (and college if applicable)?
  • What were the major decisions they made before they were 30 and why did they make those choices?
  • What about decisions at 40, 50, 60 or later?
  • What is their happiest memory as a child, teenager, spouse, parent?
  • What were the other choices for my name and those of my siblings?
  • What was the best experience they had with their family and before they had a family?
  • What do they miss most about 40, 50, 60 years ago?
  • What family tradition do they treasure the most?
  • What have they appreciated most in the past 10 years?
  • Looking back, what are they most proud of?
  • What they have wanted you to know but they were too uneasy to discuss.
  • What have they always wanted to ask you?


Think about what you want to know and ask the questions that will fill in your picture.  Take notes, create a document and share the document with your entire family.  And, initiate the same conversation with your children.