How to Collect Family Stories

Every family has stories. Which ones are worth saving?

If your family has decided to start recording stories on StoryCombs, you might be thinking: Where should we start? There are so many stories to be told that it can feel overwhelming. We are here to help!

It’s important to share meaningful and heartfelt stories about the moments that have shaped you and your family. Think about the stories that your relatives and future generations might like to hear. This may include personal accomplishments—challenges overcome, or milestones achieved. If you could have a conversation with your great grandmother, what would you want to know? Let that guide you. You may care less about what style house she lived in, and care much more about what kind of person she was.

Below are a few ideas about how to compile a list of stories to record on StoryCombs. Keep in mind that the most important step is getting started! As you sort through keepsakes and reminisce with family members, you'll quickly find that precious stories are everywhere.

Go through mementos


There's a reason we keep old portraits and boxes of snapshots; we see a familiar face, a loved vacation home, or a special birthday cake, and instantly connect to a powerful memory. This makes photos an easy place to start.

Pull out photo albums, scrapbooks, and even framed photos from the wall. Quickly separate the photos into piles by answering yes or no to the question: “Do I know something about the people or places shown?”.

There will be certain photos that catch your attention more than others, and I recommend making a third pile for these. They will likely be the first photos you’ll want to narrate.

Some might catch your attention, but you're unsure why. You may come across an old photo and find someone you resemble, but not know who they are. Set these aside to do more digging later, as you may need to ask an older relative for help.

Diaries and Letters

The written word serves as wonderful evidence of the past. If you have a collection of family letters or journals, simply take a picture of the paper and then record yourself or a loved one telling a story about it. Or, consider reading the excerpts you like aloud.

If you don’t have any writings on hand, ask family members if they have ever kept a journal or if they have one from an ancestor. It seems simple, but we often miss family artifacts because we never asked! Personal writings may not surface on their own because often the contents are private and meant to be kept that way. If the author is still alive, make sure you have their permission so as not to embarrass them. If they are hesitant, talk to them about how precious these writings are and what it would mean to their loved ones to hear them.

Other written records might include books of poetry or songs, sketch pads, and other special books like a Bible with notes in the margins. To find these, you just may have to open that dusty old book on the shelf and flip through the pages to see what comes up. If you don't know the item's significance, attempt to find a loved one that can share the background story.

Newspaper Clippings

Clipping articles from newspapers and magazines used to be a regular practice before the digital age. If you ask someone about major events like the Miracle on Ice or the Cuban Missile Crisis, they may remember the front page of the newspaper from those monumental days. Most newspaper articles are saved in online databases, so try Googling a few national newspapers archives and showing these to your older loved ones to help surface memories about major events.

Find out if anyone in your family has a collection of clippings they could show you. What is the significance of each clipping? Ask if any family members were in the local paper at some point. Did your uncle’s team make the front page for going to the State Championship, or did your grandmother win a local beauty pageant? Even if the clipping no longer exists, you may stumble onto a great story.

Mementos and Heirlooms

A memento is a physical object that holds personal significance. When the object is handed down from one generation to the next, it becomes an heirloom. A memento can come in any form, like a classic car, a coin collection, a wedding dress, or a locket.

Collect mementos and heirlooms in your possession that have interesting stories behind them. Ask family members to do the same. Far too often, mementos lose their significance as the stories behind them fade. One way to ensure the object will be cherished is to share the story behind it and explain why it is so important to you. With StoryCombs, it only takes a few minutes.

Make a timeline of major life events

Write down a list of big turning points in your life (or the life of a loved one) that have defined you (or them). What stories would you like to share? You can review a list of sample life events from various sources online, or use question prompts like the 52stories project to trigger memories and stories.

Reminisce with your loved ones

Ask your relatives about the family stories that mean the most to them––or the stories they wish they knew more about. Are there particular stories you’ve heard multiple times from loved ones? What family lore has piqued your interest most, or given you a better understanding of where you came from?

Write a list of your "go to" stories

Think about the stories you find yourself telling over and over­––about how you chose your career, or the award you won in college, or the day you met your significant other. Which of these stories would you like to include in your family narrative?

Next Steps

Now that you have a list of stories you'd like to record, you can begin outlining each story. Our next article shows you how to create a story outline by answering the questions who, what, when, where, why and how. Then, it's time to record your stories! Here are a few tips from storytelling pros about recording narration.

How do you find storytelling inspiration? If you are already an experienced family historian, we want to hear from to you! Let us know what has worked for you in the comment section below! Your knowledge inspires us.


The StoryCombs team created this blog to encourage, inform, and inspire your storytelling journey. Try the StoryCombs app to curate a lasting legacy through narrated photos. We believe your family’s narrative is precious and deserves a safe place to live and grow.

If you found this article helpful or have questions, please let us know by email ( or in the comment section. We can’t wait to hear from you!

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