7 Types of Stories Hiding in Plain Sight

There are little stories all around us, we just have to ask follow up questions.

Unless you’re a die-hard family historian, or working on an ancestry project, you likely don’t go hunting for information about your family in your daily life. Yet we are constantly surrounded by sources of stories and important information that runs the risk of being forgotten. We only need to ask.

Here are seven examples of simple ways to learn more about your family’s story by being more inquisitive about things in plain sight.

1. Old Furniture

Old family furniture

What looks like a dusty uncomfortable sofa to you, may have a rich history—having been passed down from one generation to another. Make a point to ask about the furniture in your family members’ homes so that you have an understanding of how certain pieces were acquired. Even if a piece isn’t particularly old, it still may have a story worth knowing.

2. Dishes

Family dishware

If it’s locked up in a cabinet behind a glass window, there’s almost certainly a story behind it. Even if the story is as simple as “it was a wedding gift,” you’ve just started a conversation about an important life event.

3. Religious Items

Religious family heirloom with family story

Whether it’s a cross on the wall or a Star of David necklace, it comes with a story. Religious items are often gifts or family heirlooms, given on momentous religious occasions and wrought with personal meaning. You might ask “what was your bat mitzvah like?” as a follow up.

4. Holiday Decor

Holiday decoration

Holiday decor is also often passed down from generation to generation. I’m not telling you to ask your mom about the plastic skeletons she hangs in the window every Halloween. But that handmade wooden advent calendar? It’s worth a question or two, particularly if it comes with its own special traditions.

5. Photos Around the Home

Woman reflecting on memory and family photo

The box full of photos is a familiar sight for the family researcher. The photos kept on display in the home, however, are often so familiar that we stop noticing them. These are the photos your loved one has chosen to represent their life to their guests. Really look at them, ask about them, and see how much you learn. I wish I had asked, “Wait a minute, is that Pop with Ronald Reagan?!” a lot sooner than I did.

6. Jewelry

Family heirloom

Jewelry collections are truly fascinating things. They can include everything from big chunky plastic earrings to fine pearls and antique cameos. As the types vary, so do the stories. Sometimes simply complimenting a piece of jewelry will spark up an organic conversation about the person’s life. Don’t be afraid to inquire further, though. Just like photos displayed in a person’s home, the items they select to wear are often incredibly meaningful and windows into getting to know that person better.

7. Media

VHS tapes

This is a broad category, but an important one. ‘Media’ can be anything: nostalgic posts shared online, old newspaper clippings, favorite oldies songs, overplayed VHS tapes, yellowing dog-eared novels. You probably have memories attached to such things in your life and so do your relatives. You just have to ask about them.

You’ll be surprised at how easy it is for your family to tell you stories about themselves when you’re asking about something more indirect, like a physical item. With your prompting, they may tell you something you never knew before! These are just a few examples, but there really are stories everywhere you look if you just ask. Give this a try, especially if you’re in a family history researching slump and you may find that you get a lot more information than you did with previous tactics.

Once you've discovered new stories, remember to preserve them using StoryCombs. You can make a narrated photo by taking a picture of the item that sparked the conversation and then recording your loved one telling you all about it. If the family member and the item are in two separate places, no worries! You can always send the photo through the app, with a request that your family member narrate it for you.

If you want more ideas for preserving your family’s stories, be sure to subscribe to our blog and follow us on Facebook @StoryCombs.