Kate Dudding: How to Find and Share Your Own Family Stories

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I think family stories are very important. They help me learn and remember who I am and who my relatives were. But I’ve lost so many stories because I rarely asked my grandparents about their own lives.

I happened to discover that my son loves stories about himself, times when he was a baby / toddler and even stories that he remembers himself a little. I believe that parents are the keepers of their children's early childhood. If parents don’t share these stories, the children will never know them.

I never understand history from facts and figures. I can only relate to history when I hear individual people’s stories. We all have such stories – we’ve all lived through historical times. I think of my family as “The Cleavers from Connecticut.” When I told one of my “Cleaver stories,” Donald Davis, a professional storyteller who specializes in family stories, said, “Kate, your story is like a walk through a room in a museum of American history.” All of our stories are important.

So I hope that this sheet helps you remember stories and/or reminds you to ask your elders about their stories. Such questions can be asked at holiday dinner tables, for example.

Most of all, I hope that you share these stories with your family and friends.

You can use the following list to dredge up stories from your past.

Brainstormed List of Family Story Topics

From Jeannine Laverty


old home place

where ancestors came from and why

school stories

colorful relatives

holidays / gatherings

scary adventures of children

cooking disasters

automobile stories

vacations / traveling



what we used to wear


love stories

pranks / practical jokes

special times with relatives

how mom and dad met


birth stories

birthday stories

things that go bump in the night



when the family came to your aid

presents: favorite/unusual/unexpected

how routines came to be -- where to sit at table, etc

family work projects

possessions / hand-me-downs

trades and professions

quilts and other handmade crafts

why you ran away

sneaking out


My additions:

when my curiosity got me in trouble

best friends

gardening adventures

family resemblances, physical, actions, etc

recitals / performances

loosing a tooth

family sayings

when you first really understood something

bedtime routines

favorite foods

mastering a skill

getting into trouble


Tips on How To Create and Tell Stories

From Donald Davis, Davis Bates and Ods Bodkin (plus my thoughts)

 Family stories are often about one event. But you can also have a story about various memories with a focus on an object. For example, I have a story about my mother's hands: playing the piano, waving as we arrived and left her house, knitting. I end by saying how I'm now reminded of my mother's hands by looking at my own, and watching them do the things she did.

I try to include details or types of events, which most people have experienced so that my story will remind them of theirs, and which identify a particular time period. For example, in various stories I've mentioned the pantry in the kitchen, listening to The Voice of Mission Control during the first US space launches, the housing shortage after World War II, etc.

Roslyn Bresnick-Perry of New York City recommends giving a socio-economic setting to a story so the listeners will learn about your culture and where you're coming from. "Otherwise, your story is merely an anecdote." (I think it's good information to include but I don't agree with her "merely an anecdote" conclusion.)

 You can think of your story as a series of images. For some audiences, you'll need to take out or add images, based on their background and the background of your story.

Each image is more than just visual - it involves all the senses as well as the emotions of those in the image. When trying to recreate a scene from your life, you may have to spend some time remembering that scene, and wandering around in your memories. You might be able to remember more that you thought possible.

The rest of these tips apply most to people telling from a stage.

Once you've decided on your images, and have spent time with each, telling the story is merely reporting what is in each image, and being able to get to the next image.

Practicing out loud is important for most people. Some people find that many interesting ideas pop out of their mouths when they are practicing out loud. Some people tape record themselves as part of the process of learning to tell a story.


Donald Davis has a small book on family stories: Telling Your Own Stories, August House Publishers, Inc., 1993, (800) 284-8784, ISBN 0-87483-235-7. $10.00.

David Holt and Bill Mooney's storytelling guide book has some chapters on personal stories: The Storyteller's Guide, August House Publishers, Inc., 1993, (800) 284-8784, ISBN 0-87483-482-1, $23.95.

Jack Maguire’s book is full of exercises, from finding stories through telling stories: The Power of Personal Storytelling, Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998, http://www.penguinputnam.com, ISBN 0-87477-930-8, $16.95.


Kate Dudding (518) 383-4620
8 Sandalwood Drive kate@katedudding.com
Clifton Park, NY 12065-2700 USA
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