What We Can Learn from Family Stories

What We Can Learn from Family Stories
Lucy Hayes: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Several class periods


In the mid-nineteenth century, just as today, families had stories—stories about parents when they were children, stories about their family members or pets, stories about school, stories about what life was like “back then.”  However, today we are all so busy, we often don’t take the time to pass along the great stories in our families.


The purpose of this activity is to explore the adventures or exploits or just plain lives of families.  This is a wonderful way for students to see themselves as the continuation of a line of individuals connected with a family.  Second, the collection of the oral history of a family is important.  So many stories about family members, friends, and pets, family recipes—loving artifacts of by-gone times—are lost by our failure to write them down.  Hopefully, this lesson will assist students in the development of an appreciation of their own family’s history and cultural traditions. 
Note:  Family history can touch on sensitive and sometimes painful issues.  Students who are adopted, whose parents have separated or divorced, or who live in single-parent households may find this an awkward topic.  Families who have experienced personal difficulties or devastating losses may feel that their stories are a private matter and therefore inappropriate for classroom discussion.  Please anticipate such concerns whenever possible, respect the privacy of students and their families when such issues arise, and have alternatives prepared for such students. 

Materials Required:

Family trees from previous lesson (Family Trees and How They Grow) Tape recorders, if possible


1.  Brainstorm questions to help start a short interview with the family member or friend.  These initial questions should be fairly general; more specific questions will depend upon who is being interviewed.
2.  Give students suggestions for style of reporting the interview back to the class or to the teacher.  This might be in the form of a written story, or a story board, or an illustrated PowerPoint, or some other medium.
3.  Set a due date for returned activity with sharing time as appropriate.
4.  A whole class discussion should be held in which students discuss what they’ve learned, as well as what kind of things can be learned from taking oral histories.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by engaging students in a larger oral history project involving oral histories from townspeople about the history of the community.  See, for example, the Foxfire books.

Sources & Resources:

Web sites: 


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.