1 - Collect Memories from Other Family Members
Talk with cousins, siblings, children, and other relatives to help supplement your memories of a person or event. And make it fun! It doesn't have to be a formal interview. Invite relatives over for coffee, drinks, or a bite to eat and start sharing. Just remember that we all perceive people and events differently. Be open to the other party's interpretation and use that information to inform your writing. It doesn't mean you have to tell a story from their perspective, but having their perspective may help color and fill in your own story.
2 - Use Keepsakes to Trigger Memories
Do you have an old broach your grandma used to wear? How about a favorite coffee mug? Items like these can trigger memories about your loved one's personality, their culture, their rituals, their likes, and their dislikes. Keepsakes and heirlooms might also be good conversational pieces to help jog the memory of other family members who might have good stories to tell once they see them.
3 - Make a Timeline of Major Events
Making a timeline of major events in your life is a surefire way to spark strong memories. Start with birth and fill in school graduations, moves, religious milestones, marriage(s), the birth(s) of children, divorce, deaths, etc. Once you mark these major milestones you’ll be able to fill in the timeline with details surrounding those events, as well as other occurrences that you may have missed without those triggers.
It’s one thing to say, "Grandma was loving toward me." It’s another thing to say, “Grandma always greeted me at the door with a full mug of my favorite chocolate milk topped with extra marshmallows. Once inside, we would snuggle on the couch, while she asked questions about school and I answered between sips.” Providing specific details about how grandma showed love helps us picture her and the relationship more vividly.
5-Own Your Story
You are the best person in the world to write your story and your family history. Don’t say, “Well, ‘so and so’ could really tell this story better if only she/he were here.” Toni Morrison couldn’t tell your story the way you can. It doesn’t matter that you’re not the best writer. What matters is that you tell your story. You’re the only one on this earth who has had your experience with your perspective.