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Articles About Storytelling

Family Photo Albums: Mining for Stories
By: Ellouise Schoettler

(posted 3/2009)

Do you want to tell family stories or add personal stories to your repertoire?

Have you hesitated to write or tell a family or personal story because you do not remember the details that would turn a vague memory into a well-crafted story?

For eighteen years, family and personal stories have been the core of my storytelling. Personal photo albums are an invaluable resource for me as I craft my stories. I learned early on that when I was stumped for details working with the photographs led me deeper into the story. The images held details that could bring the stories to life.

When you are working on how to tell a story of your family or other personal story, a photo album can be your best friend. Photographs are excellent prompts to start ideas flowing and to remind you of the people, time and place of your story.

But you must do more than just casually flip through the albums or computer photo files. You must work with the images to connect with the wealth of details and memories they hold.

Interacting with photographs can help you
* To revisit a time and place in your personal story
* To remember details about people in the story
* To imagine people and events in a story in your family
* To capture details about a particular place

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you look at a photo. I write down the answers as I go along and new memories and connections surface. Often some surprises pop up.

1. Where and when was photo taken? Set the time and place.
2. If there is s a person in the photo: who is it; what relationship to you; are you together when this photo was taken; how old is the person; what do you recognize in the picture?
3. Do you know who snapped the picture? If you took it why are you there? Is there a special reason for your being in this place at this time? How did you arrive to there?
4. What is the mood in the photograph? Are people happy? Sad? Connected to each other?

I write down the answers as I go along and new memories and connections surface. Often some surprises pop up.

5. What happened before the picture was taken? What happens after the photo? Did those actions occur immediately or later?
6. Are all the people involved still living? If not, how did they die, when, other points you know of their story. Are there questions you would like to answer about them?
7. Is the photo you are working with an important photo or just an everyday image? Any connecting memories - of other times and places?

When you are working on a new family or personal story pull out your photo albums or open your computer photo files and go to work.

Study the photo. Really look at it. While you examine the photo ask yourself questions about the time, place and people and the person you were at that time.

This technique always works for me. Dig deep and you will unlock memories and bring your stories to life for yourself and for your listener. These photos, combined with good storytelling techniques, can help you bring your history to life again.

Maryland storyteller Ellouise Schoettler combines family and personal stories with folktales in programs for adult and youth audiences. Recently she introduced new program Pushing Boundaries, an hour-long story based on her experiences as an activist for the Equal Rights Amendment. Visit her at

Author Information:
Name: Ellouise Schoettler
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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