5 Questions to Ask Collectors for a Family Story

Almost everyone I know collects something, from rocks to cars, the collections are a hobby and a glimpse into a family story. So how do we unearth the story from the dusty collection?

Of course this is simpler if the collector is still collecting,  grab a recording device, audio or video and a pen and paper and a camera. Here are some questions to ask to get the conversation flowing.

First I would acknowledge to the owner, the quality and longevity of the collection. I can imagine for some there have been negative comments and a reason to defend the collection. So establish your respect first and curiosity second. You might compare a car collection to a grandchild’s love of Matchbox cars, give them a reason to tell the story. From that base you can segue into the real interview. If parts of the collection are nearby it might make things easier, it gives you something to ask questions about and the collector the visual prompt to a memory of a particular piece.  So let’s get that interview going;


1.) I just love how you have always had these ________  around, can you remember your first piece of the collection?

2.) What do you consider the best or most valuable piece in your collection? Why?

3.) Was there anyone or anywhere that you acquired pieces that is a special memory?

4.) Is there an elusive piece you have always wanted for your collection and not found?

5.) What did your parents or Grandparents collect, was that an inspiration to your collection?

I am sure when you look at the items a dozen more questions will come to mind. Since collectibles can vary from a postcard or stamp to ships or cars even planes the variety of questions might be endless. Collecting before the internet meant going after the pieces, the trail to find might make an interesting quest story. Grandchildren will find these stories fascinating,  often the collector has become a known reference on their specialty, ask if there are articles, books, websites, or other places their knowledge has been shared.

I look at my family tree and see the collections all over it! Here are  two of the collectors my Mom, Jessie on the left and her mother, my Grandmother Armstead on the right.Jessie & her Mom Christmas (2)

I am a collector, and I collect more than stories. My parents were avid collectors and even some of my Grandparents had collections.  My Grandmother, Frances Lakin Armstead collected salt dishes, called salt cellars. Back in time, there were no salt shakers and damp homes would make dispensing salt that way difficult. Salt was placed on the table in tiny dishes and one used a tiny spoon to deliver a portion to your plate. I can tell from this sample of her collection how dedicated she was to it, they were numbered. I know from family stories that she had a collection of 500 unique little salt dishes. I imagine she acquired some on travels and some as gifts. This particular one has a lovely cut pattern in the bottom and you can see the bubbles in the glass, indicative of its early production. Her collection has been divided by the next two generations and now many of us have a few to remind us of our Grandmother and her penchant for small glass dishes.

20150326_081812_resizedHere are a few images of salts from her collection. The little bird nest one was always my favorite as a child.

20150326_081724_resizedThese tiny antiques make an easy thing to collect, they take up very little space. The only drawback is they are fragile and should reside out of the reach of tempted little fingers.20150326_081737_resized20150326_081848_resizedGrandma liked salt dishes, and from this I get a glimpse into her life and the possible fond memory of a dinner table set with fine china and tiny glass salt dishes of exquisite detail. I wish I had  asked her questions about them when I could, but I was just a child looking wide eyed into the china cupboard at a tiny bird beside its nest. You can read more on Salt Cellars here:





A previous blog 3 Prompts to Collect a Family Story:






Start collecting your family stories today, before they slip away!



6 Responses to 5 Questions to Ask Collectors for a Family Story

  1. Hi, I found your blog on the Blogging from A to Z Challenge website. I’m excited to find it, since I’m getting into genealogy and am gathering as many family stories from my parents as I can while they’re still here. These are helpful prompts.

    • Hi Nadine, Thanks for visiting my blog. Be sure to check some of the other posts from 2015 as I focus on family stories. There are some other ideas that may help you. So glad you are able to collect those now!

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