Easy DIY Keepsake Gift: Handwritten Life Stories

For Christmas 2012, I made About Me Journals for my maternal grandparents. While they were nothing fancy--just 1/2-sheet spiral-bound books with construction paper covers (we have a limit of $5 per person)--they have since become my most prized possessions.

The first page was a note from me, asking them to spend the next year answering the questions at the top of each page and give this book to me as my 2013 Christmas gift. 

At the top of each subsequent page, there was a question. The rest of the page was blank for their response.

That's it. It took about an hour to put together.

On Christmas morning 2013, I opened both books from my grandparents, each full of memories (mostly handwritten, a few typed for lack of space) with the request that the book would be kept private--what was written in there was written for me, and no one else (much to the jealousy of my aunts and cousins.)

Privately, a few days later, they each asked to have the books back for a little while to add stories and details that they had recently remembered and wanted to include. I happily returned them, knowing I'd want as many memories as they would want to share.

In 2014, on the morning my Grandma passed away, this book and a pen were sitting on her bedside table. I quickly scooped it up and put it in my purse. 

Over the following week, as I read through her answers --and wept, of course--I was even more thankful for the time she had put into writing her life stories for me...appreciating this heirloom all the more in her passing. 

{taken in my poorly-lit room as I read through the journal the week after her passing}

In 2016, I hunted through the pages for specific words and used her handwriting to get a tattoo in her honor.

As a matter of fact, a few of us used her handwriting to get memorializing tattoos:

My Grandpa passed away a few weeks ago--just before Thanksgiving. After several phone calls with family members, (grieving from afar, in the midst of a pandemic, is no easy feat) I took out the book of his life stories and attempted to read a few through my tear-filled eyes. 

Though he'd gifted the family with three bound volumes of musings and stories from his life over the last few years, this is the only one in his handwriting. It's unedited and imperfect and one of a kind. 

These two books are priceless. They're filled with stories that are not often told--the memories typically unprompted around the dinner table. 

Because I'm so thankful to have these books, I thought I'd encourage you to create these for your loved ones. 

While I'm sure you could purchase a pre-printed book like this, there was something special about being able to personalize the questions to each recipient. For example, each of my grandparents lost a sibling. Since these deaths happened at different stages in their lives, that question was included at a different spot in the book.

Here's a list of questions to get you started.
NOTE: The majority of the questions were written on the front of the page, leaving the back open for extra space to answer. Some questions were given two pages. Again, don't be afraid to customize the questions (and/or the order of questions) for each recipient.

  • My note to you (I filled this in) || Your note to me (dated the following year)

  • What is your earliest childhood memory? 

  • Describe your childhood in three sentences. 

  • List your parents & grandparents full names, places & dates of birth. 

  • What one or two stories do you remember most from your childhood?

  • Tell me about the neighborhood you grew up in?

  • What did your parents do for work?

  • Describe each of your parents in one word.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of your parents/childhood?

  • What was your favorite thing to do with your parent(s)?

  • Describe a typical family dinner. What did you eat? What did you talk about around the table?

  • What were your favorite foods growing up? Did your mom/dad typically cook or did you typically go out to eat?

  • Tell me the name of your Elementary, Middle, and High Schools. Where were they located?

  • Who was/were your best friend(s)?

  • What was your favorite subject? 

  • What is your favorite book(s)?

  • What was your favorite after school activity? 

  • What did you want to be when you "grew up"?

  • Who was/were your favorite teacher(s)?

  • Do you remember the first family vacation you took? How old were you? Where did you go?

  • What was your first job? How did you get it? When and why did you leave it?

  • What was the best job you ever had? What made it so great?

  • When was your first date? Where did you take him/her?

  • When do you remember laughing the hardest with your family?

  • When/how did you feel most loved by your family?

  • How did your childhood shape you as a parent?

  • What is the best thing your parents taught you? (OR: What is the strongest lesson you learned from your parents?)

  • What was it like to lose your brother? How did you handle your grief?

  • Describe the first time you met Grandma/Grandpa.

  • When did you know you were in love?

  • How did you propose? Who was the first person you told?

  • When and where were you married? How big was the wedding?

  • What advice would you give a newlywed?

  • Where did you go on your honeymoon?

  • How long after your wedding did you become a parent?

  • What were your thoughts about becoming a mother/father? Fears? Excitement? Nerves?

  • What was the best parenting advice you received?

  • Did you plan to have __ (number of) children? How many kids did you want to have? How did you choose their names?

  • What advice would you give a new parent?

  • Tell me about the births of your children.

  • How did having children change your marriage?

  • What has been the happiest time/part/stage of being a parent?

  • What has been the most difficult time/part/stage of being a parent?

  • Would you have done anything differently as a husband/wife and/or father/mother?

  • How did you come to be a (profession)? 

  • What was/is your favorite family tradition?

  • What are the most memorable family vacation stories?

  • Describe the day you found out you were going to be a grandparent.

  • Where were you on the day I was born? 

  • Tell me something funny my parents did that day.

  • What has been the best part of being a grandparent?

  • What has been the most difficult part?

  • Who are your "oldest" friends? How have you remained friends for so long?

  • What was it like to lose your parents? How did you handle your grief?

  • Did it feel different to lose your mother or father? Was it difficult to help your children grieve a grandparent while grieving yourself?

  • What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishments?

  • List your top ten favorite books.

  • List your ten favorite songs (or albums or artists) of all time.

  • List five people you would consider (or have considered) to be your heroes and why.

  • Have you ever broken a bone? If so, how did you do it?

  • What three world events have had the most impact on your life and why?

  • Do you think kids have it "better" or "worse" today than when you were a kid?

  • List ten things you are grateful for.

  • What are three things you want people to remember about you?

  • What is your all-time favorite joke?

  • What would you consider to be the most important lesson you've learned in life?

  • How has faith/God shaped you?

  • List your top ten favorite movies.

  • Why do you love to read?

  • If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?

  • If you were to travel anywhere, where would you go?

  • What's the best vacation you've ever taken?

  • How would you like to spend your retirement years?

  • What's your favorite thing about yourself?

  • What's your favorite thing about our family?

  • What's your favorite thing about me?

  • What did I miss?? Any other stories you think I ought to know?

Plus a handful of other questions you could add or substitute.

Josh and I are talking about creating one for his grandmother this Christmas. To make sure her memories, her quirks and preferences and favorite jokes live on.

Someday, I hope to have a little library of Family Life Stories. They are irreplaceable prized possessions that can be treasured and handed down for generations. What a great way to fill a bookshelf!


  1. My Mom LOVED filling this out. So much stuff in this post that I never even knew! SUCH a great gift!!

    1. It was such a great gift. I'm so glad I made it happen when I did. What didn't you know?