Tag Archives: senses

Encore! Come to Your Senses and Unlock Childhood Memories.

How much do we remember from our childhood? This is one of the questions examined recently by Canadian research scientists.

I’ve just finished reading Blanks for the Memories  which highlights aspects of the research originally published in the journal Child Development…Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

It’s Monday and another Link Roundup. This week I was struck by the wisdom in Post Secret. For those who’ve faced the challenge of interviewing some reserved older clients, this article is for you.  More food for thought in The Counter-Intuitive Benefits of Small Time Blocks. The author suggests there is a  way to get larger creative projects done by making the best use of small chunks of time.

  • Family Tree University’s Spring 2012 Virtual Conference. “At this weekend workshop, you’ll learn strategies and resources to boost your research—and because it’s web-based, you can participate from anywhere! Dates: 9 a.m. Friday, March 9, to 11:59 p.m. Sunday, March 11, 2012″
  • Writing With All Your Senses — A Learnable Skill. “…writing dazzling descriptions is a learnable skill. It takes practice and dedication and seeps into remote corners of life, but the results are worth the effort. In my experience, a three-pronged approach has worked well to hone description skills to a keen edge. One prong involves reading, another involves awareness of surroundings, and the third is deliberation.”
  • Post Secret. “After my mother died, my sister kept discovering fascinating things she had left behind, one being a do-it-yourself autobiography that must have been given to her.”
  • Five Tips on How to Write Biographies. “What does it take to be a successful writer of biographies? How do you choose a subject? Does it matter if the subject is dead or alive? Must you be objective? Should you even try?” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • Five Steps to Doing Genealogy Research Like A Pro. “I’ve been doing genealogy research professionally for almost a decade now. When clients are paying you by the hour, you learn lots of really great shortcuts to keep you moving along and focused. The big tip I shared on Thursday’s episode of The Barefoot Genealogist? (Drumroll, please.)”
  • The Counter-Intuitive Benefits of Small Time Blocks. “It’s a common assertion that doing hard, creative work requires long stretches of concentrated attention. And if you have the luxury of big, open blocks of time, it is a great way to get things done. But what if you don’t? What if you get interrupted left and right by clients and co-workers? Is there a way to push creative projects forward in this non-optimal environment?”

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Come to Your Senses and Unlock Childhood Memories.

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.

                               ~Diane Ackerman

How much do we remember from our childhood? This is one of the questions examined recently by Canadian research scientists.

I’ve just finished reading Blanks for the Memories  which highlights aspects of the research originally published in the journal Child Development.

Neuroscientists believe that there are different kinds of memories, stored in many different neural circuits. “We can’t go to a particular spot in the brain to see where our third birthday party is stored,” says Dr. Hudson….

Scientists think the brain’s prefrontal cortex processes experiences, using sensory input from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, sorts them into categories, and tags the various memory fragments with specific associations (smells of home, friends from camp, bugs, a pet, for example).

Reading this made me realize how important the senses are to unlocking childhood memories. I must admit I could do a better job of incorporating sensory questions into my interviews. To get me pointed in the right direction, I’ve written a few sample “sensory” questions below.

I tested some out on my mother and she had great fun. It turns out that a taste she strongly associates with her childhood is jelly beans. Her mother would carefully count out five each for her and her two siblings. Today this may not sound like much but during The Depression jelly beans were a real treat!

How much do you incorporate sense-related questions into your interviews? Do you have a favorite “sensory” question?


  • What do you remember most about your mother’s appearance?
  • Paint a picture for me of where you lived – the weather, terrain.


  • What sounds do you associate with your childhood? What memories do they evoke?
  • What piece of music  do you remember from your childhood?


  • What was your favorite food when you were a child?
  • What tastes do you associate with your childhood?


  • What do you recall were things you loved to touch as a child?
  • What do you remember liking to run your hands over or through?


  • What are some of the pleasant smells  you associate with your childhood? What memories do they bring back?
  • What smells from your childhood weren’t pleasant? What memories do they evoke?

Photo by h.koppdelaney

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Powerful Ways to Recall Forgotten Memories.

I’ve been reading a remarkable book by Ojibway storyteller, Richard Wagamese. Recently published,  One Native Life, is a memoir about roots and the power of recollection to heal. For anyone contemplating the writing of their own story or the story of another, I can’t think of a better book to inspire you.

I was struck by a passage that made me realize how sound and light can be triggers for recalling forgotten memories. Wagamese writes,

The more I presented myself to the land in those early hours, the more it offered me back the realization of who I was created to be.

I began to remember. The sound of squirrels in the topmost branches of a pine tree reminded me of a forgotten episode from my boyhood; the wobbly call of the loons took me back to an adventure on the land when I was a young man. And there was always the light. The shades and degrees of it evoked people and places I hadn’t thought about in decades. Every one of those walks allowed me the grace of recollection, and I began to write things down.

For me the lonely blast of a foghorn, the wild call of geese flying south and the pounding surf on a rocky beach are just a few of the sounds that can evoke strong memories of my childhood on the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  What are some of the sounds that trigger memories for you?

Wagamese’s book has made me consider other ways our memories can be triggered. Here are a few:

  • Smell. One of the strongest memory triggers for me is the smell of baking bread . My mother always baked bread and today all I need is a whiff of freshly baked bread to take me back to some fond childhood memories. What odors evoke memories in you?
  • Photographs. Bring out the old photos and within minutes people will begin telling you the stories behind the images.
  • Music. We all have a song or two that can trigger vivid memories. One of mine is Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.” I was a university student at the time this was popular and it became something of an anthem for me then. What’s your song?
  • A favorite object. Everyone has a favorite object. And every object has a story to be told. Do you have a favorite object?
  • A favorite childhood place. This can be a place that was indoors or outdoors, rural or urban, fanciful or spiritual. What’s the story behind your favorite place?

When writing, keep in mind these powerful ways to tap into the rich treasury of memories that lie just below the surface of our awareness.

    Photo by Micky