Can you name three living family members who attended the postwar reunion in 1946? Do you know what your mother ate for her first meal after you were born? How long did your cousin Michelle talk on the phone to her boyfriend when she was 16? Which of your relatives spent one New Year’s Eve in the pokey?
Sisters Lynn Bonsey, 44, and Lorna Healey, 42, believe every family member should know the answers to these kinds of trivia questions. They learn hundreds of new things about their family every Christmas Eve when they gather to play the family trivia game they created in the early 1980s.
They are so adamant that people pursue their family trivia, they have written a book, “It’s All Relative: How to Create Your Own Personal Family History Trivia Game,” telling how families can mine their own histories and create a similar game.
In 1983, Lynn and Lorna were changing diapers while across the nation people whiled away the wee hours playing the hottest new game since Monopoly — Trivial Pursuit. The sisters decided to create a similar game, featuring family trivia, to give their parents as a Christmas gift that year.
“When we started writing our family’s game, we spent a hot summer day sunning ourselves on the dock at our Crescent Lake cottage in Raymond … the scene of countless wonderful summer memories,” they write in the book. “Pen and clipboard in hand, we jotted down trivia related to every memory we could recall: Lynn’s first kiss, Lorna’s summer loves, escapades, boat rides, campfires, cookouts, weird neighbors, funny relatives and so on. One memory jogged another and by the end of the day, sunburned and exhausted from laughing, we’d recalled a lot of family trivia.”
They scoured attics, “junk” closets and spare rooms to unearth long-forgotten report cards, diaries, ledgers and letters. They checked local, county and state records, as well as the local newspaper for facts on births, deaths, weddings, land transactions and transgressions.
The sisters created surveys for family members to fill out and return that requested detailed information about weddings, first homes purchased, sports played in school and other items. They taped and then transcribed interviews with grandparents to garner nuggets that might not be included on surveys.
Then they divided their information into categories — statistics, sports, entertainment and miscellaneous — and wrote questions using the facts they’d compiled. Some were open-ended, some were true-false, others were multiple-choice questions.
“We also like to use photographs, or pieces of photos in our game,” said Lynn, who lives and teaches in Surry. “Sometimes we cut them up and ask, `Whose nose is this?’ Or simply ask where a picture was taken or what was happening when it was taken.”
Their book is a step-by-step guide to how they researched and organized information before desktop computers with databases became readily available. They are pursuing the idea of having the game developed by a software company so it can be played and data can be stored on a computer.
“I come from a family of pack rats,” confessed Lynn. “My family saves everything. We have boxes and boxes of stuff. It’s a bit unusual for a family to have as much to draw on as mine did.”
She added that even a simple item like a high school yearbook could yield as many as 30 questions, depending on the activities the person participated in and what kinds of things friends wrote about that family member. She said tracing the family tree was the most time-consuming task in creating the game.
The book was published by Maryland-based Heritage Press in 1988, five years after Lynn and Lorna wrote the first version. Last year the rights reverted to the sisters, who decided to market the book themselves. Already they have sold 7,500 copies to Broderbund Software in California. The company is using the books as sales premiums, Lynn said.
“One of the things that is so great about the game is that it can be easily adapted for other things besides family trivia,” said Lorna, a human resource specialist for a bank in Litchfield. “I adapted it for my boss’ retirement party. My son, Michael, used it as a classroom project, and the kids learned a lot about each other. We learn new things about our family every time we play it.”
Lynn and Lorna are constantly updating the game. Each family member brings 20 new questions and answers each time the game is played. Already they are writing questions about how family members spent the “Great Ice Storm of ’98.”
“I’ve been taking notes,” Lynn said. “Every time something comes up, I write it down, date it and turn it into a question. So far I have, `How many days did Michael go without a shower?’ and `What kind of food did Lorna crave during the days without power?’ We could do a whole category on the storm.”
Lynn Bonsey and Lorna Healey will discuss their book and how families can create their own trivia games at 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, at Borders Books, Music and Cafe in Bangor.