1. 1Culture Sleuth
  2. 2Welcome
  3. 3Getting Ready
  4. 4Making It Happen
  5. 5Questions
  6. 6Spinning Family Gold

Before You Begin…

This is an exciting time. If you and your Culture Sleuth are all in, there are a few things you can do to prepare. Getting familiar with the elements and your roles in advance, ensures that the conversations can be comfortable and enjoyable from the very beginning.

Go through the materials together, especially the Sleuth Welcome section.

It’s a job for two – Culture Sleuth in the lead – parent in the supporting role. Parents can help with the planning and will be there for the conversations – mostly as the recorder – but often as a bridge builder as the Sleuth connects with the relative being interviewed. Parent as background – Culture Sleuth in the foreground.

This can also be a shared project with a sibling or cousin – with the parent in the same role. The sky’s the limit. Find what works for you all.

Getting Ready

At its most basic, Culture Sleuthing is listening to family members (and beyond) – exploring the influences in your early lives. Those influences that are woven into your assumptions about life and goodness and what family is all about. Everyone can have those conversations anytime. Perhaps this afternoon? Over coffee?

But what makes Culture Sleuthing special is intention. Focus. Purpose. By being a little planful, a Culture Sleuth can linger longer in the questions and reflections. You can follow threads and get insights into how your family’s values were formed and are still being reinforced today. Family traditions and habits. Beliefs. The root of family dynamics.

You will be inviting the child your family member used to be into the room with you.

By being planful, these conversations can be (relatively) uninterrupted. No one walking into the room, grabbing an apple and sitting down with you. That’s what life is like every other day, but the sleuthing process creates a bit of a protective shield. The questions being asked are, by design, inviting the child your family member used to be into the room with you. You will get to know them when they were young. A moment worth protecting from interruption, right?

Which brings us to the special Sleuth power. These senior family members, as they think back, will be facing a kid just like the one they used to be. They might even see a little of themselves in you. This young family member is giving them their full attention. There will be honesty and mutual care – the stuff of real connection. These conversations will become favorite moments – favorite memories – in their lives.

And, finally, by asking the same questions with several family members, you will become a special keeper of your family’s heart and history. With a little work. you will be able to fold what you learned back into the family creating new habits and connections. And fun. Did I say fun? Think old family hair-do’s contest! Or playlists of old favorite TV theme songs. The sky’s the limit.


Conversation guidelines.

Read through the Conversation guidelines together. The most important new skill will be quiet listening. Getting comfortable with pauses – pauses with a quiet smile. Asking quietly, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Do you remember anything more?” “How did that make you feel?” These set the pace and help everyone remember what this is all about – understanding the things in our lives that make us us.

We have great conversations all the time – tender, challenging and supportive conversations. We don’t have to plan them. They happen live – in real time. So – we know how to talk with one another.

Conversations that are intimate – and safe.

But the cultural roots conversations do take a little planning. It’s all about creating conditions where people feel at ease – where they understand that their stories help family members (especially the next generation) appreciate what is unique and what is universal about their family’s values. Many of the questions will linger close to sensitive topics – topics where they may have felt anxiety or pressure – or shame – when they were growing up. How wonderful will it be if we know how to honor those moments – honoring the child in them that is now in the room with us.

Conversations that honor – and comfort – the child in them that is now in the room with us.

As you all go on the journey, remember they are not in the conversations alone. If something touches you as a sleuth or as a ‘recorder’ – or brings back a similar experience in your life – meet them there. Share your story too. A shared moment.

Can you have group conversations?

There is something very special about the one-on-one conversations your sleuth will have with members of your family. (Even if you are there as well, recording and supporting.) Although the purpose or topic may feel fabricated, having a new generation show curiosity and care can be touching and meaningful. A rare personal connection. So there is something about that framework worth honoring.

But – you CAN mix it up. The same questions can be asked and answered with 3 or 4 people around the table – or in a long car ride together. The plusses? It can feel like the beginning of a new habit. More people to listen and care. The challenges? Old dynamics can slip in – teasing, interruptions.

You might end up seeing – live in front of you – an old and hurtful family thread. It would be tough for a kid to take control and get things back on track, so the parent/assistant should be prepared to help with navigation.

One way to get off to a smooth start is to begin by asking the group, “What can we all do to make sure we hear from everybody – and to make sure this stays fun?” They’ll set up their own ground rules – which may be enough. It it starts to get off track, you can introduce a new topic – a fresh start.

Some topics seem made for a group setting. Favorite TV theme songs. Favorite books or heroes. Teen dances? Going through a box of old photos together. Making up lists of other people to reach out to.


Moving from the specific to the gestalt – or from the gestalt into details. You decide.

This is not about data recall – but we should be ready to listen intently to those who specialize in it. For example, picture the uncle who says, “I remember – it was in 1986 – I had just finished (specific school project) – with (lists of other members). We had won our first championship one week before and now ……” You get the picture. Some people will bless you with more specificity than you want – seemingly skirting any discussion about feelings. Patience will pay off. Some of us prefer to begin with details as a way to move to big picture. And others need to start with the context so they can then find the ‘right’ details. Either way you will get there. Remember, it may have been a while since anyone has shown interest. Get comfortable with quiet pauses – letting them think – even if they seem ‘done.’ Quietly responding with “Can you tell me more?” Or, “Anything else you remember?” Or “Wow, and how did that feel?” can help.

Get comfortable with quiet pauses. Anything else you can remember? Can you tell me more?

Planned vs Ad Hoc? Yes!

All the questions we offer open doors – and we don’t know what is behind those doors. Rather than picturing the conversation as a luge run – getting to a specific point as fast as you can, it can be helpful to picture a group spreading out in a field to see what great things they can discover. Always have a few topics in mind (on a notepad) that you want to explore – ready to go if there is a lull. If the conversation has gone in unexpected directions, you might consider claiming a “Lightning Round” – where they give quick answers to a few specific questions.

This is less like a luge run and more like choosing a topic to explore.

Questions. Go through the question sets together – noting the categories or specific questions that most interest you. Find 10 – 15 initially. You will narrow that list down later.

Interview list. Spend a few minutes listing your extended family members – grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins. Grandparents will likely be where you begin. (By the way – zoom meetings are just fine.) Grandparents are the ones holding lots of your family’s generational threads. Broaden the list so you have 6 – 8 people with whom to begin.

Timing & schedule. What works best for your Culture Sleuth? Weekends? Want to do two conversations on Saturday and two on Sunday – and be done? Plan about an hour for each conversation. The ‘formal’ part – the questions – might just take 10 – 15 minutes. But then you can all talk about the questions and maybe dig in a little more deeply with your own stories.

Practice. This can be so much fun. And it is essential. Do a few test runs with your immediate family using the intro questions. Switch roles a few times. Have some fun with those pauses – maybe counting to 10. Give your Sleuth a chance to get used to the process. Then practice with the real questions you selected. Do they still work for you or do you want to switch a few out? You might want to also practice taking notes or recording.

Culture Sleuth Workbook
Culture Sleuth Workbook
Everything Sleuths will need right at their fingertips. Packed with learning that makes cultural concepts and processes inviting and enjoyable - all delivered with a light touch. Get the workbook, or pick up the expanded Ace edition.