AbstractThe Biographies et Entourage (Event histories and contact circle) survey carried out in 2000-2001 on residents of the Paris region born between 1930 and 1950, provides a means to reconstruct the composition of respondents’ contact circles over their lifetimes. It also records their subjective assessments of the different parts of their life course. In this article, we analyse how these subjective data – reconstructed ex post – and the factual situations that characterize periods of the respondents’ childhood and adolescence are interlinked. Periods characterized by the size and composition of the close family circle were studied using complementary approaches ranging from textual analysis to inferential analyses (logistic and multilevel regression). The results show in detail how the close family circle shapes the respondents’ subjective judgements. Textual analysis shows that the contact circle features strongly in descriptions of periods of childhood and adolescence. Even though other factors are involved, periods of relative isolation are perceived more negatively than other periods. Despite gendered differences, which come to light in adolescence, the contact circle has a significant influence on the tone of the period for both boys and girls, and this is revealed particularly through the presence or absence of parents or parent figures.