By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
During the holiday season as families gather for celebrations, children experience a heightened curiosity about their families. Parents can harness this curiosity by enlisting their children's help in creating an archive of family stories.
After all, knowing your family tree is one thing, but fleshing it out with real-life stories makes it all the more interesting. It's a way to show your child that history is made up of fascinating memories and anecdotes. Add to that the compelling reason that if your don't gather your stories now, they could be lost forever.
Recording family stories is relatively easy to do and you'll always be glad that you did it. Children can assist with all aspects of the project. In fact, many middle- and high-schoolers will gladly tackle the whole thing by themselves.
Make a list of questions. Try to get everything in one interview, as the first interview is often the best, and you never know when you'll be able to get your interviewee back again.
In addition to asking "who, what, where and when" questions, be sure to ask some open-ended questions.
For example, you might ask:
Good interviewers refrain from interrupting. Ask the question and then let the person respond without your interjections or comments. Sometimes the temptation to jump in and start a conversation is great, but keep in mind that this is a recording of someone's memories, not a family free-for-all. Never stop the interviewee's remembering. Memory is fragile and a flow of thoughts can lead someone to uncover something that they haven't thought of in years.
If at all possible be sure to let your subjects know in advance that you'd like to interview them. It's only polite! Some people won't need advance notice and will gladly participate on a moment's notice, but others may need time to mentally prepare. You can help prime the pump by having a few old photographs on hand to help bring back the memories.
Place the microphone near the interviewee. Test the recording levels first by recording a snippet of conversation and then playing it back.
Some people become nervous at the sight of a microphone. If you find this to be the case, place the microphone somewhere where it is inconspicuous, but close enough to get a good recording level.
Have extra tapes and batteries available. It can be very disappointing to run out of tape or batteries in the middle of a good story! Recording stories on video has become easier with new technologies. Many cell phones and digital cameras now have video-recording capacity, and regular video cameras have become smaller, inexpensive and easier to operate. After filming your interview, you can even share it with others by uploading it to YouTube.
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