Collecting storise is a wonderful way to help your child feel connected to you and their extended family .
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 real-life tales. Besides: f 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 help with all aspects of the project. All you need is a tape recorder or video camera, which can record and film family members.
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.
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. Remember that good interviewers don’t interrupt the person they are interviewing.
In addition to asking “who, what, where and when” questions, be sure to ask some open-ended questions, such as:
- What do you know about your ancestry that you would like to preserve for future generations?
- Who among these ancestors did you know personally and what were they like?
- Where was your childhood home? Is it still there? Has the neighborhood changed?
- What was your favorite job? Least favorite?
- Where did you travel? What places were the most interesting to you?
- Who were the most influential people in you life? Describe what they did that influenced you.
- Was there a family tradition that you loved that isn’t practiced anymore?
- Was there an epidemic or health scare when you were younger that made a lasting impression upon you? A natural disaster?
- What were some of your mother’s (and father’s) good characteristics?
- What is your favorite memory of your father (and mother)?
- How do you remember your mother and father looking?
- Tell a story about your parents.
- What was your favorite food, game or toy?
- Who was your best friend?
- What did you do on Saturday afternoons?
- What do you remember about school?
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 by having a few old photographs on hand to help bring back the memories.
If using a microphone, place it near the interviewee. Test the recording levels first by recording a snippet of conversation and then playing it back. If using a movie camera, also test it to make sure everything is working.
Some people become nervous at the sight of a microphone or camera. If you find this to be the case, try to place the device 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 have to stop in the middle of a good story!
After the Interview
You can transfer all of your interviews to a CD, or you can transcribe them and compile a homemade book.
If you’re aiming for a book, always factor in plenty of time to transcribe the tapes. This step in the process can be time-consuming, but it is often the most satisfying as you see it all coming together.
Avoid the temptation to skip the transcribing and just toss the tapes into a box for future generations to sort through. Audio formats change quickly and what you think is the latest and greatest will in all likelihood be out-of-date in a few years.
The smart way to transcribe is to be selective. Transcribe only those sections that are worth keeping.
The Final Product
Your oral histories can be organized in many different ways. For example, you could:
- Create a book with a chapter for each family member.
- Group the stories according to stages of life, such as “Growing Up During the Depression,” “A Childhood in Florida,” “Experiencing Salt Lake City in the Sixties.”
- Select the best sections and create your own short story collection, with titles like “A New Dad,” “The Youngest of Ten,” and “How Grandpa Killed a Chicken for Sunday Dinner.”
Your family will be thrilled that their histories are being preserved. And illustrating your collection with photographs is simply icing on the cake.