August 20, 2008

Recording Your History

Discovering your family history doesn’t have to be just searching through old books and records and data entry. There is a wealth of information in the minds of the older generation. It is probably more important to record that information because once they pass on their memories and stories are lost forever.

You can write down their stories or help them write them but recording them on video or audio tape is easier and it literally captures their voice and mannerisms which is also valuable. This is the same goal of the Story Corps. My wife recorded her grandmother by running a tape recorder while looking through photo albums with her. It can be as simple as that! Given my background in TV and video production, I’ve begun recording my family on video and I’m also starting Heritage Productions to help others use video to record theirs.

You don’t have to be a pro to do it. Just do it. Here are a few tips for recording your family members:

  1. Select a location that is quiet and free from distractions. This will insure a clear recording. Be aware of ambient noises such as air conditioners that might add to unwanted background noise.

  2. Have questions prepared. Try to get them to retell favorite stories. Ask them about parents, grandparents and others in their life including physical and personality descriptions. You won’t find this information elsewhere. Ask about holidays and family events. Ask about when they met their spouse and when children were born. Ask about national and world historical events such as WW 2 and how they were viewed and affected in the family and community.

  3. Have plenty of tape. Take your time and don’t rush your subject. Take a break if needed or spread the interview throughout the day or several days.

  4. Take notes during the interview or transcribe it shortly afterwards. This will reduce the chance that information will be lost due to noises or technical problems. If you wait too long, it may be hard to make out or remember segments of the interview.

Trust me; this should not be put off. In 2001, I sat down with my grandmother, Lermond, and recorded over an hour of interview footage with her. She has since lost the ability to communicate. It is amazing how quickly something like this can appreciate in value. I’ve since recorded interviews with my aunt and my parents. I also had the pleasure if interviewing my wife’s great aunt who emigrated from Denmark and recalled going through Ellis Island.

Contact me at if you’d like more information about my services or for more advice on recording your family’s stories.

1 comment:

Jane said...

I couldn't agree more. A great deal of genealogy is (naturally) focused on documents and photographs. But so much can be captured from the minds of the oldest members of our families.