Share Your Story: Ideas for Capturing Your Family History

Recording the recollections of older relatives can do a lot more than preserve family history. It can help connect older and younger family members while giving youth a new appreciation for their elders.

“Recording an interview with an older relative is such a great way to engage family members of different generations,” said Steve Mork, Administrator of Moose Lake Health Care Center.

“We’ve witnessed the fun residents have sharing their stories and we’ve seen how family members learn new things about an older relative they never would have known otherwise.”

Smartphones and tablets make recording video (or just audio) interviews much easier. Once you’ve recorded, you can edit together a video, transcribe the audio and write a family history or just save the raw recording for posterity. No matter what your plans for the project, here are some ideas for getting the most of your family interview:

1. Find your focus

It is very important to go in knowing what particular area of a person’s story you want to learn more about. Asking Grandma to share her entire life story on camera is far too daunting for one session – and far too much ground to cover well. Some ideas for manageable topic areas: ask about what it was like growing up. Or ask about her memories of school. Or ask her about her and Grandpa’s first years together. Then make plans for a follow up interview to record more precious memories. If the process isn’t painful, it will be much easier to get a second session set up!

2. Ask others to help you hone the story

Checking in with aunts or uncles or other older relatives may help you define your questions – and may help you jog Grandma’s memory to bring an important recollection to life in a much fuller way.

3. Get ready with good questions

The best questions invite full answers–not a “yes” or “no” or quick factual response. “What is your happiest memory from childhood?” “What is your saddest memory?” And prepare for follow up questions if the answer isn’t obvious. “Why did that make you happy?”

4. Prepare for recording

You don’t want to learn how to record on the fly – or find out your smartphone’s memory is full just as you are set to begin. You’ll also want to determine what would be the best lighting for your recording. Don’t ask a person to sit in front of window and shoot video with them backlit by sunlight. Don’t make Grandpa squint into the sun. Find a place with comfortable, indirect lighting that’s bright enough but not harshly lit. And don’t forget about sound quality. Having the radio on in the background or recording in a place with a lot of ambient noise (a loud fan or a busy street nearby) can make it hard to hear what your interviewee is saying.

5. Know how you plan to use the video (or audio) and get permission from your subject

Will you edit together a piece and put it on DVD to share with others? Will you transcribe the interview and submit it in a school report? Whatever you do, make sure the person you are interviewing knows where the interview will end up. If your older relative or friend isn’t comfortable with video recording, consider other ways of telling the story, like transcribing audio recording to include in do-it-yourself book or creating captions for photos in an existing photo album.

If you’d like to share part of your older relative’s story more widely, ask his or her permission to complete one of the following statements and submit the story here. Stories about how Minnesotans are aging are being collected there now and will be shared there soon. Or share your own story!

Statements to finish to share on FaceAgingMN.org:

  • The most important thing I’ve learned so far in life is…
  • What I would tell my 18 year old self is…
  • The most meaningful way I have given back to my community is…
  • The nicest thing anyone has ever done for me is…

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