How Did Your Mom And Dad Meet?
Recently I’ve had several friends lose their parents. I know something of my parents, family’s stories, but there are a lot of blank spots. Some things I’ll never know.
This Thanksgiving, when you’re with your family or friends, take the time to record a few of their stories. I’m not talking about a complete family history starting with your great-great-great-grandparents. Something simpler.
The nonprofit StoryCorps holds The Great Thanksgiving Listen this time of year. Its mission is to record an entire generation’s worth of stories through younger people sitting down with their elders.
It’s open to everyone, and you can download a free StoryCorps app to record the conversation and upload it the organization’s website, adding to the collection of American stories. An external mic helps, but it’s not needed. Just get close to your subject.
Another option is video recording the interview. This can be problematic, though, because some people get nervous around a camera, but it’s worth considering.
When video recording, set the camera or smartphone on a tripod and make sure you have your subject properly framed.
GETTING STARTED – Some Recommendations
It’s recommended to start with one or two people this Thanksgiving. Do you know someone who has good stories because they tell them over and over? Is there someone you just want to learn more about?
That’s a good place to start. Let them know ahead of time about your intentions so they can prepare.
If they’re coming to your house or meeting the family somewhere other than their own home, ask them to bring a photo album or other memory helpers, as I like to call them.
Don’t jump in upon arrival. Spend time with your family and friends and just relax.
Later, pick a well-suited time for the person you’re interviewing. Some people are better in the morning, others later in the day. Then, find a quiet spot.
Set up the recording device (a bit of advice: practice with it several times before conducting the interview), get comfortable, and just chat a bit.
I would turn the recording device on at this point and let it run, but don’t draw attention to it. Just keep the conversation as comfortable as possible to make it easy for them to open up.
Explain to them what you’re doing and why. Then, start asking a few questions. There are several great resources for questions, and StoryCorps (storycorps.org) has some good ones. Bring a list with you for a guide, but only a guide. Don’t get caught up in checking off question after question. Keep a pen and notepad handy to jot down notes and followup questions.
Then listen, I mean, really listen. Look at them, be encouraging when they slow down or seem to struggle. This isn’t a test or an inquisition. It’s friendly talk between two family members or friends.
If their response to a question leaves you with more questions, gently dig deeper.
You need to be relaxed, too. Interviewing someone can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if you’re new to it. It’s OK if you miss a question or fumble.
As you go, use memory aids such as photos or pull up websites on events that happened during that person’s life.
While sitting down in a quiet room for the interview is a good idea, it’s not always the best option. You might find that your subject opens up more and better recalls things when they’re engaged in another activity such as cooking or fishing or making s’mores around a fire. This could present challenges to getting a good recording, but it’s worth trying. You can always ask a few more questions later when things have quieted down.
While conducting the interview, take breaks as necessary and try not to go too long.
If you have to stop the interview before you’ve covered everything you had hoped to, ask about getting together again.
With the StoryCorps app, you can upload it to the website where it will be available for years to come, but keep more than one backup. Store copies on flash drives, a separate hard drive, and even in the cloud.
Offer a copy to the person you interview, and if it’s a family story, consider making it available to the rest of the family through social media or other venues.
Some people even transcribe the interview, but unless you have a lot of time or can hire a transcription service, this might be a daunting task.
The key is not to feel overwhelmed by the process. Keep it fun.
And don’t wait. I did and missed many great opportunities.
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